On March 5th 2014, a new law regarding vocational training, employment and social democracy was passed in France following December 2013’s National Interprofessional Agreement. It sets out major advances in the adult learning sector and namely for low-qualified jobseekers and employees e.g. the allocation of training funds for these people or the provision of career development advice. The reform’s star measure is the Personal Training Account or CPF (Compte Personnel de Formation) allocated to each individual upon entry to the labour market (sometimes from the age of 15 for apprenticeships) until retirement. Designed to better reflect the variety of lifelong learning options and safeguard these pathways with a budget of 800 million Euros, the CPF helps fully or partly fund training initiated during careers.
Learners are in charge of their career path
The government launched a new online interface, moncompteformation.gouv.fr, to better guide learners in their options. Whether employed or looking for work, the website enables them to access a secure space where they can view the training hours available. A full-time employee could accumulate (including maternity/sick leave etc.) 24 hours a year to reach a 120 hour stage then 12 hours a year until the 150 hour limit. Since hours are credited on an annual basis, they are only available on January 1st 2016. During this year of transition, learners can still register the hours they’ve gained as part of their Individual Right to Training or DIF (Droit Individuel à la Formation), the system which the CPF has replaced.
The next stage is to choose a training course which provides a qualification or certificate (on which the CPF has heavily focused with the aim to improve employability) from a list of eligible courses defined by social partners which can be searched for by region, industry and status. All sorts of courses are available from the most vocational to more general modules to learn basic skills and gain support for the Accreditation of Prior Learning (VAE). The government has heavily focused on the quality of the training courses with a specific decree detailing the exact goal identification criteria or adapting incoming systems. A guidance, training and skills passport will also be available on the website in late 2015 for a personal and individual record of all the skills gained from completed courses.
The system is on track after a difficult transition
Employers may be central to the reform (funding and tracking the evolution of the system, informing employees) but careers advice also has a key role to play, particularly for jobseekers. It is provided by five bodies including Pôle Emploi (job centre), Cap Emploi (disability employment) and Missions Locales (local missions). Careers advisers are free, confidential and support the learner in their CPF journey. Several projects have already launched to improve guidance e.g. in terms of standardising services or training advisers.
The CPF is still in its early days and many other improvement projects have appeared in recent months, especially over summer. The website is trying to be more user-friendly; lists of courses are slow to be completed as high quality modules are compulsory; the OPCA (Joint Commission for Collective Learning which receives contributions from companies) and, therefore, companies lack visibility on their funding options. There are major repercussions on vocational training bodies who state their turnover has dropped by 15% since the start of the year. The French Vocational Training Federation (FFP) spoke of its discontent in spring following a measure it saw as deceptive in many ways; its president, Jean Wemaëre, does underline however that “training is a key tool to French competitiveness.”
Learners also feel the consequences as discouragement may peak during this transition period. Finding a sponsor is an “obstacle course” according to Jean Wemaëre because of the lack of clarity surrounding budgets; also, finding suitable training seems difficult as social partners tend to prefer long-term courses whilst the CPF and its accumulated 24 hours a year aren’t intended to replace Individual Training Leave (CIF) and demand is more for short-term courses: initial findings show that jobseekers favour language learning and specific vocational training (forklift operators, nurses etc.). The gap between supply and demand could cause a negative effect, according to Jean Wemaëre, as funding contributions by intermediary bodies (Job Centre, companies) shouldn’t become systematic. However, the issue of getting jobseekers back in the labour market is major as over 640,000 of them began training in 2013; Jean Wemaëre also underlines to what extent the portability of the new system’s rights is an opportunity to improve our ability to train this specific category. In terms of the Accreditation of Prior Learning, the number of people who may be affected cannot be ignored with 27,000 candidates receiving the accreditation in 2013.
Although the year of transition has been slightly chaotic, the CPF now seems to be on track with approximately 12,000 courses published in September, 34% of them were suitable for jobseekers and 7% for anyone. 85,000 training requests were made on August 31st and 35,000 were accepted; three quarters were jobseekers. However, in comparison, 50-60,000 employees attended training every month with the Individual Right to Training. It therefore seems too early to make an assessment and there’s a long way to go before we can assess the real impact of the new system on further training in general and particularly on employability. The FFP expects to work together with the new Minister Myriam El Khomri to make the reform easier to understand with more suitable short-term courses and greater awareness from training managers about the importance of human capital. The FFP also works closely with the Ministry to ensure the quality of the courses is in line with the reform’s new standards which is a major challenge for the sector to overcome in the next few months.
Alexia Samuel, experte thématique sur le thème du soutien aux apprenants et de l'inclusion sociale en France. Elle a notamment fait un passage à la Commission européenne et a été chargée de mission politique pour une association européenne d'éducation permanente