First Impressions of French Apprenticeships
As part of the AGI site visit tour, my colleagues and I spent our first day in Paris getting an in-depth view of the French apprenticeship system. We started off at the General Delegation for Employment and Vocational Training (DGEFP) in the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Vocational Training, and Social Dialogue for a broad overview, and then traveled to St. Denis in the northern suburbs to visit Solvay, a large multi-national chemicals company, and Linkbynet, a newer technology services company. To end the day, we met with the head of industrial relations for the Federation of Human Resources (ANRDH) to learn about reforms they are pushing in the government.
There were two things that struck me on this first day. The first was that provision of monetary incentives and penalties by the government are compelling reasons for companies to host apprentices. America is not likely to ever adopt the complex French system of taxes, which is redistributed to those that host apprentices, and it is even less likely to adopt the quota where companies must pay a fine if less than 4 percent—soon to be 5 percent—of their employees are apprentices. But tax refunds or monetary bonuses provided to the company for each apprentice hired can definitely be a strong incentive, especially to smaller companies. The result in France is that more and more companies are signing apprenticeship contracts in order to receive back their taxes and reinvest in their labor force.
We also noticed that companies do not seem to be very involved in the curriculum development of the schools. Teachers mainly have an academic instead of a corporate background, and they seem to be often very independent from the companies where the apprentices spend half their time. There are benefits and costs to this situation. On the plus side, the apprentices receive a broader academic education not centered on specific companies’ methods and can theoretically be adapted to their practical training in a company and future career. On the other side, the skills they learn may not correspond accurately to the needs of the industry if the instructors themselves have not been in the industry. One idea to solve this dilemma could become for teachers to spend a month or even a couple of weeks every year in an industry, to be more familiar with the atmosphere and needs of the companies that they are preparing their students for.
Over all, the French prime minister aims to increase apprenticeships to 500,000 in 2017, starting with increasing public apprenticeships from 700 to 10,000. This is an impressive goal, but with the changes in the tax system and increased quotas, it is reachable.