Validation of vocational experience proposed

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In March 2000, the French Secretary of State for Vocational Training presented a bill to the cabinet on the validation of vocational experience. Under the proposed scheme, every person in employment would have the right to have his or her work experience validated and counted towards a vocational diploma or certificate. The social partners have given a mixed response to the plan.

A bill introduced in cabinet by Secretary of State for Vocational Training, Nicole Péry, in March 2000, is set to establish the principle of "validating vocational experience" ("validation des acquis professionnels"). The principle is that every person in employment has the right to have his or her work experience validated and counted towards any vocational diploma or certificate. Theoretically, this principle has existed since the introduction of a law passed in 1992. However there has been a low level of take-up by employees (only 7,000 take advantage of it every year), and it requires taking at least one academic test. It should be borne in mind that in France, continuing training mainly benefits the best qualified workers, while 26% of employees still have a level of initial training below that of the certificate of vocational aptitude (Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle, CAP). A manager in a company with more than 500 employees is 10 times more likely to be given training than an unskilled worker in a small or medium-sized enterprise.

Under the government's proposal, all experience of work must be taken into account. A "jury" whose composition is as yet undecided will have the task of giving rulings on validation. The number of years' work necessary to obtain a diploma is still a grey area. Some advocate a short period (one year) to stimulate mobility and galvanise people's careers. Others prefer a longer period in order to give greater weight to the qualifications thus obtained and avoid the risk of devaluing them. To allow wider comprehension of the certification system, a national directory will be created. The social partners and the state will be put in charge of this directory and of updating it.

Employers, through the MEDEF confederation, have long been advocating the recognition of skills by means of validating vocational experience. However, MEDEF has criticised the government's plan for not sufficiently distinguishing the new qualifications from those already delivered by the national education system. The employers' proposal is to set up an "occupational reference scale" for each band of occupations. Elements common to several of them will enable employee mobility between jobs. MEDEF also wants this reference scale to be be jointly managed by employers and trade unions, with no state involvement.

For their part, the unions have not shown any hostility towards the bill, but have stressed the lack of consultation with the State Secretary's office about the bill, which was not previously submitted to them. Only a White Paper setting out the main problems and issues for vocational training was distributed to employers' associations and unions in March 1999 (FR9904172F). The principle of reforming continuing training seems to have been accepted, but the details of its implementation are still up for debate (the nature of the qualifications delivered, the composition of the jury, the number of years necessary for validation etc). What is mainly at stake is whether these qualifications will complement or compete with those offered by the national education system, and how fully the validation of vocational experience is recognised by society and the social partners. Although the CFDT union confederation is broadly in favour of the bill, CGT has emphasised the risk of national education qualifications being devalued, which may result from competition with the new forms of validation of vocational experience. CGT-FO has stated that the distinction between these and formal education must remain, with the national education qualifications remaining the guarantee of "a person's intellectual capital", and that the system of validation must be national, independent and free of charge.

This bill is part of the initial phase of a wider reform establishing the "right to lifelong learning". The second step will be the subject of a law planned for 2001 on an individual right to training, guaranteed by collective bargaining and transferable between companies. Already the question could be asked as to whether this splitting of the legislation into two prongs might lessen the initial ambition of the Secretary of State's White Paper.

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