Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
SOCIAL AND VOCATIONAL INTEGRATION : A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY


1996-1997 Annual Report on the State and Needs of Education

Summary

Under its original Act, the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation (the Council) must submit an annual report to the Minister of Education on the state and needs of education. The subject of the 1996-1997 report is the transition from student to active citizen and worker. The Council looks at the role and responsibility of education in helping students make this transition and integrate into society and the work force. However, since successful integration is directly related to society's social and economic absorption capability, the Council also looks at the roles and responsibilities of all social and economic players who are in a position to help individuals realize their desire to take their place in society.

It is this difficulty in taking one’s place in society—as indicated by the high rates of unemployment, the plant shutdowns, the downsizing of public and private organizations and the rise of exclusion and social marginalization reported regularly in the media—that led the Council to look at the problem of integration. At a time when most industrialized societies face these types of problems, when labour market trends raise serious questions about whether we are passing through a short period of crisis or experiencing the early stages of the decline of a society based on paid employment, a thorough understanding of all issues at stake is essential if the education system is to respond in the best possible way and fulfil its mission of instruction, qualification and socialization.

 

Social and economic issues

The first two chapters of the five-chapter report address social and economic issues. Chapter 1, L'insertion : du sens des mots à une quête du sens, looks at what social and labour market integration means in contemporary discourse. The importance of labour market integration is addressed—the integrating role of employment as a prerequisite to an individual's social integration and the development of a real social identity. More and more, the transition from school to active life, to one's first satisfying job, takes a disjunctive and winding path, with integration into society's labour force further and further postponed. It is no longer something that happens automatically, nor is it the responsibility of the individual alone—who may have to wait until his or her early thirties to begin life as an independent adult. The downward spiral into disqualification of knowledge and skills, the desocialization that ends in deterioration of attitudes and social skills, can lead to a turning inward, to forced withdrawal from active participation in the labour market to exclusion. As in the past, the education system must ensure that no student leaves school without an initial qualifying education, but today it must also be able to provide the instruction needed for reintegration and continued employment, to prevent the human and social consequences of non-employment and exclusion. And yet this is not all: the education system is also called upon to contribute to the development of the humanistic and humanizing values necessary for a fully active society of the future where social integration is no longer dependent on successful labour market integration.

These responsibilities of the education system are reaffirmed in Chapter 2, À nouvelle économie, défis nouveaux, in which the Council endeavours to understand contemporary economic reality and the concomitant transformations in the labour and employment market, where integration takes place. Though unemployment rates here and elsewhere are high, especially for young people or for those with little schooling, productivity is on the upswing and economic growth is brisk. We are in the midst of a paradox: a vibrant economy that generates unemployment. Of the factors responsible for this, the Council believes that three have a critical effect on employment: the globalization of production and markets, accentuating competitiveness in the quest for bigger profits; process re-engineering, leading to the restructuring of corporations and streamlining of operations; and the proliferation of new computer technologies offering phenomenal productivity and a concomitant decrease in labour requirements. Precarious employment, employee flexibility, versatility of qualifications and skills—these are the key features of today's market demand. There are decidedly fewer conventional jobs, but there are also more and more social needs that are not being met and that could be met by a pluralistic economy with room for a social economy and the development of community services. The Council finds the prevailing situation inhumane and deplores the fate of young people who must live with this precariousness and uncertainty and the widening gap between those who integrate successfully into the work force and those who do not.

 

Social and labour market integration and the education system

After placing the problem and the Council’s sphere of activity in context in the first two chapters of the report, the Council examines the role and responsibilities of the education system. Chapter 3, Éducation et emploi : des données concluantes, gives a status report that the Council feels is conclusive: statistical data on labour market integration of graduates of the education system clearly demonstrate that qualification is advantageous, that there is a positive correlation between higher schooling and work force integration. Secondary-level vocational education programs, college-level technical programs and undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate university programs are all qualifying avenues, and the diplomas they confer open the door to the labour market, to jobs whose degree of complexity and responsibility depends on the level of education. The labour market integration rate of those with master's degrees and their ability to find jobs related to their field of study are the clearest indication that employers tend to seek higher and higher levels of qualification. It goes without saying that this does not apply across the board, however, and that the reality is very different depending on field of activity, sex, ethnic origin or disability.

