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Les Compagnons du Devoir: A French Compagnonnage as a HRD System.


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Purpose – To describe and analyse the Compagnons du Devoir (CdD), a French Compagnonnage; that is, a labour brotherhood and a community of practice; and to identify the reasons for its success as a human resource development system (HRD). Design/methodology/approach – A one-off case study of the CdD using data gathered by the authors in their capacity as members of a Conseil Scientifique evaluating a project to internationalise the CdD's approach to vocational education and training (VET). Primary sources include the UK apprentices who passed through the system, and employees of the Compagnons du Devoir. Findings – Much of the success of the CdD rests on its capacity to develop knowledge, skills, and savoir-être in young people through the volume of off-the-job training; near-peer and peer mentoring, the systematic use of older and retired workers and the management of movement and change through a network of residential colleges. Research limitations/implications – The research design is a single case study, whose primary data is cross-sectional, and based largely on data gathered from UK rather than French apprentices. Policy implications include the importance of a training rich in culture and humanity for the training of young people. Practical implications – These include the positive role of older workers in VET; the importance of off-the-job training and mentoring; and the centrality of geographic flexibility in knowledge creation. Originality/value – The paper is a case study of a French Compagnonnage from a managerial/HR perspective rather than those of labour history or sociology. It describes and analyses the functioning of the CdD using the idea of the honour principle. The CdD's approach to HRD can be usefully contrasted with that offered by other national systems.
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Personnel Review
Les Compagnons du Devoir: a French Compagnonnage as a HRD system
Hedley Malloch Birgit Kleymann Jacques Angot Tom Redman
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To cite this document:
Hedley Malloch Birgit Kleymann Jacques Angot Tom Redman, (2007),"Les Compagnons du Devoir: a
French Compagnonnage as a HRD system", Personnel Review, Vol. 36 Iss 4 pp. 603 - 622
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Les Compagnons du Devoir:
a French Compagnonnage as a
HRD system
Hedley Malloch, Birgit Kleymann and Jacques Angot
IESEG School Of Management, Catholic University of Lille, Lille, France, and
Tom Redman
Durham University Business School, University of Durham, Durham, UK
Purpose – To describe and analyse the Compagnons du Devoir (CdD), a French Compagnonnage;
that is, a labour brotherhood and a community of practice; and to identify the reasons for its success as
a human resource development system (HRD).
Design/methodology/approach – A one-off case study of the CdD using data gathered by the
authors in their capacity as members of a Conseil Scientifique evaluating a project to internationalise
the CdD’s approach to vocational education and training (VET). Primary sources include the UK
apprentices who passed through the system, and employees of the Compagnons du Devoir.
Findings – Much of the success of the CdD rests on its capacity to develop knowledge, skills, and
ˆtre in young people through the volume of off-the-job training; near-peer and peer mentoring,
the systematic use of older and retired workers and the management of movement and change through
a network of residential colleges.
Research limitations/implications – The research design is a single case study, whose primary
data is cross-sectional, and based largely on data gathered from UK rather than French apprentices.
Policy implications include the importance of a training rich in culture and humanity for the training of
young people.
Practical implications These include the positive role of older workers in VET; the importance of
off-the-job training and mentoring; and the centrality of geographic flexibility in knowledge creation.
Originality/value – The paper is a case study of a French Compagnonnage from a managerial/HR
perspective rather than those of labour history or sociology. It describes and analyses the functioning
of the CdD using the idea of the honour principle. The CdD’s approach to HRD can be usefully
contrasted with that offered by other national systems.
Keywords Human resource development, Peer mentoring, Older workers, France
Paper type Case study
This article is a case study of Les Compagnons du Devoir (CdD), the largest and
best-known example of the three surviving French Compagnonnages. There are many
reasons why HR students should find it of interest. First, the Compagnonnages are
probably the oldest extant worker organizations in Europe with a traceable history dating
back at least to the fifteenth century. They are one of the few French institutions which
survive from the Ancien Re
´gime. Their longevity suggests that they have mastered
critical strategic tests of durability and sustainability, a feat all the more remarkable when
account is taken of the fact that they have been illegal for much of their existence. Second,
the CdD is probably the largest private provider of high-skill vocational education
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Les Compagnons
du Devoir
Received April 2006
Revised September 2006
Accepted December 2006
Personnel Review
Vol. 36 No. 4, 2007
pp. 603-622
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/00483480710752821
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training (VET) in Europe. Third, the Compagnonnages and the Freemasons are the only
two remaining initiation based institutions currently to be found in Europe. Fourth, it is a
study of a brotherhood as a labour organization; thus it stands apart from more common
forms, such as trades unions, worker co-operatives and professional associations.
