Facing robust growth and an unfavourable age pyramid, the French Fashion and Luxury sector has been striving to recruit over 10,000 individuals annually since 2012, primarily for technical positions related to product manufacturing and development, constituting 90 percent of the demand.
Despite already having 615,600 direct jobs and one million indirect jobs, the sector's progress is hindered by issues of attractiveness and inadequate training. This reality affects all industrial sectors, but may have intensified since the recovery of luxury markets in 2012, with a growing misalignment between the volume and content of training offerings on one hand and the actual manufacturing needs in the national territory, especially in rural areas, on the other.
The Strategic Contract for the "Fashion and Luxury" sector, signed in January 2019 by French government authorities and industry representatives, revolves around various crucial aspects aimed at enhancing the sector's competitiveness. One of these, and not the least important, is training.
Every year, nearly 16,000 young individuals undergo training ranging from the levels of CAP to BTS in France. However, these programs do not align with the specific needs of the fashion and apparel sector. This is a concerning trend, as half of these graduates leave the sector within the year following the attainment of their diplomas, resulting in a loss of 240 million euros from the total investment made by the state, according to data from DEFI, the Committee for the Development and Promotion of Apparel. Moreover, among the remaining half of the graduates, 70 percent choose to pursue higher education focused on the role of fashion designer, even though 90 percent of the demand lies in manufacturing and manufacturing process management and supervision.
In response to these needs, the CSF has initiated a dialogue with the government to work on adapting the training programs accordingly. In 2019, it also launched "Knowledge for Action," a campaign aimed at promoting high-value-added professions. Renewed annually, the campaign emphasises specific aspects. The latest offers new tools for recruiters and guidance counsellors.
It is indeed important to underline that fashion is a key sector for France. With a direct turnover of 154 billion euros, accounting for 1.7 percent of the GDP, its significance surpasses that of the aerospace and automotive industries in the economy, according to the report from the Strategic Contract for the Fashion and Luxury sector 2023-2027.
Where do we stand in the deployment of professional training? What are the outcomes of the "Knowledge for Action'' and government initiatives? To delve into these advancements, FashionUnited interviewed three leading members of the CSF Mode Committee: Laurent Baup, General Delegate of the Watchmaking Federation, Sylvie Chailloux, business leader in Textiles from Maine and President of UFIMH (French Union of Fashion and Clothing Industries), and Laurent Vandenbor, General Delegate of Mode Grand Ouest and National Training Delegate of UFIMH (French Union of Fashion and Clothing Industries).
Could you explain the "Knowledge for Action" campaign?
Laurent Baup: The "Knowledge for Action" campaign stems from collaborative efforts of nine professional branches operating in the fashion and luxury sector (Leather Goods, Haute Couture, Footwear, Clothing, Textiles, Jewelry, Watchmaking, Leather, and Tableware). It was designed to showcase the richness of technical professions in our sectors, highlighting over 80 different roles. Financed by OPCO 2i*, the "Knowledge for Action" campaign is also a tool deployed within the broader industry promotion campaign "With Industry", aiming to spotlight professions across all industrial sectors.
Laurent Vandenbor: Arising from initial considerations related to promoting our professions and branches, this campaign is the first to have a ‘"sector’" approach, with the major goal of being a ‘"trailblazer’" in pathways and awareness for families, young individuals, and job seekers, using modern and dynamically assessed communication approaches that are regularly refreshed.
" Not every job can be done in the town next door. To be fully effective, we need to be able to attract the right people to the right place " Laurent Baup, General Delegate of the Watchmaking Federation.
The potential of professional training for the promotion of economic, social, and personal objectives is immense, yet far from fully exploited. What remains to be done?
Laurent Baup: It's a long-term effort, we need to reach all audiences! Not only middle and high school students but also their parents who need to understand the careers we offer. We must not overlook employees seeking a career change who can find positions in our sectors allowing them to change their lifestyle or even fulfil their passion. Beyond shedding light on these professions, we also need to facilitate support and the implementation of training initiativesactions. This is a collaborative effort with OPCO 2i, especially to enable the deployment of training policies for each branch and attract talent on a large scale. Lastly, there are geographical constraints to consider: not all jobs are in the city next door. We must be able to attract the right people to the right place to be fully effective.
