A TEMPORARY job creation scheme to help tackle France's chronic youth unemploymentcrisis has been inundated with candidates - many of them over-qualified students.
Within hours of opening, many local education authority offices in charge of handling the temporary recruitment of 40,000 young people had already handed out as many application forms as they had jobs to offer. In letters of application, young people have outlined often harrowing circumstances as they struggle with under-funded studies or unemployment.
The jobs offered by the education ministry are the first of 350,000 to be set up in the public sector by legislation that is being rushed through parliament so that the first appointments can be made in October.
The bill has had a first reading in the national assembly and will go to the senate before the end of September under emergency procedures. The government is encouraging the private sector to create another 350,000 posts to fulfil an election pledge of 700,000 jobs for young people.
Many student candidates face problems after failing an examination. Others have a masters qualification and are still unable to find work. For many, university appears to be too expensive an option.
The minimum-wage, five-year appointments to special assistant jobs in schools are seen by many as a step towards secure, publicsector employment. Youth unemployment now cuts so deep that students have shown none of the hostility that previous job schemes met with and appear satisfied with the prospect of earning the minimum wage.
There is also the attraction of doing something useful and working with children: the posts involve helping children with their homework, with sport, music and extra-curricular activities, and patrolling playgrounds and canteens.
"We are worried that a lot of students are going to drop their studies. We've launched an information campaign in universities to explain that these are not proper public sector jobs with civil servant status," said Christophe Favergon, of the student union UNEF.
UNEF, a communist-linked union, is nevertheless backing the job creation scheme that has the support of communist MPs and government ministers.
"It's the first time in years a government has created jobs in the public sector.
"This is new and important; however, UNEF is calling for the posts to become permanent after five years, or for the holders to be given a chance to obtain a teaching post," Mr Favergon said.
Pro-socialist UNEF-ID istaking a more critical line, warning that the proposal offers no job security, no career prospects once the five years are up and no pay in relation to qualifications.
"As far as pay goes, the young people will be paid the basic minimum wage. That means their level of qualification is not taken into account and, moreover, there has been no mention of increments," UNEF-ID leader Pouria Amirshahi wrote in a letter to MPs.
UNEF-ID wanted MPs to amend the bill, which was passed with massive support. Even one right-wing arch-opponent, former finance minister Alain Madelin, acknowledged that "it is not easy to shoot down Father Christmas".
Education minister Claude All gre is making no promises for the future, but points out that there will be a huge wave of retirements in the education sector over the next five years and says the youth workers will be given every encouragement to qualify for a career.
France has one of the world's highest proportions of young people in full-time education - 66 per cent of 15 to 25-year-olds - but also one of the highest levels of youth unemployment for the others.
More students are staying on at university as the job market worsens, while others take jobs for which they are overqualified.
The education ministry has set a minimum level of qualification, at baccalaureate level, with a tentative maximum of two years' university studies, for its posts in schools. Other public sectors will employ less qualified or entirely unskilled young people.