The Ministry of Education offers approximately 500 vocational qualifications at EQF Levels 3 and 4. These qualifications, known as vocational diplomas, are defined by national standards that describe the knowledge, skills and competences that must be acquired, and the certificative assessment. For those on initial VET course, these qualifications can be obtained in two ways:
- learners can choose the school-based system that includes mandatory periods of work based learning. In this situation the learner is a student rather than an employee (links to France 1 and France 3 case studies);
- learners can choose the apprentissage system which is based on an employment contract. This combines work-based training (usually in a company or a small or medium sized enterprise) and the completion of courses at a training centre. The apprentice must be aged between 16 and 25, should receive a salary, and be supported at work by an experienced supervisor or instructor. The apprentissage system is available for young people wishing to obtain a national technical or vocational diploma, or a specific professional title registered in the national register of vocational qualifications. This means that diplomas from the higher education sector can also be obtained through the apprentissage system. The practical arrangements for the training depend of the qualification e.g. it can be organised on the basis of one week with the employer and one week in the training centre.
The apprentissage system is based on an employment contract signed between the apprentice (or legal representative) and employer. The contract includes:
- information relating to the duration and dates of the contract, the vocational qualification being studied, the salary, the work schedule, the address of the training centre, and the role of each partner;
- agreement that the employer’s training will be in relation to the vocational qualification, the apprentice will be allowed to complete additional training in a training centre, take the exams, and receive a salary;
- agreement that the apprentice will respect the regulations at work, work for the employer, follow courses provided by the training centre, and take the exams.
The training centre designs the objectives of the training, provides general and technical training and communicates with the apprentice’s supervisor or instructor in the company. The practical aspects of training - delivered in the companies and the training centres -are organised jointly and involve dialogue between all the partners: the regional education authority, inspectors, teachers, companies and the chambers. These discussions lead to the production of a number of documents which strengthen the work-based learning programme.
For example the Strasbourg Académie (a regional education authority) has produced, jointly with local partners, documents setting out how to design training in line with the objectives of the apprentissage system and the vocational qualifications, how to organise the training provided both by employers and training centres, and how to follow and assess the apprentices:
- agreement documents which enable employers and the training centres to be clear about how training is organised and delivered in order to meet the objectives of each programme and qualification. They set out precise tasks that should be completed by apprentices alongside the expected learning outcomes – these are linked to the national standards for each vocational diploma;
- information documents which encourage the apprentice to record their observations and the outcomes of discussions with staff at the training centre and the company supervisor or instructor;
- assessment and follow-up documents where progress can be recorded and monitored.
All the stakeholders in France agree that periods of work-based training are necessary in order for learners to achieve the essential technical skills and competences attached to each vocational qualification. Consequently for all vocational qualifications awarded by the Ministry of Education, it is compulsory to complete training periods in enterprises. These periods of work-based learning are assessed systematically and the results taken into account for the award of the diploma.
The development of the apprentissage system and work-based learning job training schemes was supported by legislation which was adopted in July 2011. This legislation simplified the previous work-based learning and apprenticeship schemes in order to facilitate their use by employers. A website was launched in October 2011 to facilitate the creation of apprentissage contracts, and to simplify the administrative aspects of these contracts. At the same time, the government changed the tax system and allowed companies to reduce their tax bill or to receive tax credits if they organised apprenticeship contracts.
In 2011-2012 about 313,000 apprentices were trained for one of the vocational diplomas awarded by the Ministry of Education through the apprentissage system (Levels 3 and 4 EQF). In the same year, the number of apprenticeships for all vocational qualifications (Levels 3 to 8 on the EQF) was over 435,000.