Sylvie Chailloux: Initial clothing training struggles to align with company expectations. Work has been undertaken on revising the training framework for Vocational Baccalaureate programs. The fruits of this revision will be seen in the graduating class three years from now! Similar efforts will commence in 2024 for the BTS level (France’s Higher Technician's Certificate) to reintegrate management Managerial and mMethodological functions, accurately addressing the numerous job openings.
"It is due to a lack of nearby structural response that companies develop their own training centers", Laurent Vandenbor, General Delegate of Mode Grand Ouest and National Training Delegate of UFIMH (French Union of Fashion and Clothing Industries).
How was the training market faring before the 2019 sectoral contract?
Laurent Baup: The sector has always been rich in quality training. It is precisely from this ability to train the talents of tomorrow that the prosperity of the most prestigious fashion houses arises. But it must be acknowledged that training also relies on companies. Since 2019, cross-sector efforts have been undertaken, and shared initiatives have been implemented.
The fashion industry is experiencing real growth worldwide. Out of the 10,000 positions you aim to fill each year, how many are actually filled? What are the upcoming prospects?
Sylvie Chailloux: There is indeed a significant evaporation; the state's investment in initial training is colossal but not productive enough, and companies struggle to find perfectly trained young individuals.
Laurent Vandenbor: Two reasons: The penultimate reform of the baccalaureate reduced mastery of sewing fundamentals and eliminated the BTS Industrial Automation to merge it into a BTS focused on development and digitalization. As a result, only 1 out of 7 high school graduates end up in sewing. After two years of work, the baccalaureate has just been revamped but will only show its effects in three years. It is now essential to restore an offer of further study in BTS and Production License, along with labour ministry certifications and CQP*, to meet the needs and prepare the expected supervision of workshops and the integration of numerous new breakthroughs.
It is due to a lack of structural response in proximity that companies are developing their own training centres, better suited to their needs. While this works for large houses and ETIs, it is burdensome for SMEs, both budgetarily and especially in terms of the detachment of production experts, even as the sector is under market capacity tension like never before. Another currently explored avenue is to establish partnerships with new training actors such as Family and Rural Houses or the CFA network of private schools, even private training operators, but restoring the ‘main reactor’ is more than expected.
Sylvie Chailloux: Employment retention post-professional training is around 80 percent for the trained. For CAP and BTS in initial training, it would represent only 20 percent. Perhaps automatic orientation, which is based on criteria other than interest, sometimes misses out on passionate young people...
Laurent Vandenbor: We need to shift from an orientation approach aiming to fill classes to an orientation that takes into account the expression of needs, considering the vocational path as a value equivalent, at least if not more, to the traditional academic path. I have been a company advisor for the school for 21 years. During exam juries, I observe that school records are a valuable source of untapped and unshared information with professionals. Can we not organise job dating in the first half of July to facilitate meetings between families, students, teachers, and companies? A waiver from school principals to identify and guide certain profiles could be interesting. And easy to implement, wouldn’t it be?
“In the next 5 years, retirements are expected to be massive. There is talk of reindustrialization without recognizing the training effort required in our handcraft professions, many of which cannot currently be automated", Sylvie Chailloux, business leader in Textiles from Maine and President of UFIMH (French Union of Fashion and Clothing Industries).
In your opinion, what has widened the gap we observe today between the training provided and the skills demanded by companies? And how can training be aligned with the needs of the industry today?
Laurent Baup: The connection between companies and the world of education must be strengthened. While many efforts have been made in recent years, it is essential for professional branches to be at the heart of discussions on the related professions. A purely economic vision is insufficient. Some sectors today have so-called "small flow" needs. This doesn't involve training thousands of people for a specific job but sometimes only a handful, so the logic cannot be purely economic. If we want to preserve certain essential skills, we must accept the cost of these training programs. Access to quality equipment, in line with what people will find in companies, the use of well-trained trainers in the latest techniques, and listening to partner companies on the relevance of training programs are all challenges that need to be addressed for training organisations to be as effective as possible. Many branches have developed Professional Qualification Certificates (CQP), which are currently successful and deserve even wider deployment.
