SODESI, France: Business creation and entrepreneurship
A subsidiary of Air France, SODESI is a small company that provides personal support to employees willing to start their own business. Air France is SODESI’s main client. Founded in 1996, the company has implemented several tools and partnerships in order to foster occupational mobility and, in particular, entrepreneurship.
Founded in 1996, the Employment Development in Services and Industry Company (Société de Développement de l’Emploi dans les Services et l’Industrie, SODESI) is a small enterprise offering consultancy and services in the field of human resources management (HRM) and economic development. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air France, a well-known airline group. SODESI originally aimed at ensuring the retraining of a part of Air France’s workforce, more specifically, a section of its cabin crew (Personnel Navigant Commercial, PNC). The establishment of SODESI was supposed to facilitate this restructuring exercise, based on a voluntary dismissals scheme, and the operation was not expected to last more than three years. However, SODESI has been maintained well beyond that deadline and remains today as one of Air France’s initiatives to implement a socially responsible approach.
SODESI is involved in a wide range of business activities, including individual and collective support focused on workers’ training and retraining, as well as participation in local development on behalf of Air France. The company is managed by a general director and employs four workers. It can also call on external qualified consultants, depending on the required task. A strong link is maintained between SODESI and Air France: SODESI’s board of directors includes Air France’s senior managers. Indeed, Air France is the main client of SODESI, although the company occasionally offers its services to other companies.
Description of the initiative
One of SODESI’s main activities is to support the occupational mobility of workers. This includes support for business creation, which is one of the options that may transpire from a retraining programme. SODESI primarily provides support for business start-ups. Each worker can get in touch with SODESI on a voluntary basis. Consultants from the company will then help such workers to formalise their projects according to their own ideas and aspirations. This support is adapted to suit individual circumstances. The aim is to define the project in order to allow the workers to present it to interested parties such as business associates and banks.
SODESI will then help the workers to carry out a feasibility study regarding all aspects of business creation: commercial, technical (including technological and intellectual property issues), financial and legal – particularly the choice of the legal statutes of the company to be created. This support then focuses on drawing up a business plan and researching financing and partners, such as potential shareholders, to implement the project. The process remains confidential, which is facilitated by the fact that SODESI is separate from Air France.
When the project is ready to be realised, the worker can take leave for business creation, in accordance with French labour law. Follow-up support is also provided after the company has started operations; a link between the entrepreneurial worker and SODESI will be maintained during the first financial year. This provides an opportunity to implement corrective measures if necessary in relation to the new business activity. Air France pays the cost of the services provided by SODESI to the workers.
At the same time, SODESI still offers support for the external retraining of cabin crew. This service aims at helping such workers who wish to leave Air France. The support can focus on occupational mobility with a view to the workers retaining employee status or becoming entrepreneurs. SODESI may intervene on the basis of two different scenarios regarding these workers: they may voluntarily want to change jobs or they may have lost the official licence allowing them to work as cabin crew. The conditions for obtaining SODESI support vary according to the particular case involved. For example, when the workers choose to leave the company, they must have more than three years of seniority and should be less than 40 years old.
The support includes the following three steps, irrespective of the nature of the workers’ project. Once again, Air France acts as a client of SODESI and thus pays for the company’s services.
- The first phase aims at defining the project precisely; this stage should last two months at most. During this phase, the worker benefits from three days off per month to work with SODESI’s consultants. This stage includes an assessment of the worker’s skills, a feasibility study and the preparation of a work programme.
- Phase 2 is expected to last six months at most. The employee works full time with SODESI and receives 65% of their salary. They have the opportunity to pursue specific training related to the project or, depending on the plan, to take up a work placement.
- In the final phase, the worker benefits from personal support until the launch of the project, which should take 18 months at most. During this third phase, the employee is entitled to resume their former job at any time.
Special leaflets summarise the various measures that SODESI offers in relation to occupational mobility. Regarding the retraining of cabin crew, an Air France collective agreement sets out the process implemented by SODESI for this category of workers. The current agreement covers the period from 2003 to 2008 and was signed by the National Union for Cabin Crew (Syndicat National du Personnel Navigant Commercial, SNPNC), which represents the majority of cabin crew in Air France. In general, trade unions have progressively acknowledged the reliability of SODESI and sometimes ask the management to make recourse to it. Exchanges then take place between SODESI and some trade unions, including the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC) and SNPNC.
The SODESI activities related to business creation primarily focus on Air France’s employees. Being a subsidiary of Air France, the company can closely work with the airline’s HRM departments. Since 1996, SODESI has supported more than 1,000 employees, that is, about 100 employees a year. The companies created are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), mainly operating in the services sector.
With regard to SODESI’s processes in supporting workers who wish to start a business, the following key elements may be noted:
- confidentiality of the scheme, which allows employees to draw up a project without constraints;
- follow-up support;
- individually adapted support to meet particular circumstances.
Moreover, the different activities implemented by SODESI – and especially the company’s involvement in local development on behalf of Air France – have enabled it to set up partnerships with all the actors in the area of business creation. Partnerships are therefore a significant element in providing effective support to employees. Furthermore, for some years, the General Director of SODESI, Patrice Simounet, has been the Chair of the Agency for Integration through Employment and Combating Exclusion (Dispositif d’Intégration par l’Emploi et de Soutien contre l’Exclusion, DIESE), which brings together several large companies willing to promote business creation as a means to foster economic growth and employment. SODESI complies with all of the provisions of the charter drawn up by DIESE to foster business creation.
Another key element is the company’s experience. Initially set up in a context of restructuring, the company continues to operate and has thus accrued considerable experience regarding occupational mobility. Moreover, as its mission is no longer confined to restructuring, it can be regarded as participating in the development of entrepreneurship.
Exemplary and contextual factors
SODESI is a good example of a strategy that a large group may adopt to foster occupational mobility. Thanks to SODESI, Air France can rely on a consultant devoted to its needs and capable of offering services at a reasonable price. In addition, SODESI’s experience and expertise are clearly an advantage for Air France in maintaining a good social climate within the company. At the same time, the link with Air France enhances SODESI’s image in the eyes of other potential clients. Apart from support for business creation, SODESI provides other interesting services, such as support for workers formerly employed by Air France under fixed-term contracts to advance their career path.
Cristophe Tessier, Université européenne du travail, Paris