Did your job exist 30 years ago? Do you expect it to still exist in 30 years? If so, will you be doing it? And what about your employer: do you have one, or several? Or do you work wherever you park your van, or place your Macbook? If you wandered the streets asking these questions (and if you got answers rather than alarmed looks), you would quickly build up a picture of a fast-changing world of work.
Whether the better adjective for this is “flexibility” or “instability” is up for debate, but technological change, the rapid decline of some sectors and the rise of others will undoubtedly bring some problems.
To name one example: those—usually women—who have to take a break to raise kids, or people trapped in precarious low-paid roles, can struggle to get the training they need to keep up with their peers. Meanwhile, anyone, however privileged, who is changing their employer regularly or working for themselves, may lack the professional development they need to make the most of new opportunities.
France thinks it has the answer to this: the Personal Activity Account (CPA), introduced for jobseekers as well as private and (in a reduced form) public sector workers at the start of 2017, then for the self-employed at the start of 2018. The CPA lets you build up a bank of hours that you can spend on training, with employers contributing funding through a levy.
Most importantly, these rights don’t change or vanish if you get sacked or change jobs. They’re attached to people, not companies. So however changeable your career, you can still embark on uninterrupted development work, from improving language skills to guidance in starting a business.
“If our prediction that transitions [in work status] will become even more frequent… comes true, then this change becomes very important,” Glenda Quintini, a senior economist for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said. “In principle, it is an important shift.”
As well as shoring up workers in general for an unpredictable labour market, the policy has the potential to boost equality. Quintini points out, for example, that women are more likely than men to move in and out of work. This way, they can make sure they stay up to date with the skills they need and avoid being outstripped by male counterparts.
Meanwhile, governments across the developed world could use personalised training systems to help low-paid workers in the so-called “gig economy,” who often find themselves in a precarious position. Workers in the sector, such as drivers for food delivery services like Deliveroo, are often not classed as employees and so enjoy few benefits from the companies who rely on their labour. With a right to training, they could study up for more reliable or better-paid employment.
But the French CPA has a flaw: the government is struggling to interest people. The policy has three elements—one focused on the main professional training offer, a second that allows you to log hours spent in especially demanding or dangerous conditions, and a third that rewards you for volunteer work. The first has been around in an individual form since 2015. But according to the French labour ministry only just over 5.2 million accounts have so far been opened. France’s labour force stands at just over 30 million people in total.
Aside from promoting it better, Quintini says that tweaks to the policy could help the government spread it further. “It’s important that the process becomes simpler,” she said; currently the training available varies widely between regions and types of work, potentially confusing some of the less-educated people who might need it most.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron wants to make the CPA more streamlined. According to Les Echos, the current government plan would see individuals take their accumulated training credits directly to providers at their convenience, without intermediaries like HR departments.
But trade unions say this would weaken worker protections. Under that system, “the employee would be responsible if he became unemployed, because he would not have made the right decisions for [his] professional future,” said Fabrice Angeï, a member of the CGT union’s executive council.
Whatever France’s struggles with implementing the CPA, governments should study the principle of individualised training closely. As citizens’ careers become ever more personalised, such policies could help ensure they keep moving onward and upward, rather than spinning around in confusion.
(Picture credit: Pixabay)