Apprenticeship in France – Using the Alternance System

The advantages of alternance employment for businesses

As a recruitment tool to meet the need to obtain qualified and skilled workers, or to address a shortage of same, the alternance contract offers a number of advantages to a business.

Training an employee in alternance enables his or her integration into the business and ensures that he or she acquires the specific skill set that may be required. Following the completion of this training period, a company can therefore hope to hire an employee on a permanent contract in full confidence that they are capable of realising the tasks required.

Overview of the advantages of the alternance system for businesses:

A recruitment solution that is adapted to a business’ needs

Alternance recruitment allows a business to train new employees in a manner that is best adapted to maximise their competence and abilities for the activity in question.

The duration of alternance training can vary from 6 months minimum to 3 years maximum, which permits the employer to supervise the integration of the candidates and follow their evolution in the work environment.

The content and organisation of alternance formation is adjustable to the particular recruitment problems that a business may meet in its own. Alternance is therefore also a means of addressing the lack of suitable candidates in smaller industries or activities.

Job and competency planning and management

Adapted to the needs of businesses which are addressing an immediate need to recruit staff, alternance training represents an investment for a business with a view to preparing itself to hire permanent employees who can best meet its future development objectives.

Management of labour costs

The training of an employee under and alternance contract enables a business to make substantial savings when compared with the standard procedure of hiring a worker. In order to compensate the effort made by businesses which undertake alternanace training, the contracts allow for minimum levels of remuneration which are lower than standard salaries and furthermore the business does not count alternance trainees in the size of its workforce (and therefore avoid some of the obligations which normally go with it).

Under the apprenticeship contract, the minimum level of remuneration of an apprentice represents between 25 to 78% of the Smic depending upon the age of the candidate and his or her qualifications as at the date on which the contract was signed (from 41% of the Smic in the 1st year up to 65% of the Smic for a 3rd year apprentice).

Under the vocational training contract the remuneration of apprentices in alternance is between a minimum of 65% of the Smic for a candidate who has graduated from high school and is under 21 years of age, up to 85% of the standard minimum salary within the industry concerned for a candidate who is older than 26 years.

The provision of social assistance and tax exemptions

In recognition of the efforts undertaken by the business for the training of alternance employees, a number of supports and exemptions are available to help reduce the costs of the training for the employer business.

Apprenticeship contracts thus enable businesses to benefit from regional support, a total or partial exoneration of social charges associated with the contract (dependant on the size of the business) and an apprenticeship tax credit. Teacher training for ‘apprentice masters’, i.e. those employees who are responsible for the training of candidates within the enterprise, is comprised in the subscription payable for continuing professional development.

Vocational training contracts offer businesses the right to a reduction in employers’ contributions on lower and average salaries, a complete exoneration of contributions if the apprentice is aged 45 years or older, and a support for the hiring of candidates aged 26 years or older or of registered jobseekers.

A variety of expert advisors

There are a variety of actors implicated in advising and orientating businesses who wish to recruit alternance trainees according to their needs.

The OPCA, are the state organisms charged with collecting the obligatory financial contributions of businesses offering professional formation. Organised by branch or sector of industry, these are the key actors implicated in informing businesses as to the methods they must put in place for alternance training relating to their particular domain of activity.

The chambers of commerce and industry have developed, on a national level, the “Point A” network, which offers guidance to employers in all steps of alternance recruitment. Located all over the country, Point A branches offer the help of dedicated advice to employers interested in pursuing alternance employment.

A number of institutions offer information as to the possible methods of alternance training: council chambers, local youth centres, PAIO and, obviously, Pôle Emploi are present to assist a business in its recruitment process.

The organisms implicated in alternance training are also local actors in orientation of the scheme and a source of information which should not be overlooked.

Simplified administration for employers

In order to facilitate administrative formalities regarding the registration of alternance contracts, the Employment Minister has made a number of online tools accessible to employers via a government internet site.

To simplify the steps, a potential employer can thus download the necessary recruitment documentation and register on-line the contractual forms.

The simplification of administrative steps goes even further with respect to the apprenticeship contract given that the transmission of supporting documentation is no longer obligatory.

The employer is now only required to confirm that they are in possession of the relevant documents and to keep them at their disposal so that they can be produced in circumstances of a random inspection.

Reminder of the different forms of alternance contract:

There are 2 types of alternance employment contract that businesses can avail of:

  • Apprenticeship contract
  • Vocational training contract

The principle of training proposed under the two forms of contract is essentially the same and is formulated around alternating periods of teaching the theory dispensed by a training organism and of practical work experience at the heart of the business concerned.

Those concerned by alternance formation in a business vary depending on the type of contract chosen by the employer. Thus, alternance may be an option for:

  • to young people aged between 15 and 26 years (or 30 years with an exemption)
  • to jobseekers
  • to people receiving benefits

All alternance training is required to be sanctioned by the issue of a state recognised diploma or other recognised professional qualification.

