Intersectoral agreement lays basis for training system reform

On 7 January 2009, the French social partners signed a national intersectoral agreement on the development of training throughout the working life, professionalisation and securing career paths. The agreement reforms yet again the French vocational training system, focusing on aspects such as equality and effectiveness. It aims to help workers develop their skills while also addressing the issues of competitiveness and labour shortages in certain economic sectors.

Since 2002, France has devoted about 1.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) to continuing vocational training and apprenticeships. In 2007, this amounted to an investment of more than €27 billion. However, the funding is not sufficiently targeted to unqualified young people and jobseekers, nor is it suited to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There is also unequal access to training.

The new national intersectoral agreement follows on from previous agreements – one signed on 20 September 2003 on continuing vocational training (FR0311103F) and another signed on 11 January 2008 on modernising the labour market (FR0802049I).

Transferability of individual right to training

The new national intersectoral agreement introduces a mechanism that renders the individual right to training (droit individuel à la formation, DIF) transferable on termination of an employment contract. When a worker leaves a company, whether because of dismissal or redundancy, it will be possible to use accumulated rights to training afterwards:

  • either during the period of unemployment;
  • or in the company where they have found a new job.

The cost will be covered by the Joint registered collection agencies (Organismes paritaires collecteurs agréés, OPCA).

Content of agreement

The national intersectoral agreement aims to consolidate several objectives in terms of continuing vocational training, such as rendering career paths secure through schemes where training alternates with work experience and ensuring additional funding. The overall aim is to take on board a rationale of projects and career paths to make it possible for everyone – and particularly for those who are most vulnerable – to access training. Therefore, the agreement provides for the following four measures.

  • It sets up a joint fund for rendering career paths secure. Part of this fund – namely, between 5% and 13% of the total amount of almost €900 million – will derive from company contributions that will be taken from the current obligation regarding funding of vocational training. The exact percentage of company contributions will be determined by government decree each year. The fund will be used in the context of a framework agreement. The aim is to train 500,000 or more of the least qualified workers each year and to increase the number of jobseekers benefiting from vocational training by a third. This corresponds to including about 200,000 additional jobseekers in vocational training.
  • It will also be possible to call on tutors from outside the company in order to help young people without diplomas, people on minimum welfare benefits, and those who have had a subsidised employment contract and have been taken on under a professionalisation contract.
  • Employees with low qualification levels will also be able to benefit from vocational training if they have not had any training in the past five years, have frequently alternated periods of employment and unemployment, are in part-time work or work in small or very small enterprises.
  • As far as vulnerable jobseekers are concerned, a system of operational preparation for employment has been created – this scheme can be used either individually or collectively. Jobseekers, who could take a job corresponding to an identified offer made by a company to the Employment Centre (Pôle emploi), benefit from training up to a total of 400 hours with a view to acquiring the skills required for the job on offer. The cost of the training will be covered partly by the Employment Centre and OPCA.

Joint management of training system

In order to assess the implementation of this system of continuing vocational training, the social partners advocated the creation of a national council for monitoring vocational training (Conseil national d’évaluations de la formation professionnelle, CNEFP).

Trade union reactions

The General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) would have liked the agreement to be a continuation of the 2003 intersectoral agreement in order to refer to training issues and not only to ‘professionalisation’. CGT would also have wished to reaffirm aims of developing companies’ collective skills, as well as employees’ lifelong skills and qualifications.

The National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA) regrets that the transferability of the DIF is not a general right, but is restricted to dismissal and redundancy.

The General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) denounces the possibility that employers have of dispensing with the obligations of redundancy plans (plan de sauvegarde de l’emploi, PSE) in cases when agreements are signed on forward-looking employment and skills management (Gestion prévisionnelle des emplois et des compétences, GPEC).

Commentary

This national intersectoral agreement follows on from the one signed on 11 January 2008 on modernising the labour market. It is linked to other negotiations on unemployment insurance, personalised redeployment, short-time working, and forward-looking management of employment and required skills. All of these aspects are part of a course of action towards establishing a flexicurity model that is advocated by the European Union. The creation of a system allowing for the operational preparation for employment – which in fact involves using public funding for training people to adapt to a specific job – is symptomatic of this.

The agreement has led to a draft law on guidance and lifelong vocational training, which is due to be adopted in September 2009, and will be the second stage in the reform of the French vocational training system.

Nora Alleki, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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