Pilot workplace training project launched in engineering

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In the Namur province in Belgium, a joint organisation in the engineering industry is proposing to act over 1997-8 as an interface between firms and schools, in order to promote training within companies.

Despite several ministerial initiatives, work/training or "sandwich" programmes - that is, training that allows students in technical and vocational schools to divide their time between school and firm - are still limited in Belgium. According to data from a CEDEFOP monograph on vocational training ("Le système de formation professionnelle en Belgique", F Geers and R Van Weydeveldt, CEDEFOP, Berlin (1995)) and a university study on such training channels ("Les filières d'enseignement à horaire réduit en Communauté française", JB Charles, Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix, Namur (1995)), Belgian firms hesitate to accept young people for whom they cannot guarantee jobs and who seem too expensive to them.

For that reason, an initiative taken by the social partners in the engineering sector in Namur province deserves to be highlighted. Employers and representatives of the engineering trade unions, who jointly manage the Centre for the Further Training and Employment of Qualified Workers (Centre de Perfectionnement et d'Emploi pour travailleurs qualifiés, CPE), which is headed by a regional union representative, agreed to offer a "Project Metal" to the region's vocational schools for the 1997-8 academic year. An initial experiment had been carried out in 1996-7, which had proved quite successful.

This experiment started on the basis of company needs. Nine companies offered training in areas including traditional machine-tool operation, general metalworking, drilling-machine operation and screen printing. The CPE, which receives funding for sectoral training, looks for and helps firms which accept school students for training and guarantees them part-time employment contracts on leaving school in the framework of an "industrial training contract" (contrat d'apprentissage industriel). The CPE develops, monitors and evaluates the training programme, which lasts three weeks.

In this relatively under-industrialised province, the engineering sector still offers job opportunities, employing 4,200 people, or 36% of the manufacturing workforce. This figure is decreasing relatively little compared with that of other provinces in Wallonia.

"Project Metal" has a dual aim: to encourage the vocational integration of pupils; and to prepare, in the medium term, the recruitment of qualified workers by the firms.

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