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Alfredo Pastor, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

Young people and civil servants

Sun, 21 Mar 2010 15:38:31 +0000 Published in La Vanguardia (Barcelona)

It seems that, in a recent survey addressed to young people here, 60% of the respondents answered that they aspired to become civil servants. Let us not believe that the fondness for public service that this response seems to reveal has anything pathological about it: in a similar survey , conducted in France a few years ago, the corresponding figure was 75%. But those who give the figure do so with regret - as if public vocation were the recognition of a lack of ambition staff- and usually accompany it with the hackneyed observation that today's youth no longer have the "culture of effort". This is a cliché that should be combated, lest we end up taking it seriously.

Why might there be a preference for civil servant status? Unfortunately, survey does not ask, so we must speculate. But we should not conclude that it is a preference for the easy and uncomplicated, but unproductive life: it may be that the choice is made after comparing the bureaucratic life with others that are offered to our young people.

At first sight, many of them are not very attractive: the working conditions - both in terms of schedule and salary - do not make it easy to start a life that is not easy, but moderately humane; neither are the prospects very good, dominated by a precariousness due, in large part, to our labor internship ; in some fields - it happens in many technical careers - the professional career is very short: it is not common for an engineer to reach the cima of a large business (unless he is its owner), unlike what happens in other countries, where technical careers have a longer career path: so that the professional degree program that one sacrifices by leaning towards public service is not as attractive here as it could be outside.

Finally, here we feel subject to the invisible tyranny of a setback in the economic situation, or the appearance of a competitor from the other side of the world who forces our boss to reduce our salaries in the name of competitiveness, or perhaps even to dispense with our services, without our own merits having anything to do with it.

It should not be too surprising to see that, in the face of this panorama - voluntarily exaggerated, but not disfigured - many opt for a modest but stable work , where effort and a well-done work are recognized and rewarded within certain limits (admittedly quite narrow, because degree program management assistant is also very short in our country): all characteristics of bureaucratic existence.

One cannot doubt that the conditions of those who today join, or would like to join, the world of work have worsened in terms of stability, without having improved much in terms of remuneration; if we compare the conditions of work of the last thirty years with those of the previous thirty -1945 to 1975: the thirty glorious years, as they call them in France-, we see that the steady (albeit slow) progression of wages has been interrupted, while unemployment, with great ups and downs, has been on the rise; both phenomena have occurred, with varying intensity, here and in other countries around us.

I don't think we know exactly why this trend is changing, but we should ask ourselves if we can do something to correct it, and thus transplant some of the virtues of civil service life to the private sector. Here are three suggestions:

It is useless, in the long run deadline, to try to protect ourselves against the disappearance of jobs due to the skill of lower wages: the differences between the wage costs of countries like ours and those of the rest of the world are too great for a difference in productivity to compensate for them. Let us not regret not being able to devalue the peseta to counteract imports from China or India, and let us not forget that it is not in our power to stop them.

It is possible, however, to protect workers - not to defend jobs work- against technical obsolescence by means of training, but this training must be different from the conventional one, with or without Bologna: certainly shorter and more basic at the beginning (to provide the neophyte with a platform that allows him to change fields more easily), but repeated several times throughout his working life. The opposite of what previous generations were doing, who hung up their books for good after civil service examination.

The training should be in the interest, not only of the worker, but also of the employer; the latter must invest more in his workers, and consider them as something more permanent; in this, and not so much in the distribution of the work, consists the so-called German model ; here, on the contrary, the internship of temporary contracts sometimes causes the employer to incur higher costs than he would have if he made some of his workers permanent. This is the second suggestion.

It is not all bad news: a few days ago, it was reported in the press that in France, the number of newly created companies in 2009 was seventy-five percent higher than the previous year's figure, issue . The news emphasized the administrative facilities given to sole proprietorships: to set them up, it is enough to register them at an address of the network; and the taxes and fees to be paid at the beginning are consolidated in a single payment. Could our multiple administrations -third suggestion- commit themselves to something similar?