Quality of employment and retention of apprentices in higher education: a winning duo


The path of learning is increasingly favored by students of higher education. The evolution of the apprenticeship workforce continues its accelerated pace since the beginning of the 2000s. According to statistics from the Evaluation, Forecasting and Performance Department (DEPP), the progression has been significant since 2015: +3 , 8% in 2015, + 5.9% in 2016, + 9.1% in 2017 and + 8.1% in 2018 (DEPP, 2019). There are many reasons for this enthusiasm: possibility for students to finance their training, to benefit from training close to business expectations, to develop employability.

Although the trend is generally favorable to the development of higher learning, this should not obscure certain difficulties felt by apprentices: a full schedule and disrupted holidays, or a “fragmented” life . This creates a difficulty in reconciling business investment and return to school.

Evolution of the number of apprentices according to the level of training between 2000 and 2018. Department of evaluation, forecasting and performance / Ministry of National Education

Another difficulty that is increasingly expressed by apprentices in higher education is their position in companies. Some apprentices do not always feel that they are valued. Depending on their feelings about the job and the working conditions, apprentices tend to adjust their commitment and their organizational attachment . This leads us to reflect on the quality of employment for apprentices: work climate, organizational support, integration and socialization.

Mobilizing the quality of employment

The current debates on the intensification of work question the quality of employment in companies. This concept is understood as a set of factors having an impact on the well-being and productivity of workers but also on the financial performance of the company. These factors may concern the following areas: working conditions, management, human resources management. They can concretely revolve around health and safety at work, working conditions, remuneration, training, working time and work / family life balance.

In research conducted in 2019, we questioned the dimensions of job quality with a sample of apprentices. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with human resources managers to obtain the company’s point of view. The apprentices confirmed their real need for a better quality of employment and expressed strong expectations in terms of consideration and integration into the company. In particular, they want the company to pay attention to the development and use of their skills, to support by the hierarchy, to support, to autonomy.

In management literature, corporate strategy is far from homogeneous. Companies with an HR strategy focused on flexibility will offer a large contingent of apprentices to meet their economic needs. Such a strategy directs the choice towards seeking gains in flexibility by hiring apprentices instead of long contracts. These gains relate to the costs of wages and dismissals, low in the case of apprentices. The latter are therefore seen as a simple adjustment factor.

In our study, a development and career manager from the subsidiary of a financial group specializing in consumer credit illustrates this strategy of flexibility. It confirms the absence of taking into account the quality of employment of apprentices in their strategy. Apprentices are recruited to fulfill the tasks of permanent employees with, for some of them, overestimated objectives. Apprentices would then represent a cheap labor force, which one can easily part with.

The true taking into account of the quality of the employment of the apprentices would be the choice of the companies engaged in a logic of investment in human capital . The human resources department (HRD) of an international group specializing in furniture and decoration confirmed this strategy. The HRD notably carried out a real reflection on the place of learning in the HR strategy and proceeded to the implementation of a set of actions integrated in the policy of forward planning of jobs and skills (GPEC).

After these developments, it is essential to reconsider the quality of life problem of apprentices in companies. In a context of “talent war”, the quality of employment becomes an issue for companies in order to attract but also develop and retain talented apprentices.

Author Bios: Abdelwahab Aït Razouk is a Professor of Human Resources Management and Anne Herveou is a Professor of Manageme both at Brest Business School