Yet there is another reason why the French Compagnonnages are of importance.
They are pre-modern organizations with medieval roots, but in our opinion they have
some lessons to offer us. Gurjewitsch described medieval society as a cooperative
system which “knitted individuals into tight ‘micro-worlds’ that offered help and
protection when required and in themselves formed the cornerstone from which the
idea of mutual assistance and exchange of services was built up” (Gurjewitsch, 1980,
p. 221). The CdD still retains much of this community spirit and this is reflected in its
day-to-day operation as a training agency. As such it can be contrasted with its more
modern counterparts organized along more employer-led, market-orientated lines, of
the sort which are common in other countries.
The case study considers the CdD as a human resource development (HRD) system;
that is the main HR function of CdD today. Historically it had some influence on the
development of French industrial relations, but that has now withered away. It can be
evaluated as a system suitable for adoption by other advanced economies wishing to
offer their youngsters high-skill VET. Alternatively it can be considered as a collection
of HRD best practices, to be unbundled and for selective choices to be made amongst
their many HRD policies.
The paper takes as its starting point Swanson’s (2001) definition of HRD. It then
describes the research method adopted for the case study. This is followed by an
account of the history of the CdD and its structure. The case then highlights some of
the reasons for the sustained success of the CdD as an HRD system. These are:
.the volume of off-the-job learning;
.the use of peer and near-peer mentoring;
.the use of working and retired Compagnons[1] in the training of younger
members; and
.the importance of spatial movement and change in learning.
The paper then draws out some important points about the processes, ownership and
content of a successful HRD organization as evidenced in this case study. These can be
used to suggest modifications to Swanson’s model of HRD. Finally, while the case
presents a French approach to HRD, we make no claims that it is typical of the HRD
practices in that country. That said, an institution like the Compagnonnage could exist
nowhere else. It is no accident that three Compagnonnages exist in France whilst they
have died out everywhere else. There are cultural elements in the French soil that have
sustained them there.
A definition of HRD
We take as a starting point Swanson’s definition of HRD which sees it as a process of
developing and/or unleashing human expertise through personnel training and
development for the purpose of improving performance, a term which embraces
organization and work processes at group and individual levels. Training and
development is seen as a systematic process for developing expertise in individuals.
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The three critical application areas are: human resource management, career
development and quality management. Swanson sees psychology, economics and
systems theory as the core theories of HRD (Swanson, 2001, p. 304).
Three further points of clarification are required. First, Swanson does not identify
the precise nature of the relationship between the individuals and groups who are the
object the HRD effort, and “the organization” but presumably it is for the most part one
of employment, though it could include voluntary work. The HRD effort takes place in
the employing organization or is contracted out by that organization to a third party.
Second, HRD involves a group Swanson labels “HRD professionals” (Swanson, 2001,
pp. 304-5). Swanson does not identify the membership of this group, yet the use of the
word “professional” implies some of sort of manager or technocrat employed by the
Third, while Swanson sees HRD as a process of developing “expertise” he never
defines this term. For purposes of this paper we assume that expertise has three
dimensions: knowledge, skills and competency. By “knowledge” we mean an
understanding of the cognitive aspects of successful job performance as expressed by
underpinning scientific, technical and professional disciplines; and relevant firm
practices and industry specific procedures often expressed as organizational routines
(Nelson and Winter, 1982). The French word for this dimension of expertise is savoir
to know. “Skills” are defined as the functional competences, the abilities to plan and
execute a project, the ability to do things, demonstrated expertise with the technologies
of production, or what is known in French as savoir-faire to know how.
“Competency” is defined here as the social skills and behaviours necessary to be a fully
functioning member of a community at the level of the work group, organization and
society at large; these embrace important dimensions of citizenship. The French
expression is savoir-e
ˆtre to how to be, to know how to become. The three dimensions
of expertise can be represented diagrammatically as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1.
The three dimensions of
Les Compagnons
du Devoir
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National systems of HRD vary in the weight they attach to each of the three axes of
expertise. In the UK the emphasis is on functional expertise, the ability to demonstrate
the task-related skills required at the point of production. This reflects a long-standing
UK HRD with the idea of “the practical man”, the idea mainly held by employers that
VET has little place for education which, in our terms, is competency related. This
tradition of functional expertise is so strong in the UK that it has been officially
enshrined in the systems of government endorsed national occupational competence
standards (Delamare Le Diest and Winterton, 2005, pp. 34-35). This pre-occupation
with the functional skills required by “the practical man” occurs at the expense of
underpinning knowledge, especially in comparison to that found in the training of
younger workers in other European countries (Smithers, 1993; Green, 1995; Steedman,
1988; Steedman and Hawkins, 1994; Keep, 1999).
