New national agreement on continuing training

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At the end of 1996, the major trade unions and employers' associations signed the Second National Agreement on Continuing Training (II Acuerdo Nacional de Formación Continua), which was later endorsed by a tripartite agreement between these organisations and the Government. The new agreements build on certain basic aspects of the continuing training system in Spain that was started in 1993, though they also introduce some important innovations.

On 16 December 1996, employers and unions signed the Second National Agreement on Continuing Training (II Acuerdo Nacional de Formación Continua), which was later endorsed by a tripartite agreement between the signatories and the Government. These agreements will regulate the continuing training system in Spain for the next four years, from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2000. The full list of signatories is as follows: CEOE (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organizations), CEPYME (Confederación Española de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa, Spanish Confederation of the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise), CC.OO (Comisiones Obreras,Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions), UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores, General Workers' Confederation) and CIG (Confederación Intersindical Gallega, Galician Trade Union Confederation)

The First National Agreement on Continuing Training, which had been signed in 1992 and was also later endorsed by a tripartite agreement, radically overhauled the institutional, legal and financial framework of continuing training in Spain, which had until then been given less priority than occupational training. In the four years since it came into force, the agreement's impact has been clear: the number of people receiving continuing training has risen from 3% to 20% of the employed population.

The generally positive results of this experience were taken into account when the agreements came up for renewal. Though the basic aspects have been left intact, important innovations have been introduced with respect to widening eligibility for training, improved management systems and the certification of training activities. Other objectives for the next four years are improving the quality of training and participation in the system by small and medium-size enterprises and less qualified workers.

Basic aspects unchanged

Consensus over two basic principles has remained the same:

  • the strategic nature of continuing training for promoting competitiveness of enterprises and the professional and personal development of workers; and
  • joint responsibility of employers, workers and their respective organisations for the promotion of continuing training.

In the context of this consensus, FORCEM (Fundación para la Formación Continua, Foundation for Continuing Training), a bipartite organisation set up in 1993 under the aegis of the first agreements, remains responsible for the management, monitoring and technical control of the continuing training of employees who make social security contributions for professional training.

Main innovations

Greater government involvement

Under the new agreements, the Tripartite Commission for Continuing Training (Comisión Tripartita de Formación Continua), composed of the government and the social partners, lays down the general regulations and criteria for the distribution of funds amongst the different groups and territories, and makes final decisions on the approval of continuing training projects. This means that the room for manoeuvre by the social partners has decreased, since previously these aspects were their exclusive responsibility.

Widening eligibility

Access to the continuing training system is widened to cover salaried workers in public administration, workers affiliated to the Special Agrarian Scheme (Régimen Especial Agario), workers affiliated to the Special Scheme for the Self-employed (Régimen Especial de Autónomos) and salaried workers in special situations (not strictly employed). The situation of staff in public administration, who have had a continuing training agreement since 1994 outside the rest of the continuing training system, has now been brought under the umbrella of the new agreements.

Changes in the volume and management of funding

Funding has been increased in order to deal with the continuing training of the groups of workers indicated in the previous paragraph. With respect to management, the National Institute of Employment (INEM) is now the organisation responsible for directly transferring aid to recipients, whereas previously this function had been the responsibility of FORCEM. Finally, the mechanisms for financial auditing and control have been reinforced at all levels.

Participation of small and medium-sized enterprises

The new agreements foster the participation of medium-sized enterprises by reducing from 200 to 100 the minimum number of workers that an enterprise must have in order to present a training plan. Furthermore, the criteria for setting up group plans for enterprises of less than 100 workers have been extended, which may lead to a greater participation of small enterprises.

Extension of individual training leave

Individual training leave has been extended to 200 hours, provided it leads to obtaining an official vocational training qualification. Initially this leave had a maximum duration of 150 hours. Pay corresponding to social security contributions is financed through the funds established in the agreements, as was the case previously.

Principle of sectoral-level collective bargaining

This principle, which was very important in the first agreements, has been reinforced. Collective bargaining at sectoral level has now a greater role to play in the continuing training system, and greater importance is attached to the sectoral joint committees (comisiones paritarias sectoriales) in the management, monitoring and technical control of the system and in the certification of continuing training.

Regional decentralisation

The renewal of the agreements marks the beginning of the regional organisation of the continuing training system, one of the points not covered before. The composition and powers of the regional sectoral joint committees have been defined, giving them a major role in the approval of individual training leave and in the promotion of intersectoral or central training plans. This decentralisation also allows employers' organisations with regional but not nationwide representation to participate in the technical management of the continuing training system.

Certification of continuing training and work experience

The new agreements strongly foster the certification of continuing training, the other great shortcoming of the first agreements. This is taking place in a context of a radical revision of job classification systems, since the old Labour Ordinances of the 1970s - regulatory norms adopted under the Franco regime - are now being replaced by negotiated framework agreements with new definitions of job groups and vocational skills.

At present, the sectoral joint committees are responsible for establishing the criteria for linking continuing training to job classification systems and to the National Qualifications System (Sistema Nacional de Cualificaciones) in order to determine the levels of job certification in the sector.

Commentary

The new agreements are generally positive since they maintain the continuing training system that was set up in 1993, amending only problematic aspects, or ones that had not been foreseen. One of these aspects is financial management and control, which has been totally reworked by the new agreements, but will have to be developed in practice.

It must be stressed, however, that the new institutional balance, both at a bipartite and tripartite level, must be consolidated and adjusted since there are still many ambiguities and uncertainties. Two aspects in particular require further definition: the distribution of functions between the Government and the social partners, and territorial decentralisation. Over the next four years, special care will be needed to encourage quality in training and the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises and less qualified workers, matters that are presented in the new agreements as challenges to be overcome.

It must also be stated that the certification of continuing training and its connection with the National Qualifications System, a question of extreme importance, is still only a statement of intent and cannot be attained only through these agreements: the Government will have to promote this approach in the next National Employment Training Plan ( Plan Nacional de Formación Profesional) and to fully commit itself to setting up a National Qualifications System that makes it possible to link vocational training, occupational training and continuing training.

In this context, it should be pointed out that in the process of negotiating the new agreements, though there was a consensus amongst the different organisations, there was also internal dissent, though more so in some organisations than in others. The most controversial aspects are precisely those referring to the mechanisms of financial control, the management of training in a wider sense (such as training objectives, quality, types of firms and target employees) and regional decentralisation. In the development and implementation of these aspects, debate within the organisations will also play a relevant role.

Finally, the certification of continuing training and its connection with the National Qualifications System, a matter of great importance, remains only only a declaration of intent, since it cannot be implemented solely through these agreements: the Government must carry it out in the Second National Programme of Vocational Training, committing itself fully to setting up a National Qualifications System that makes it possible to link vocational training, occupational training and continuing training. The Second National Programme of Vocational Training covers the period 1997-2000 and is at the discussion and drafting stage. The social actors (CEOE, CEPYME, UGT and CCOO) and the labour and education administration have prepared a "basic agreement" for this debate. (Jose Manzanares and Maria Caprile, CIREM)

References

FORCEM (1996), Boletín Informativo Nº 9.

"Forcem y los Acuerdos de Formación Continua", Manuel Alcaide, Ignacio Cruz, José María Peiró; "El compromiso con la formación de Comisiones Obreras", Blanca Gomez; "La formación continua de los trabajadores ocupados", Luciano González; "El valor de la formación", Javier Millán-Astray; "El modelo español de formación profesional continua. Conclusiones provisionales sobre su aplicación", José María Torres; "Un compromiso de futuro", Manuel San Juan, Manuel; all in Economistas, Nº 71 (1996).

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