On July 20, 2020, the Minister of Labor, Employment, and Inclusion requested a mission from the IGAS (General Inspectorate of Social Affairs) regarding cross-border apprenticeship. This type of apprenticeship involves young individuals under an apprenticeship contract completing the theoretical part of their training in their home country and the practical part within a company located in a neighboring country.
The ministerial request tasked the mission with proposing relevant changes to the legal and financial framework for such cross-border collaborations, taking into account financial constraints and a logic of interstate reciprocity. The mission was also instructed to examine the conditions for the sustainability and nationwide generalization, in the medium term, of the program and its modalities. Additionally, it was asked to propose an organizational model at the regional level to facilitate the implementation and monitoring of these contracts. Short-term financing for contracts initiated in 2020 in the Grand Est region (North-East of France) was handled by ministerial services.
The mission was conducted between September 2020 and April 2021, based on the analysis of available documents and data, along with numerous hearings at the national level, in French regions, particularly in Grand Est and Hauts-de-France (North of France), in Germany, especially in the states that implemented cross-border apprenticeship with the Alsace and Lorraine regions, later expanded to Grand Est, in Luxembourg, and within the European Union institutions. The mission also consulted metropolitan DIRECCTE (Regional Directorate for Enterprises, Competition, Consumption, Labor, and Employment) offices, as well as social affairs advisers in different countries.
The established findings indicate that cross-border apprenticeship, initiated in France through experimentation in Alsace with neighboring territories from 2010 to 2013, continued steadily until 2020 in the Grand Est region. This initiative involved three German states and Luxembourg. In Grand Est, the program aimed to allow young apprentices to complete the theoretical part of their training in their home country and the practical part in a company located in the neighboring country. At the end of the training, they would take the diploma specified in the apprenticeship contract in the country where the theoretical training took place. Additionally, if they met the corresponding conditions, they could apply for an examination in the partner country and obtain a dual Franco-German or Franco-Luxembourgish qualification. The framework agreement with Luxembourg specifically extended to other situations, considering the country’s interest in accessing different training structures. Cross-border apprenticeship projects were also considered in the Hauts-de-France region and to a lesser extent in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region (center-east of France).
The quantitative scale of the implemented program is relatively modest, having involved around 500 contracts with approximately 300 companies between 2010 and 2019. Cross-border apprenticeship, however, encompasses specific challenges beyond the widely agreed-upon issues of apprentice mobility, particularly in terms of employment. While young French individuals have the possibility of accessing the job market throughout an employment area by completing an apprenticeship entirely in a neighboring country, undertaking theoretical training abroad requires a linguistic proficiency higher than that needed for in-company professional training.
Cross-border apprenticeship provides apprentices with exposure to businesses and the culture of the neighboring country while allowing them to remain within the French training system. In the Grand Est region, cross-border apprenticeship also carries symbolic and political significance, perceived on both sides of the border as a concrete translation of the Franco-German cooperation, as reaffirmed in the Aix-la-Chapelle Treaty. Depending on the geographical, economic, and cultural characteristics of cross-border regions, the specific challenges and potential of such a program vary within the overall context of the interest of numerous stakeholders in international apprentice mobility.
Concerns about the funding of the program, previously managed by the Grand Est region until 2019, became a major point of contention when the law n° 2018-711 of September 5, 2018, altered the respective responsibilities of branches and regions, removing regional councils from their role as the primary overseer and funder of apprenticeship. The most significant challenge for the sustainability and generalization of cross-border apprenticeship is of a legal nature : not defined within the European framework and not falling under the legal framework of apprenticeship in France, cross-border apprenticeship is currently incompatible with existing norms.
The mission explored various possibilities, including the option of regional deviations from legal norms, recently reinforced by the organic law n° 2021-467 of April 19, 2021, concerning the simplification of experiments carried out on the basis of the fourth paragraph of article 72 of the Constitution. This organic law expands the opportunities for experimental deviations from legislative provisions governing the exercise of local authorities’ competencies. Considering the perpetuation of cross-border apprenticeship paradoxically as an experiment in this context seems unlikely.
The mission recommends integrating cross-border apprenticeship into the mainstream apprenticeship legislation. This requires legislative reform, which can be achieved by inserting a definition of cross-border apprenticeship into the labor code and making necessary modifications to relevant provisions to respect the territoriality of the law. Since the labor code cannot organize labor law or training beyond national borders, it is necessary to introduce non-application clauses for some of the existing provisions. Interstate agreements (mostly bilateral) can organize the necessary articulations in addition to adapting the normative framework. To facilitate the implementation of the reform project if the principle is confirmed, the report proposes a modified wording of the relevant legislative provisions of the labor code.
Regarding financing and governance, the report also bases its recommendations on integration into mainstream legislation, supplemented by a few adaptations. Under the normative framework established in 2018, financing for cross-border apprenticeship cannot be solely the responsibility of regions without major difficulties, even though it seems relevant to allow those regions interested to intervene complementarily in this area, as is currently the case on other grounds. Given the need to avoid scattering resources and the modest funding required, it is proposed to involve the missions of France compétences (public institution in charge of regulating training) and nationally designate a reference OPCO (Operator of Competencies) with the establishment of a procedure for the submission of apprenticeship contracts concluded by foreign companies with training in CFA (Apprenticeship Training Center).
The governance of cross-border apprenticeship must be transparent and take into account the support needs generated, notably by the necessity of easy appropriation for the actors and the lack of equivalence in training frameworks. Until 2019, the role played by the Grand Est region was crucial in financing and governing cross-border apprenticeship, particularly with Germany. In a redefined system, it is important to preserve, or even strengthen, transparency. At the national level, regionally articulated through the regional branches of the OPCO, it is proposed to entrust France compétences and the reference OPCO with the regulation and management of cross-border apprenticeship, with the OPCO designated as the decision-making interlocutor. At the regional level, local governance should include the role of CREFOP (Regional Committee for Employment and Vocational Training) as well as the competence for career information exercised by regional councils. A cross-border operational committee, with the composition and operating procedures defined in the interstate agreement, should ensure the implementation and operational monitoring of the program, meeting under the joint authority of the prefect and a representative from the partner country.
The proposed reform is based on the expressed interest in perpetuating and generalizing a program with marginal quantitative effects but marked symbolic significance, also seen as a way to valorize more broadly apprenticeship training. If the project is confirmed, the implementation of this reform should be conducted swiftly, particularly to prevent the energies and skills mobilized in the Grand Est region and partner countries from deteriorating. In this perspective, in the initial phase, the transitional financing mechanisms established for 2020 should be extended for the organization of the upcoming academic year.