Gérard Mestrallet interview for La Croix (extract)


Gérard Mestrallet - Chairman and CEO of ENGIE

La Croix. The world of work seems to be going through a period of far-reaching change at the moment…

Gérard Mestrallet. Work and employment are changing at an accelerating pace that reflects the pace of change in society and companies. But we are far from seeing the end of work, as some people believed they could predict. For the very great majority of people, it is still a sign of social recognition that provides a feeling of being useful and having status in society. But at the same time, more and more people have no job, as the rise in French unemployment shows. It is one of the deepest rifts in society, and one that by inference underlines the importance of work to every individual. How do you release creative energy in a large corporate group?

What are the key changes you have seen come about?

It is clear that no one today will be employed by the same company throughout their lives, as was the norm in the three post-war decades. Today, a job with a particular company may come under threat simply because that company could disappear. Careers and skills also disappear as others emerge. All of which means we have to rethink our traditional view of work. For example, the introduction of digital technology into the economy is one of the far-reaching changes now shaking up our daily lives and working lives (…).  

What role can companies play in these transformational changes?

Companies have a considerable role to play, because they have a moral duty to support their employees and boost their employability, especially through lifelong learning. At ENGIE, two-thirds of our employees receive training every year, so everyone in the company is involved in some form of training every two years. Our role is to identify long-term skills so that our teams can be given appropriate training in the new energy expertise that our Group will need in a few years’ time.


So do companies have a responsibility to society?

Yes they do. The fact of nurturing the employability of employees is, for the company, part of a wider responsibility to society as a whole. Better still, companies should also play a more recognized role in initial training. (…) Take apprenticeship, for example. It’s one form of work/study training – that in France does not enjoy the status it should have. The fact is that it could, as in other countries, play a significant role in improving the prospects of young people and ensuring a better match between training and the real needs of the labor market. Work/study training is one way that companies can contribute to the employability of young people, and that’s something I very much believe in.

Do you think we are witnessing the end of salaried employment?

What we are seeing, alongside the additional model of salaried employment, is the emergence of self-starter entrepreneurs, startup creators, micro-businesses and the solidarity economy. These forms of employment will inevitably proliferate, because society is changing very quickly as a result of new technologies. But large-scale business structures will struggle to adapt to these changes and to an economic world that is increasingly subject to disruptive step changes; that struggle is due to reasons of speed and flexibility. (…) Small-scale business structures find it easier to adapt, because they are more mobile, more lightweight and more responsive. (…) As a result, it is inevitable that we will see a fragmentation in types of business: salaried employment remains the most common type of employment, but it is no longer the only one. That said, I would not like to see a complete end to salaried employment; on the contrary, France has a shortage of salaried jobs. Nevertheless, I do find the development of these more individual forms to be a positive trend.