In the USA, in the management literature at least, there is a concern dating back
nearly 50 years about competency as defined as those personality characteristics
associated with superior performance and high motivation (White, 1959). However it is
a competency, which is quite narrowly defined, bounded by the workplace and directly
tied to improving firm performance. Notions of competency based on citizenship,
acculturation and membership of society at large are absent.
With respect to blue-collar work, the US position is even more restricted. The
influential Secretary’s Commission of Achieving Necessary Skills Report (Kane et al.,
1990) indicated six sets of what the report terms “functional skills” necessary to be
imparted to the US blue-collar worker, two of which could be construed as
“competency” in the savoir-e
ˆtre sense of the term. The first is social interaction which,
like White’s (1959) managerial competence, is focused on behaviour in small groups in
the workplace, and at the customer interface; both types of behaviour are tied to
effective work performance. This concept of competency receives some attention in the
Report and is developed in some detail, though not as much as the other “harder”
functional skills, e.g. resource management and MIS. The sixth of the “functional
skills” is affective skills. With its references to personal attitudes, integrity, motivation
and values it hints at a competency wider than the workplace and connected to a role
larger than that of an employee. What is significant about this “functional skill” is that
it is mentioned once in the report (Kane et al., 1990, p. 12) and then dropped from the
Therefore the savoir-e
ˆtre dimension of HRD is relatively weak in both the UK and
USA. This is a major omission. Coleman and Keep (2001) note that the links between
VET and citizenship and life outside work are weak in the UK, despite the facts that it:
.is precisely this dimension which holds the key to re-engagement of
educationally marginalised adults in life-long learning (Keep, 2000);
.can substantially contribute to the creation of high-skill polyvalent workers
(Brown and Keep, 1999); and
.can build links between VET and academic education (Green, 1998).
On the other hand a notion of competency which embraces citizenship, acculturation, a
moral involvement with work, independence, critical abilities, humanity, the ability to
develop personally, to change, personal self-development, as well as the skills, drive
and outlook to work in the world at large are well developed in many parts of mainland
Europe (Delamare Le Diest and Winterton, 2005, pp. 36-38). This conception of
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competence is most commonly associated with Germany and the idea of beruf,
(a calling or a vocation) though as this case study shows it can also be found in France.
The four authors were members of the Conseil Scientifique de l’International
Journeyman Programme. The International Journeyman Programme (IJP) was a
project set up to offer high-skills training in construction and engineering to young
people from the north of England by passing them through the CdD training system.
The origins and early history of the Programme are reported elsewhere (Malloch and
Redman, 2005). In brief, it consisted of a recruitment and selection procedure in the UK;
induction training followed by a three-week sample of life in a Maison[2] and work in a
French engineering factory. At the end of this trial period the CdD offered some
youngsters employment in France and training.
The Conseil Scientifique advised the IJP Steering Group on present and future
policies. In this capacity the authors had unrestricted access to the main participants in
the UK and in France, including managers and trainers in factories in France, and the
UK apprentices passing through the system. This paper draws on evidence obtained in
interviews with six youngsters who were offered full time permanent employment as
apprentices in France and who lived and worked in the CdD for at least six months.
This is a small number but it represents all of the UK apprentices selected for work in
France; each was interviewed at least once. The interviews were semi-structured and
focused on the apprentices’ life in the Compagnonnage. They were recorded; the tapes
were transcribed and then coded for items and themes of interest. The UK apprentices
were aged 18-20 and their academic achievements were modest. Two came straight
from full-time study, the other four had worked either as apprentices or on some other
type of training scheme in engineering, and two had worked for Japanese firms.
Nominal Group Technique (Delbecq and Van de Ven, 1971) was used with three
cohorts of UK youngsters who completed all or part of the initial three-week
programme of life in the House whilst working in French factories. The size of these
groups varied between 8-12. These sessions were recorded, transcribed and analysed
for relevant points
We also interviewed managers and trainers employed by the CdD; and
non-Compagnons who employed and trained them in their factories. Site visits were
made to Maisons in Lille, Toulouse, Dijon, Lyon, Paris and Epo
ˆne. We obtained much
valuable information on the structure and functioning of the CdD in our work with the
Conseil Scientifique and the interaction this allowed with senior managers and others
in the CdD.
