The rise of apprentices in higher education

Since 2005, the number of apprentices in France has more than doubled, largely thanks to the significant growth in apprenticeships in higher education. In 2020, more than 2,700 students and 2,190 companies in our region made this win-win choice. Philippe Pierrot and Marie-Elisabeth Avignon of CFA EnSup-LR take a look at the reasons behind this success.

"Experience required: 2 years ". This little note at the bottom of a job advert is a bitter experience for many young graduates. But there is a solution: apprenticeship. Almost all higher education courses are now open to apprentices. Law, science, business, environment, technology, agri-food, management... Over 200 courses are offered as apprenticeships in the Languedoc-Roussillon region," explains Philippe Pierrot, director of CFA EnSup-LR. And all diplomas are covered.

Launched over 25 years ago, apprenticeships in higher education have grown by over 100% in the last ten years. And the trend continues: " When the CFA was created in 2015, we were looking after just under 1,100 apprentices, today we're over 2,700," announces Marie-Elisabeth Avignon, the deputy director. Supported by the University of Montpellier, the CFA EnSup-LR brings together six entities: theUniversité Paul-Valéry, the Universities of Nîmes and Perpignan, theInstitut Agro - Montpellier SupAgro, theÉcole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier and, of course, the UM. " Apprentices are present throughout the region, at 40 sites from Narbonne to Florac, via Nîmes, Perpignan, Mende, Carcassonne, Alès, Béziers, Sète and, of course, Montpellier," explains Philippe Pierrot.

The double life of apprentices

Far from the old-fashioned image of apprenticeships being reserved for young people with little academic aptitude, apprenticeships in higher education require a high level of motivation on the part of the students who choose them. " Those who embark on this path know that they will have to give a lot more than a traditional student. They will have the same courses, the same content, the same exams as in initial training, while at the same time following their course in the company ", explains the director. And all this with a graduation rate of 95%.

To enable them to lead this double life, teaching teams adapt to the specificities and schedules of each activity. " In certain branches, such as accountancy, for example, it's imperative that apprentices are fully available for end-of-year assessments," explains Marie-Elisabeth Avignon.

Apprenticeship status therefore demands maturity and rigor, but offers many advantages. In addition to paying a salary that enables those with limited means to study, apprentices benefit from additional skills compared with initial training. What's more, they build up a professional network that will help them find employment. " Only 6% of apprentices have not found a job six months after gradu ating. For professional bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as engineering school graduates, we're approaching a 100% integration rate ", declares Philippe Pierrot. Once they're in a job, they'll also be able to take on more responsibility more quickly.

A win-win contract

In practical terms, the apprenticeship contract works exactly like an employment contract. It is signed by both parties, the apprentice and the company, and can last from six months to three years, depending on the diploma in question. " Apprentices enjoy the same rights as any other employee of the company, as well as benefits such as health insurance and luncheon vouchers. The CFA assists them in finding an employer and in the administrative management of their contract," emphasizes Philippe Pierrot. A minimum salary ceiling is set by law, but the company can of course go beyond this. Finally, the company undertakes to supervise the student by appointing an apprenticeship supervisor.

Today, more than 2,190 employers work with the CFA EnSup-LR, representing companies of all types and sizes. While 60% of these are in the Occitanie region, the CFA also works with companies in Ile-de-France, PACA, etc. Apprenticeships are not restricted to the private sector: universities, tax authorities, the French Post Office and hospitals also recruit apprentices. " It's a highly effective pre-recruitment tool that gives companies access to new skills, some of which they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. It's a real win-win situation," says Marie-Elisabeth Avignon.

A driving force for educational change

While setting up a work-study program requires a great deal of commitment on the part of the teaching teams, it also enables the program to evolve thanks to feedback from the young people on the job. The 25 members of the CFA EnSup-LR team are on hand to help. " We're there to support the teaching teams when the training is being set up, but also during the course. We act as a link with the company and advise them throughout the year," concludes Philippe Pierrot. A Mooc and webinars are also available on the CFA website. All the more reason to continue learning how to learn.