The number of apprentices during President Emmanuel Macron’s first term doubled from 350,000 to 700,000, but the government is still trying to steer more young people into the system.
Apprenticeships are seen as key to France’s reindustrialisation, after years when jobs in factories went mainly to China and other eastern countries.
Efforts to further boost the numbers will need to include a concerted effort to change the mindsets of parents.
For years, academic success was seen as the way to a good job in France.
Things are starting to change, however, not least because low-level white-collar workers earn less than manual workers, and considerably less than well qualified crafts workers.
Rules around apprenticeships in France have evolved over the years from the basic model established in medieval times of a seven-year apprentice/ master contract.
Now most apprentice contracts are for two or three years.
The minimum age to start is 16, unless the youngster is 15 with a birthday between the date of the September rentrée scolaire and the end of the year.
The maximum age is 29, counted from the 30th birthday minus one day.
It can be extended to 34 if the apprentice is signing a new contract with the aim of getting a higher diploma than the one he or she already has, an earlier apprentice contract was ended for reasons outside the apprentice’s control, or the last contract was broken due to illness or injury, from which the apprentice has recovered.
In these cases, the new contract should be signed within a year of the last one ending.
There are no age limits for contracts if the apprentice has a disability.
People looking to start their own business are also excluded from age limits.
Various support schemes
There are various support schemes for this, such as Acre (Aide à la création ou à la reprise d’une entreprise), Nacre (Nouvel accompagnement pour la création ou la reprise d’entreprise) or Cape (Contrat d’appui au projet d’entreprise), which can include apprentice training.
High-level sports men and women are also excluded from the apprentice age limit, as are apprentices who failed to get the diploma or qualification specified in their contract and who want to sign on for another year with a different employer.
Apprentices sign either a contrat à durée limitée (CDL) for a minimum of six months and a maximum of three years, or an open-ended contrat à durée indéterminée (CDI), which opens the door for housing loans.
If the apprentice is a minor, the contract is signed by their parents or legal guardians. If the apprenticeship is with a family member – for example, when a youngster is apprenticed to their father or mother – the contract is replaced by a simple written declaration.
Annexed to the contract or declaration is an agreement from a training centre.
Within five days of signing, this must be sent to one of the government’s registration centres, called Opérateurs de compétences (OPCO), which covers the region.
This can be done online.
The OPCO has 20 days to approve the contract – outside of this time, the contract is not valid.
Learn theory and on-the-job
Once approved, an apprentice will learn theory at a Centre de formation d’apprentis (CFA) while getting practical on-the-job training with an employer.
An apprentice must start at a CFA within three months of their contract being approved. The time spent on CFA courses varies from six months to three years, and how this is spread will differ from apprentice to apprentice.
Some have two days a week at the CFA and three with their employer, while others work one month at the CFA followed by one month with their employer.
The qualification level is fixed in the contract but can be changed after the first year.
It is quite common for bac professionnel students to switch to a certificat d’aptitude professionnelle (CAP), with their time on a bac pro being counted as a first year for the two-year CAP.
Hours worked are the same as for any other employee – 35.
This includes time in the CFA. Salary depends on the age of the apprentice.
Between 16 and 17 years, it is 27% of the Smic minimum wage (or €444) in the first year, 39% or €641 in the second year, and 55% or €905 in the third year.
Similar wage limits apply for 18-20-year-olds, starting at 43% of Smic for first-year students.
For 21-25-year-olds, expect to start at 53% of Smic in the first year. Meanwhile, 100% of Smic applies to apprentices aged 26 years and over.
Apprentices do not have to pay social security contributions, CSG or CRDS taxes, or be included for income tax calculations.
They get five weeks of holiday, maternity or paternity leave, and special holidays if they get married or sign a Pacs, or if a member of their family dies.
Working outside France is allowed for up to a year, as long as at least six months of the contract is spent in France.