4: Dirigisme Pour L’Ordinaire: Vocational Training in 21st Century France

IntroductionIn a 1984 report entitled Youth Unemployment in France: Recent Strategies, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 1984) provides a detailed critique of the French vocational education and job training (VET) effort and the failure of that effort to address the problem of an increasingly segmented labor market. The report’s authors laid blame for the foundering at the feet of the French educational system and its organizing principle:

Its main purpose seems to have been to select and train for the most important jobs in the country. The criteria of selection have predominantly been the talent for abstraction, the ability to simplify complex problems while leaving room for their complexities, and an overall knowledge of French history, philosophy and culture … One of the mainsprings of this system has been to let the best of each generation remain as long as possible in general education. The vocational training of this elite should therefore begin very late. It could then take place in special institutions, such as Les Grandes Écoles or on-the-job: for example, public administration in the Foreign Service. (OECD, 1984: 57–8)

Hence, the idea of apprenticeship or technical, vocational training at an early age was viewed as an obstacle to social status and upward mobility. Moreover, as the report goes on to state, manual training has been regarded as second-class training, of less value than intellectual training (OECD, 1984: 93). Examples of poor quality vocational training sites follow, complete with poignant descriptions of inadequate tools, broken equipment, meager supplies, and the scant workplace knowledge of instructors.

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