The advantages of recruitment via apprenticeship contract

Apprenticeship contracts hold a number of benefits for a business which is attempting to address difficulties in recruitment or wish to pass on know-how to new recruits in order to be successful in its sector.

Alternance training contracts are available for the recruitment of young people aged between 16 and 25 years (with certain exceptions which may extend this bracket to 30 years) and are based on alternating between formal lessons dispensed within a recognised training institution and on the job professional experience in the recruiting enterprise itself.

Leading to a diploma for the employee, the apprenticeship contract is a recruitment tool which enables a forward-looking management of the workforce and its competences for the business.

It offers a number of advantages for the employer:

  • Coping with the challenges of recruitment

Recruitment of an employee in alternance permits a business to train new workers in the manner which is best adjusted to professional competences of the business and their development needs.

The apprentice participates fully in the activity of the business and variable length of apprenticeship allows for the best possible accompaniment to enable the integration of the candidates in the enterprise.

  • Passing on the know-how of the business

The formation of an employee under an apprenticeship contract is a manner of meeting objectives for the transmission of the necessary know-how and skills required in a business’ particular domain of activity.

In order to be successful in its field, the training of an apprentice permits a business to develop its staff so as to best respond to an increase in activity or meet the need to replace workers.

  • Training a candidate in accordance with the needs of the business

The apprenticeship contract concerns uniquely young employees aged between 16 and 30 years according to the relevant terms and conditions. It is aimed at young candidates who wish to become integrated in the business in order to begin building their own professional future.

The possibility of training an apprentice permits a business to specifically tailor candidates to the profile for which they have a need.

  • Progressive integration of an employee

The apprenticeship training period enables the business to progressively integrate the new employee into his or her role and environment.

For an employer, it also allows them to hire on a long-term basis employees in which they can be fully confident in upon completion of their training.

  • Adapted vocational training

The content and the organisation of the apprenticeship training is adaptable to the requirements of the industry concerned in order to best meet the particular needs and to pass on necessary competences.

The training available comprises the needs of various businesses by sector of activity. To respond to the particular needs relative to each role, a business may develop its own specifically tailored program provided that it is in convention with a recognised training institution.

  • Controlling recruitment costs

The apprenticeship training contract proposes levels of remuneration which very from 25 to 78% of the Smic (or from the standard minimum salary in the sector if applicable) depending on the age of the candidate and his level of qualification at the time of the signing of the contract.

The number of apprentices is not taken into account in the total calculation of a business’ workforce or the obligations which result from it other than with respect to accidents at work or work related illnesses.

  • Available social grants and tax exemptions for apprenticeships

In recognition of the efforts of a business in assuring the training of an employee under an apprenticeship contract, the employer benefits from a number of aids and exonerations which are intended to help diminish the costs of the recruitment.

Calculated according to the size of the business, apprenticeship contracts attract a regionally-based grant, the total or partial exoneration of social charges and an apprenticeship tax credit.

Apprenticeship contracts may be availed of for the following categories of employee:

  • Young people aged between 16 and 25 years on the date on which the contract takes effect
  • Youths of 15 years with special exemption
  • People under 30 years, from January 2017 on an experimental basis in 9 regions: Brittany, Centre-Val-de-Loire, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Grand Est, Hauts-de-France, Île-de-France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Pays-de-la-Loire and Occitanie
  • People aged less than 30 years in circumstances where the contract follows a previous apprenticeship contract and leads to a higher professional qualification
  • No age limit for candidates who suffer from a recognised disability
  • No age limit for candidates upon the creation or resumption of a business on the obtention of a diploma or equivalent qualification

The advantages of a vocational training contract

As a form of alternance training employment contract, the vocational training contract allows a business to train its employees in a manner which best suits its domains of activity and to tackle recruitment difficulties.

Originally intended for young people aged from 16 to 25 years, the scheme is now open to jobseekers aged 25 years and older (or those receiving social security benefits), thus comprising all age categories.

Replacing the former “qualification contract” which was designed to favour the professional recruitment of young people without qualifications at the completion of their initial training, the vocational training contract has extended the objective to include people who often find themselves excluded from the workforce.

Vocational training contracts are now designed to favour the hiring of the following categories of candidate:

  • Young people aged 16 to 25 years who hope to acquire a professional qualification to complete their initial training
  • Jobseekers aged 26 years and over, registered with Pôle Emploi
  • People in receipt of benefits
  • People with recognised disabilities

The training objectives of alternance contracts

The two types of contract do not have the same training objectives: the apprenticeship contract has as a goal, diploma-based training in the context of an initial formation in the discipline, while the vocational training contract is more based on continuing training.

The apprenticeship contract encompasses a diploma course which allows the apprentice to acquire professional competences sanctioned by a state recognised diploma or equivalent as recognised by the RNCP.

The vocational training contract encompasses a skills training course which permits the apprentice to acquire a professional qualification which has recognised validity with the RNCP or equivalent.

