EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

FNAC, France: Fostering employability


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Fostering employability

In the context of the VAE (certification of acquired experience, introduced into French law in 2002), FNAC (a company selling cultural merchandise, audio visual and office equipment in medium and large retail outlets) has set up a support scheme for employees in their efforts to obtain diplomas. The scheme has a high success rate and is therefore considered an effective initiative. Devised at the company headquarters, the application of the scheme occurs within the FNAC shops.

Organisational background

Since 1996, the French multinational holding company, PPR Group, has been FNAC’s only shareholder. Several legal entities make up the FNAC Group (books, CDs, photographic materials, hi-fi, computers), one of which is FNAC Paris, with around 3,000 employees. Apart from the shops, FNAC has created jobs in what is called ‘common departments’. There is reorganisation and centralisation of services, with the incorporation of the PPR Group, and development of outside shops. Generally speaking, the company’s strategy aims to increase sales on the internet (thanks to its website) and the number of its establishments at international level.

There are more male managers than female managers in the shops. However, there are no limits to women’s career progression.

The situations of trade unions are very different according to the shops considered. For instance, in Paris, the major trade union is SUD in FNAC Montparnasse and CGT in FNAC Étoile. FNAC is affiliated to the MEDEF, the main French employer organisation.

Three years ago, with the arrival of a new president, who launched a major company project, each director had to devise an innovative project. Discussions are currently ongoing between management and personnel on resetting qualification scales to conform to the changes to the collective agreement of FNAC (1983) to redefine jobs by introducing progression and expanding definitions.

Description of the initiative

FNAC has a very dynamic director of training and development of skills. The training plan (Plan Formation) represents more than 2% of the payroll (legally 0.9%). An offer of online training in the shop exists (training for two hours during working time). In case of a change in technical equipment, internal trainers are trained (in their working time and outside their allotted time; variable for progression in the company) in order to train the other employees in the shop.

The group is an expert in training catalogues. The shops can provide more training in a suggested domain or call for individual inter-company training, but not too frequently. The plan for training is devised in the shop, followed by discussions directly with the employees, then requests go to the region, which decides, according to priorities (especially type of population), whether to agree to the training or not.

At the time of the new company project, the seminal feature for training was the certification of jobs and skills. The VAE, introduced in 2004, has worked within a tradition of training since its foundation. This is a new way to recognise qualifications and training, as it is a process which allows workers to obtain a diploma. The different steps were as follows: 2004 saw the introduction of the ‘Bac pro Commerce’ (Professional O Level Degree in Selling) and a business-oriented technical qualification (BTS Actions commerciales), mainly for salespersons but also for certain managers, with two pilot groups of 10 people in the Île de France region; in 2005, the ‘Bac pro Service’ for cashiers and receptionists was introduced; and in 2006, the ‘Bac pro Logistique’ for shopkeepers was introduced. To obtain a VAE, candidates must complete a project and pass an interview to test their motivation. Requests can be refused because of a lack of motivation or inadequacy of the candidate’s request and the proposed training by FNAC. FNAC has thus set up a specific support scheme for the VAE programme at the company’s cost: payment for training time and for the driving license in order to obtain the ‘Bac pro Logistique’. Its partner is the Department for National Education. For each group preparing for the VAE, a representative from the Department for National Education evaluates their expectations, and another representative from FNAC translates the skills acquired from working in their job into competencies. The training centre chosen by FNAC has supported the company in establishing the schemes. FNAC has devoted a large amount of resources to employee information in the form of posters, distribution of brochures, meetings, etc. The Île de France region is usually the pilot zone for testing out the measures. From the second year of operation, the diplomas have been proposed to FNACs in other regions.

For FNAC, the VAE allows the recognition of experience through a diploma, but FNAC goes no further, thus there is no direct impact in FNAC for the employee in his or her job from obtaining the diploma. Yet the increase in self-confidence and the benefits from reassurance in relation to colleagues may also have indirect impacts on careers. In effect, to undertake a VAE requires willpower and lots of work, as the employee must question his or her job: how he or she fills his or her time and what he or she does daily. Achieving support from the company in this course is already a first recognition for the employee.

It is the head of social affairs in each shop who proposes the VAE and who organises work to allow employees to participate in the training, which is not always easy with service employees. But the satisfaction of FNAC is high in relation to the impact it has on employees.


The process implemented by FNAC to support the VAE is addressed to all employees. Since 2004, workers from 20 to 54 years old have benefited from these measures. FNAC is innovative in the establishment of a support scheme to the VAE. The training director judged that the VAE was too difficult for employees to undertake and the proof of acquired skills to request a VAE was so complex that it could be too worrisome and even demotivating. The support scheme consists of a 30-hour training allocation (during working time in 2004; from 2005, 14 hours in the context of the individual right to training (DIF in French, see and 30 hours on the DIF accumulated over two years from 2006). This corresponds to 10 workshops of three hours each to prepare for the project and the part set aside for experience, then the oral.

The introduction of the support scheme for the VAE was very effective – from 2004, out of the 22 people who undertook it, 20 succeeded in getting their diploma and two achieved partial certification. Trade unions initially looked on it as a demagogic measure, but they were soon appeased after the success of the diplomas. Employees with diplomas are the best promoters of the support scheme to the VAE and word of mouth works very well. The impact is not only on the employee, but the person overall, such as an increase in confidence of certain employees in relation to their children (some have demanded a VAE in this context).

There were three types of benefits to both employees and the company:

• a social benefit, as the project is innovative considering the legal provisions and what other companies do;

• a real certification of work-derived experience;

• the VAE affects employees by increasing their involvement in their work to benefit from advancement. Thus, the three employees who received their diploma in 2004 were given the resources to progress in their career in the first year after obtaining their diploma.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The support scheme to the VAE requires a policy of goodwill for decision-makers – an investment in employee information and the introduction of the measure and the goodwill to give time to employees. However, the level of success (93%) shows the efficiency of the scheme. This measure depends on the company’s culture. FNAC is the first company in the PPR group to have developed these measures.

Frédérique Leblanc, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris

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