Around 20% of French youth is currently unemployed. And yet some sectors especially in high-skilled trades like roofing, plumbing and boilermaking, are struggling to recruit. The highly respected French Compagnons du Devoir that runs Europe’s oldest apprenticeship scheme is working hard to remedy the situation.
The association, which dates back to the Middle Ages, now trains thousands of young people in 27 different trades every year.
Apprentices have to undergo a Tour de France where they spend several years as travelling journeymen (and now women) in both France and abroad.
The aim is to get as wide an experience as possible, learn to be mobile, and of course broaden the mind. It can take up to ten years to become a compagnon (skilled labourer) but the rewards are huge. 98% find work in their field.
Before pursuing their own chosen careers, they must continue the tradition of passing on their skills as teachers for two years. Towns in the UK and Ireland are planning to roll out Compagnons-inspired apprenticeship schemes in the near future. But the French model remains unique.
Funded through an apprenticeship tax paid by all French companies and fueled by a wide network of volunteers drawn to the spirit of fraternity, any sister initiatives are unlikely to be carbon copies.