It is a huge organisation with a 70 million euro turnover and responsible for around 6000 apprentices and 3000 journeymen at any one time. Yesterday I attended a meeting in York where we learned more about the system and discussed whether it could have any potential in the UK particularly in the current political climate with government asking businesses to take responsibility for training. Pascal, Sylvain and Koen gave us an overview of the system which I’ll try to precise below.
Apprentices start normally 16-25 years old. They are placed with a partner company which pays their wages (50% of the minimum wage) they spend blocks of 6 weeks working in the company and then 2 weeks in a local training institution run by the Compagnons. They will also spend 2-3 weeks working in a similar company in another country to broaden their experience. After 2 years they take their “Certificat d’Aptitude Professionelle” the basic trade exam which allows them to apply for jobs, 90% get to this stage and pass, 20% then go on to become journeymen.
First they spend a year as an “trainee” and if everyone is happy then they become an “Aspirant”. During this 2-3 year phase they work for different companies 6 months at a time before moving on within France or abroad. They stay in houses owned and run by the Compagnons paying much of their wages for rent and food. In the evenings they are expected to work 8pm-10pm studying and also all day Saturday. It sounds a pretty intensive experience. Along the way they take various exams and when they feel they are ready they produce an master piece and ask to be assessed to progress to the next stage, this is judged by their peers. If accepted they become a fully fledged Compagnon, About 8% of those that set off as apprentices make it all the way to be Compagnons, it is a strict program, hard work and requires serious commitmen, there is no certificate at the end but everyone in France knows and respects what it meansto be a compagnon.
Our newly accepted compagnon is not finished now though. Having benefited from his training (I say his, for the last 5 years women have also been accepted and 200 of the current 6000 are women) he is expected to then help others by spending 3 years working for the compagnons as a paid trainer, house head or organiser. Like the German system it is a big fraternity that you buy into.
How is all this funded?
Well the companies pay the wages of the apprentices. The companies also have to pay a government tax for training but rather than this going direct to government and then dished out again the companies can choose which training agency they would like the tax to go to. Obviously companies that employ and benefit from compgnon apprentices are more likely to give their money there. The Compagnons Du Devoir are one of three similar organisations in France offering this sort of block release apprenticeship followed by journeyman phase though 60% of French apprentices do not do block release and are purely college based learning.
Whilst it is a very interesting scheme and wonderful to see this degree of commitment and quality of training it is difficult to visualise getting from where we are in the UK today to a system of this type or even be sure if it is appropriate.