Training institutions implicated in alternance contracts

The theoretical training under an apprenticeship contract is most commonly dispensed in a CFA, which is a form of training centre presided over by the relevant regional administration.

Training may also be undertaken in a Section d’Apprentissage (SA), which is also a regionally regulated institution, or alternatively by other institutions which act in convention with a CFA to best meet the specific needs of the professional formation concerned e.g. a Unité de Formation par l’Apprentissage (UFA).

For the vocational training contract, theoretical training may be assured by the internal training service of the company or by an external training organism. There are no strict rules as to the training institutions.

The length of alternance training

The apprenticeship contract may be concluded in a CDD (fixed-term) format for a duration of 1 to 3 years or in a CDI (permanent) format.

The minimum duration of the apprenticeship is 1 year on the basis of a minimal training of 400 hours. Under a CDI contract, the duration cannot exceed 3 years.

The length of the formation may be reduced to 6 months in certain cases or lengthened to 4 years for disabled employees or apprentices who were obliged to repeat a year or have failed an exam.

A vocational training contract may be made in a CDD format for a minimum duration of 6 months or as a permanent contract (CDI).

Training must last a minimum of an equivalent of at least 150 hours per year and must not account for less than 15% to 25% of the total duration of the CDD. In all cases, the maximum duration of training must not exceed 12 months.

On exceptional occasions, the length of a vocational training contract may be extended by more than 25% or up to a maximum of 24 months for certain qualifications.

The tutoring obligation of the alternance employer

Whichever type of contract is chosen, the organisation of the alternance training necessarily obligates the designation of an employee to be responsible for the training of the apprentice:

  • An apprenticeship master to guide the candidate under an apprenticeship contract
  • A tutor to supervise the apprentice under a vocational training contract

Both are charged with welcoming the apprentice to their respective enterprises, however the tutoring obligations differ between the apprenticeship contract and the vocational training contract.

Alternance training under an apprenticeship contract necessitates a more complete guidance throughout the entire length of the training. The apprenticeship master is charged with creating a training plan which allows for the theoretical training the apprentice receives to be put into practice at work. He or she must remain in constant contact with the training organisation and make used of the tools and methods of evaluation and follow-up in order to measure the apprentice’s ongoing acquisition of competences.

In order to assure that this is achieved, an apprentice master must possess a diploma or relevant qualification in the professional domain which corresponds with the training to be given under the apprenticeship contract, or possess a minimum of 3 years professional experience in the professional activity concerned.

Social grants and tax exemptions applicable to alternance contracts

The two types of alternance contract enable an enterprise to benefit from a reduction in the apprenticeship tax relating the costs of the apprenticeship, in-kind donations and the “Alternance bonus”.

The alternance recruitment of a person with a recognised disability also gives rise to specific supports for which the maximum amount is higher in an apprenticeship contract as opposed to a vocational training contract (€7000 as opposed to €500).

Supports for apprenticeship recruitment are allocated according to the number of employees of the business. The primary goal of this support is to help small to medium sized enterprises. Additionally, the supports and grants available are (generally speaking) cumulative.

APPRENTICESHIP CONTRACT Benefiting businesses Grant available
Support for small businesses hiring young apprentices Small: < 11 employees maximum €4400
Regional apprenticeship grant Small – Medium: < 250 employees maximum €4000
Support for recruitment of 1st apprentice or supplementary apprentices Small: < 11 employees minimum €1000 per year
Apprenticeship tax credit Small – Medium: < 250 employees minimum €1000
Exemption from social contributions All X
Support for the employment of a disabled worker All maximum €7000
Support for the perpetuation of the contract of a disabled worker All maximum €2000

Under a vocational training contract, the overall objective of the supports available is to favour the recruitment of jobseekers and concerns all businesses without any distinction as to their size.

It must also be noted that there is particular support for such employment within small to medium sized businesses such as the bonus for the hiring of a first employee which has recently been put in place by the government. This aid is, however, temporary and is due to come to an end on the 30th of June 2017.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING CONTRACT Benefiting businesses Grant available
Hiring grant for small and medium sized businesses Small – Medium: < 250 employees maximum €4000
Pôle emploi flat-rate aide for candidates aged 26 years and over All maximum €7000
Pôle emploi flat-rate aide for job seekers aged 45 years and over All Dependant on the average number of apprentices
Support for recruitment of 1st employee All maximum €4000
Exemption from social contributions for jobseekers aged 45 years and over All X
Aid for the employment of a disabled worker All maximum €5000
Aid for the perpetuation of the contract of a disabled worker All maximum €2000


About the Author

The author of this article, Eoin P. Campbell, is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified as a solicitor in 2007. His professional experience includes personal injury litigation, business law, the law of contract, employment law and European law. Eoin is currently lecturing in the law faculty of a prestigious university based in Lyon, France.

N.B. Please note that the information contained in this article is intended to be advisory only. If you intend to commence employing people in France you are advised to discuss the issues raised above and any concerns you may have with an employment professional.