© France Forum

Erasmus+ celebrated its 30 years of age. It is a flagship of what the EU can do. Since 1987, almost five million people already benefited from it, which represents a generation of Europeans. They were 3200 pioneers in 1987 who wanted to travel and participate in exchanges between universities and were aware of the mobility’s added value in their academic career. Today, they are 300 000.

Since its creation, the system is mostly used by students. Therefore, 615 000 students benefited from it in 30 years in France, while only 25 600 apprentices had this opportunity. In 2017, 43 000 students went abroad through a long mobility whereas 6 800 apprentices did the same but mostly for a short period ranging from two to four weeks. This different treatment is unacceptable while the objective is to encourage young people to travel around Europe in order to awaken European citizenship within their mind.

The will of offering to apprentices an access to Erasmus+ grants is based on the conviction that apprenticeship can be an effective leverage against unemployment which is impacting youth harshly. In Europe, it concerns one young out of four on average. In some countries, more than one young out of two suffer from it. However this is not the case in countries which successfully use apprenticeship thanks to a tradition that is rooted in their economic and social system. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria demonstrate it as their young enter the professional world more easily than somewhere else. It also worth it to have a look at Switzerland, where only 30% of people obtain the baccalaureate but 100% have a job because they are early directed towards the professional training.

The French Government leader Edouard Philippe said, with the German case in mind, that “we have to succeed a true revolution of mentalities in France”. During the 1970s, when I was starting my political life and the first professional training centres were built, I was touched by the bias that apprenticeship was suffering from. Not only suspected of being an abusive exploitation of young by enterprises, it was also considered as a relegation, a kind of emergency exit for students facing school difficulties.

Today, this view impregnated by ideology is still governing people’s minds. The educational community still seems to be mobilised in order to exclude young from this path because they are destined to a more promising fate according to it. 

This cultural appreciation is harmful. It impedes the fulfilment of many young talents and deprives our economy of skilled, creative and dynamic professionals. The example of countries which succeed should allow us to recognise that apprenticeship can become a link between general education and employment, for workers as well as engineers and for each level and sector, in order to work in the commercial or the public sector.

The Erasmus for apprentices aims at breaking a glass ceiling. It gives the opportunity to any young of achieving a long mobility, from six months to one year, which is a true professional and linguistic immersion in another country. In order to identify and assess the impediments, experimentation is necessary. This is the objective of this Pilot Project that we added to the 2016 and 2017 EU budgets. On a voluntary basis, professional training centres (PTCs) have been receptive to the proposals launched by the European Commission. The applicants had to come with at least one partner established in another country and commit to fulfil three conditions destined to young people coming from other countries:

  1. Host country’s language classes
  2. Adapted programme for the teaching of professional knowledge
  3. Network of enterprises likely to welcome the apprentices

By way of compensation, the European Union reimburses the professional training centres for the money they spend and gives Erasmus+ grants under the same conditions as those offered to students. It is a democratic requirement, as apprentices are “jobs students”. They are also destined to learn new means and practices and be familiar with another language than the one of their country of origin.

Thanks to this opportunity they are leaving their daily comfort zone, express a desire to widen their view of the world and reinforce their personality. It is therefore allowed to think that the apprenticeship reputation is then revalued.

We faced various difficulties straightaway. Each Member State of the EU has its own legislation and some of them do not have a status for apprenticeship. Therefore some uncertainties are coming from this heterogeneity: social cover, civil responsibility, compensation, diploma recognition. From its side, the European Commission met some difficulties in overcoming the rigidity and complexity of its procedures, administrative inertia and granting its Erasmus+ scholarships.

The first wave mobilised courageous pioneers. An ambitious experimentation gathered in a consortium driven by the Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France around 40 French professional training centres and 12 PTCs from other European countries. During the first year of experimentation, those pioneers faced the worst difficulties, like the lack of Erasmus grants for the concerned apprentices (only 80 departures instead of 150 planned). Enlightened by the first year’s streaks of bad luck, the 2017 edition is more promising in terms of number of PTCs, countries and young people ready to enjoy mobility (238 apprentices are ready to leave). This time, the movement is well launched and the Commission has decided to mainstream our initiative within its own programmes for the next three years. From 2018 onwards, 400 million of euros will be granted in order to finance 50 000 grants for “Erasmus Pro” long mobility.

Moreover, a project for a single framework for quality apprenticeship has to be debated soon by the Commission. Is it a first step towards a harmonisation of labour and training laws in Europe? This initiative should encourage Member States to make the necessary reforms of their own legislation in order to lift the impediments to the welcoming and the sending of apprentices within the European area during their training.

Beyond the will expressed by the Commission, the project has to be backed at the level of Heads of State or Government in order to be successful. I was appointed on 21 July Minister of Labour’s special representative in charge of the development of the Erasmus Pro for apprenticeship.

I have to release a first report by December on the measures to be introduced in our laws and regulations in order to unblock the system. I am pleased to notice the progress made during the French-German Council of Ministers of 13 July 2017. From now on, the “Erasmus for apprenticeship” is recognised as one of the main leverages for the strengthening of mobility and employability of young Europeans. It is time to act: “to break down the barriers in order to make the European mobility real”. From the French side, the Minister of Labour is willing to facilitate long mobility for at least 15 000 apprentices per year. In order to successfully take up the challenge of mentalities’ revolution, the participation of all partners from education, professional training and public and private employers is necessary.