Aware that there are positions which companies are unable to fill, the Council also addresses the question of adjusting supply to demand. The Council notes that the available labour force lacks the qualifications and experience to meet employers’ expectations, especially in outlying regions. Recognizing that the education system has a responsibility to ensure that future graduates have high-quality initial qualifications and to contribute, with the help of partners, to the development of accelerated training mechanisms and the upgrading of outdated training or training that does not match market needs, the Council believes that employers have a social responsibility to make the necessary adjustments when new graduates enter their service and to ensure that the continuing education of their employees keeps pace with or anticipates changes in technology and skills. Since the development of an entrepreneurial culture seems to go hand in hand with job shortages, and since there is a more and more pressing demand that the education system contribute to this development, this issue is also briefly addressed. The Council notes the importance of providing opportunities for instruction in entrepreneurship and of ensuring that educational institutions are more open to this career option. The Council asks, however, that care be taken not to overestimate the value of developing entrepreneurship, a career path beset with pitfalls.

In Chapter 4, Un système éducatif qui s'adapte sans s'assujettir, the Council looks at how the education system can give every graduate, youth or adult, a "portfolio of integration assets" that can facilitate social and labour market integration in the modern world. The Council makes a number of assumptions in identifying the sphere of activity of the education system given its primary mission of social and vocational preparation for active life: the education system serves society and the individual first and foremost; the education system must go beyond the utilitarian and short-term vision of an education geared solely to labour market integration; rising unemployment and job scarcity are primarily related to transformations in the economy and in work organization; a perfect fit between initial education and job is impossible, only continuing education can guarantee the development and preservation of job qualifications; education shares with other social players the responsibility to prepare the individual for successful social and labour market integration. The Council is counting on the acquisition of a solidly grounded value system to make it possible to meet the challenges of the new economic reality and on the development of the capacity to analyze and understand a many faceted environment as a means of coping with the situation and responding appropriately. The Council believes the mission statements and the educational or institutional projects of our educational institutions are appropriate vehicles for conveying attachment to the values that must characterize an educational system committed to forming responsible individuals and for promoting these values. Committed as well to making the individuals it educates more employable, the education system must seek a balance that can reduce the gap between the qualifications it certifies and the skills employers say they are looking for, depending on level of education and discipline.

To map out the main features of the sphere of activity of the education system in preparing individuals who seek instruction within the system for active citizenship and better social and labour market integration, the Council proposes a number of approaches that can, with some adjustment, be used at all levels of education no matter what the career path.

The Council believes that we must continue to direct our efforts toward ensuring that no student leaves the education system without labour market qualifications, and that we must rely on more innovation at the local level and the establishment of training paths that can motivate those put off by traditional schooling. It is becoming more and more important to build bridges between the different levels of education and training paths, to instil a philosophy of gradual progression toward greater knowledge and skills and toward the ability to innovate and assume responsibility. The education system must promote humanist and humanizing values that encourage openness to and interest in others in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity that can reduce the risks of social collapse that come with the scarcity of resources. Recognized qualifications must be offered through a selection of programs that is promptly upgraded and revised to meet regional needs. We must move towards more interdisciplinary education and lay greater emphasis on development of a scientific culture; on the mastery of computer skills; on French and English; and on learning a third language. And because the employer looks at a job applicant’s attitude and social skills when qualifications are equivalent, basic skills that enhance specialized qualifications must also be developed—in particular, personal qualities such as self-confidence, honesty and responsibility, and interpersonal skills such as teamwork, customer service and communication. Official report cards and transcripts should mention the acquisition and mastery of these personal and social skills.