Sylvie Chailloux: The reference frameworks need to be updated, and the school-business partnership needs innovation to work in both directions. The needs of territories by sector and volume can vary significantly. Vocational high schools must become operational tools to provide the resources expected by companies in their region. Because mobility is not a reality, training must be done as close as possible to the hiring companies, and companies must commit to schools in the medium term. The current cost borne by companies to address this lack of effective initial training is unsustainable and harms the display of price competitiveness. In the next 5 years, retirements are expected to be massive. There is talk of reindustrialization without recognizing the training effort required in our handcraft professions, many of which cannot currently be automated within the limits of current knowledge.
Laurent Vandenbor: Over the last decade, measures to address the absence of an adequate response from vocational education, both in terms of volume and level, have allowed the markets to preserve age-old know-how with a "liberal" transfer to businesses. It seems that no one realises that the primary function of a subcontractor, for which the client remunerates them, is to produce. While it is understandable that the industry can provide occasional punctual and circumstantial responses, it is unacceptable that it has been forced to provide a structural response sustainably for exactly 10 years. This situation negatively impacts its performance rather than promoting its development. The transition from hiring one out of seven seamstresses via the educational route to three out of seven is a major challenge of the ongoing vocational education reform. Pending concrete results, one approach is to explore how to finance the detachment of staff withdrawn from manufacturing for training activities or to develop a mechanism supporting the status of a salaried trainer, regardless of age.
Craftsmanship is vital for France and countries active in Haute Couture, a label that demands handcrafting and expertise. Initiatives are being taken to ensure the transmission of these skills to new generations before those who possess them retire. What is, or should be, put in place to maintain the competitiveness of France, the global leader in luxury? What are the objectives in terms of training and employment? What are the figures?
Sylvie Chailloux: A genuine partnership is needed on this issue if we want to preserve skills and expertise. Couture houses have grasped the scale of the problem; they invest significantly, are committed, and have the means (Hermès with 19 million, Chanel; the LVMH House of Excellence, etc.). However, it's more challenging for SMEs that subcontract to these houses and aren't adequately supported in terms of training. The issue lies in the underfunding of the training fund dedicated to SMEs since the reform of OPCOs. It is difficult for an SME to bear training costs while increasing wages. Solutions need to be found to provide them with more resources and enable them to have remuneration levels more in line with the qualifications expected in the Luxury sector.
Laurent Vandenbor: The manufacturing landscape has changed. The driving forces for manufacturing in France are luxury and national brands. The recognition of qualifications in these professions seems more pressing than the issue of attractiveness. Since 1980, seamstresses in ready-to-wear have transformed into artisans working on collections for major fashion houses, sometimes even handcrafting initial models, runway pieces, or exclusive series. Their daily lives have profoundly changed. Perhaps we need to consider how to restore pride in being an excellent seamstress, an exceptional leatherworker, by working on distinctive and specific recognition for certain professions, akin to the classification as crafts, or professional recognition in the spirit of the "Best Craftsmen in France," allocating the means for improvement in management and career perspectives, which do exist but are not always very transparent.
Laurent Baup: A study is currently underway on the subject of art professions in the industry with OPCO, and we are awaiting the results to finalise an action plan.
Can we already see the impact of the promotion of professional training and the actions taken by initiatives such as Savoir Faire, IFM, or De(eux) mains from Colbert Comity?
Laurent Baup: We do indeed observe a positive momentum around our professions. For example, the "Savoir pour faire" campaign now has nearly 30,000 subscribers on various platforms and social networks, and the latest edition of "De(ux) mains du luxe" was again a great success. The enthusiasm is there, but it is challenging to speak of a satisfactory transformation when so many positions are still vacant in the industry. It is a long, very long process but will be all the more effective if we communicate with a desire for synergy rather than individually. In this regard, the CSF has been an important catalyst.
