French work experience recognition system

A new system introduced in France, ‘La validation des acquis de l’expérience’ (VAE), gives workers an opportunity to improve their career prospects through a formal recognition of their work experience. This could prove to be a key component in a company’s human resource management procedure.

VAE is a new system for recognising competencies acquired through work experience. The right to such recognition is set out in the Social Modernisation Law no. 2002-73. After a process of verification, evaluation and accreditation of a candidate’s competencies by a board composed of academics and professionals, the candidate is able to obtain all or part of a diploma for professional purposes, or to obtain a certificate of qualifications. The qualification is awarded by the traditional bodies (ministries, universities, etc).

Validation is either complete or partial, depending on the person’s level of qualifications: the board awards points for the specific competencies acquired. The candidate has a period of five years in which to pursue further training and acquire new experience, both of which would then be assessed.

VAE thus provides new opportunities for obtaining diplomas and other qualifications, by recognising the competencies acquired through work rather than educational attainment. It is aimed at all categories: salaried workers, the self-employed, the unemployed, volunteers with association or trade union experience, etc. The experience can be gained in a salaried, non-salaried or voluntary occupation (association, trade union, social activity, etc). It must be at least three years’ duration and related to the intended certification.

VAE can apply to all professional certifications (diplomas and qualifications certificates) registered with the National Registry of Professional Certifications (RNCP), provided that the regulations for obtaining this certification are adhered to.

Window of opportunity

This recognition of experience represents a window of opportunity for workers with few or no educational qualifications and who have limited access to professional training (29% of white-collar workers and 20% of blue-collar workers complete at least one training course per year, compared with 54% of executives and 45% of engineers). VAE can foster the development of individual skills training, and be a springboard for promotion at work.

Companies welcome the fact that workers gain an opportunity to broaden knowledge acquired through work and that the role of the workplace in skills acquisition can be acknowledged. As part of a skills-based management programme, VAE is likely to transform human resources management and general management practices, as well as work organisation. It allows for an increase in staff qualification levels, a clear picture of in-house competencies, and certification for competencies within a framework of quality standards. The development of competencies should, therefore, be a joint responsibility between the employee and the company.

First evaluation

As yet, there are no available data for 2003 but the review for 2002 gives a good indication of take-up and success rates. During 2001, the number of validations, awarded by the universities and the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), the national institute for industrial art and design, increased by 16%, and 80% of recognition applications (representing 18,600 people) met with a favourable decision.

Workers in the 30-45 age bracket represent more than half of the candidates for validation. However, women, blue-collar and white-collar workers are, to date, poorly represented.

*Source: Information Note No. 03-56 : ‘The validation of knowledge from experience in Higher Education in 2002: good progress’.

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