In connection with preparation for active life, the Council would like the education community to be more open to the outside world and to community life in the school as well as outside it; paid employment for young people, social and community activities, extracurricular and out-of-school activities—all provide learning opportunities that educational establishments could teach young people to make the most of and use as assets in seeking labour market integration. In today's world, appropriate, semi-personalized guidance counseling and information are crucial for making informed choices geared to the individual’s interests. Educational institutions and young people in school must be made aware of the costs (psychological, economic and social), to the individual and society as a whole, of inadequate school guidance counseling. In addition, we must not forget the importance of providing concrete, specific measures within the education system to assist in labour market integration—in particular, to facilitate the job search process and make it more productive. And because the education system must be attentive to market needs and expectations, cooperation with players in the production system is also critical. Since the education system must remain true to its mission, the Council affirms that such partnerships must be based on complementarity and the reinvestment of learning. As for achieving a better job/education fit, regional anchorage seems crucial to the extent that care is taken to maintain an openness in education that allows worker mobility.

Last, the Council recognizes the contribution of the Ministère de l’Éducation’s "Relance" operation (on the integration of graduates into the work force) in gaining a better qualitative and quantitative picture of social and labour market integration. The Council would, however, like the transformation of the labour market and of work organization to be given greater consideration in drawing up survey questionnaires, so they will better reflect contemporary reality and trends in the world of work. The Council would also like to underline the importance of the university research on integration now being conducted and to mention that it is crucial that this research be multidisciplinary and have adequate funding.

 

Social players involved in integration

The education system cannot work in a vacuum; other social players too must take greater responsibility for social and labour market integration. This is the subject of the last chapter of the report, Réussir l’insertion : une volonté individuelle, un engagement collectif. For the Council, successful integration is impossible, if not unthinkable, without constant interaction between the main players, the individual and society. Even if every single individual from the start truly desired social and labour market integration and acted accordingly, all the other social players would still have to give them the power to do so by making room for them within society as citizens and workers.

The prerequisite for integration is undoubtedly the individual’s willingness to do everything necessary to achieve integration, to prepare himself or herself by acquiring the certified qualifications, skills and information necessary for entry into the work force. This done, the individual must also ensure that his or her qualifications remain up-to-date through continuing education. These assets in hand, there are two options: find employment or create one's own employment. In either case, there are mechanisms, ways of doing things, that play a role in successful integration, and it is up to the individual to assert himself or herself, socially and occupationally, to achieve this objective.

The individual’s desire, however, can never be realized without the support of fundamentally empowered social players. The Council identifies a number of players called upon, in one way or another, to help create a welcoming social and economic environment: a present and supportive family; a corporation aware of its social responsibilities with informed employers; committed intermediaries (unions, territorial communities, community organizations, professional corporations and associations, churches and the media, among others). In other words, there is a wide variety of players capable of acting positively and responsibly so that the individual is not left powerless despite a willingness and readiness to act.The individual’s desire, however, can never be realized without the support of fundamentally empowered social players. The Council identifies a number of players called upon, in one way or another, to help create a welcoming social and economic environment: a present and supportive family; a corporation aware of its social responsibilities with informed employers; committed intermediaries (unions, territorial communities, community organizations, professional corporations and associations, churches and the media, among others). In other words, there is a wide variety of players capable of acting positively and responsibly so that the individual is not left powerless despite a willingness and readiness to act.

The Council identifies the Government as a major partner in integration. The Council thus asks the Government to actively invest in managing the social impacts of the new economic reality and to guarantee the necessary consistency in approach, coordination and implementation of policies and mechanisms that can promote better social and labour market integration of any individual wishing to assume an active role in society.

In conclusion, the Council cannot deny that the current situation is disturbing. It nonetheless remains confident that a society able to accurately assess the changing situation has the knowledge and the commitment necessary to adjust to it, to respond to it or to oppose it. In setting forth its thoughts on social and labour market integration, the Council's goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the prevailing social and economic situation and to circumscribe the sphere of activity of the education system given its role and responsibilities. The Council concludes that the education system cannot bear the responsibility for successful integration all alone. Other social and economic players must also recognize their roles and responsibilities and work with the education system to build a responsible and welcoming society that allows all active members to realize their full potential as individuals, citizens and workers in a humane setting.

 

Document complet - in French (PDF)

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