Sylvie Chailloux: The "Savoir pour Faire" campaign is a real information relay, especially for guidance. IFM offers diversified courses from creation to production and is considering expanding its offerings. While solutions can be built regionally for production roles, nationally, we need a major Fashion School to develop programs in line with the needs of the entire value chain of the French industry. The expansion of "De(ux)mains du luxe" to provinces, especially in Cholet and Lyon, is a beautiful prospect of support from Luxury Houses towards the Regional industry.
Laurent Vandenbor: Since 2005, we have organised the first observatory of professions and skills with Xavier Royer, the new vice-president of Certif Pro, the professional transitions agency network, providing job sheets, a national map of training, and information resources. The "Savoir pour faire" campaign has helped modernise the discourse, amplify influence by giving a voice to actors, young people, trainers, and operators regarding the "big industry" and its means. This campaign contributes to affirming the values of these professions in an era that seeks meaning. I believe that we finally have an effective spokesperson that puts us "almost" on the same messaging level as the big industry. Moreover, this initiative, now "mature," allows us to join national campaigns like "With Industry" or "World Skills," and more broadly, all territorial forums. Treating rural areas like large urban areas in terms of organising solutions, offers, and financial means is a major challenge if we want to guarantee unique skills and attachment to distinctive knowledge by territory. To avoid a gap between large cities where most resources and events are concentrated, we need to reconsider the competence clusters of the main territories identified as critical, regardless of the size of the need.
When addressing the topic of professional training, attention is often focused on technical training and craftsmanship. However, this term also encompasses ongoing training and programs designed for executives. Moreover, the creation of a fashion brand is no longer done today in the same way as it was five years ago. In what direction are your initiatives evolving?
Laurent Baup: It's true that we often highlight what makes our specialties, our products, our heritage techniques... but our houses equally need to attract talent in support functions, HR, marketing, sales... The entire company is concerned. The range of training available today is vast and varied. However, within the framework of the CSF, we have identified a significant project on the development of specific training in new technologies relevant to our professions and training on ecological transition. While our companies have fully embraced the issue, there is a need to consolidate the training offer in this area, which remains scattered. A study is currently underway to identify action levers and see if collaborative work can also be carried out. It's not about training everyone in the same way, but each company should find organisations that train to its real needs, not assumed ones. Again, the definition of benchmarks in connection with the sectors will be a key element.
Sylvie Chailloux: There is an obvious gap in skills regarding regulatory changes, markets, and managerial aspects: new roles in HR, CSR, Data Scientist, etc., cut across the entire industry and thus the branches of the CSF Fashion and Luxury. It is important to work together to provide future answers for our young people and our companies.
Laurent Vandenbor: The latest professional training reform in 2019 had the effect of eliminating the means and training plans of companies. Its impact is significant for SMEs from 50 employees onwards. At the scale of an ETI, whether it entrusts its funds to an OPCA*** or manages it independently with its human and financial resources makes little difference. But on the scale of a TPE SME, removing all its training means and especially imagining that the personal training account would "naturally '' take over is not observed 5 years later, despite maintained levies. Certification constraints are very heavy for small branches and act as a barrier to accessing most funding. I wonder how our SMEs, in addition to having to recruit and train their new collaborators, could also initiate and finance all societal transitions in the same way as the announced regulatory transitions. It would be important to consider that with a hiring volume of 10 percent of its workforce, the continuous support and ongoing training needs should be financially reconsidered, considering that the French industry would be composed of 90 percent TPE SMEs. A prospective study of branch needs was co-conducted between the branches and OPCO2i. It proposes different scenarios and a status of new skills needs that should be looked at more for each employee than always focusing too much on the exclusivity of entirely new professions. All the disruptions to be integrated concern all employees. So how can we do it without the support of the training plan, since it no longer exists, nor the associated means?.
* OPCO 2i is an inter-industry skills operator, notably responsible for the metallurgy, chemistry, and plastics sectors.
** CQP : Certificat de Qualification Professionnelle (Professional Qualification Certificates in France)
*** CFA : Centre de Formation d'Apprentis (Apprentice Training Centre in France)
**** OPCA : Organisme Paritaire Collecteur Agréé (French Approved Joint Collection Organization)