Les Compagnons du Devoir
When we asked a UK Apprenti[3] to describe the CdD he said:
You can’t really describe what the Compagnons are about to people who don’t know about
them. The impression even here in France is the Compagnons are some kind of sect like you
get branded when you enter ... it’s a place where you learn a trade; that’s at its lowest level.
But you can’t really explain what it is; it’s like a school in one aspect; but it’s also like a family.
It’s lots of different things. There is no one way to describe the Compagnons. It will probably
be the biggest experience of your life. If you join the Compagnons it will probably be
Les Compagnons
du Devoir
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something which will stay with you the rest of your life even if you only do a year or two and
finish at that. (Darren, UK Apprenti, Dijon House).
The CdD is best described as a brotherhood. Etymologically, Compagnon is derived
from “copain” or someone with whom one shares bread. The initiation rituals which
form such an important part of the spiritual life of the Compagnonnage make
“unrelated men into fictive kin, specifically brothers” (Truant, 1994, p. 13). Today the
CdD offers high-skill VET in 23 trades in engineering, construction, baking and
confectionery. This apparently haphazard collection of crafts is, in fact, the outcome of
its philosophy of transformer (change); and of main d’oeuvre (working with the hands).
Office and production line work have no place in the Compagnonnage (Hautin and
Billier, 2000, pp.51-56). Taken together transformer and main d’oeuvre focus the CdD’s
range of crafts on those engaged on changing natural material through skilled
handwork. It also symbolises another part of the CdD philosophy expressed by the
reflexive form of the verb transformer: se transformer the ability to change and
develop oneself. Thus man, material, tools, the acquisition of skill, and personal
development are all linked for the Compagnon: these apparently disparate elements
coalesce to place change at the heart of the Compagnonnage which can be considered
an identity transforming organization (Greil and Rudy, 1984) offering a personal
development high in skills, rich in knowledge and profound in its humanity.
Their early history is unclear; the word Compagnon was first used in 1420, but they
emerged as a force in the seventeenth century from amongst the work organizations of
the Ancien Re
´gime, such as the guilds, religious orders, and the confraternities. The
Compagnonnages borrowed from them all, combining their features into a rich blend of
religious symbolism, rituals, ideas of honour, language, fraternity, hierarchy,
definitions of skill, and division of labour (Truant, 1994, pp. 48-72). The Compagnon
was a craftsman who worked outside of the guilds. They were well represented in the
building trades. Linked to the need for workers to travel from site to site across Europe,
to pass on codified knowledge, and to find shelter and support at every new site, the
Compagnonnages developed their own traditions, rites of initiation and passage, and
secret signs that ensured mutual recognition. A network of Maisons was set up
throughout France to accommodate their members. Although they had features in
common with contemporary work organizations, they differed in one crucial respect:
they refused to admit employers. The Compagnonnages defended worker interests
against rapacious employers, provided training schools, managed the network of
Houses, directed apprentices through the Tour of France necessary to complete their
professional training, and supported needy members.
The medieval origins of the CdD can still be seen it today. Its history, and what
Kieser calls the “the extraordinary cooperative spirit of the Middle Ages” (Kieser, 1989,
p. 550) live on in the ritual meals, mutual help, dress codes, the secret initiation rituals
which accompany admission and promotion, and the taking of a new name to endow a
new identity on entry to the CdD. These rituals, taken together with the symbols and
myths of the CdD today help elicit a moral involvement from its members which is
consonant with the normative nature (Etzioni, 1961) of the CdD’s objectives: le me
devoir and transmettre le me
The CdD is owned and managed by its members. There is little written about them
in English with the exception of the anthropological works of the Herzogs (Herzog,
2001; Herzog and Herzog, 1999b; Herzog and Herzog, 1998), but few of these are readily
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accessible and they are not addressed to a HR audience. One of the great strengths of
the Herzogs’ work is that they bring an anthropological eye to bear on the
Compagnons. Modern accounts of the CdD (Icher, 1999; Icher, 1994) tend to be written
from an historic rather than an organization or managerial perspective.
The structure of the CdD
The CdD has five types of member: These are: Apprenti,Aspirant,Compagnon,Ancien
and Se
´dentaire.Apprentis enter at age of 15 or 16; a few enter later. Apprentis complete
a training which lasts up to three years. On successful completion of their training they
can become an Aspirant, and undertake the Tour de France; this is a period of work,
study and training in different parts of France or other countries. Aspirants graduate to
full Compagnon status after which they may serve the CdD for a further three years.
Anciens are Compagnons who are working, but have left the House to live with their
families. Se
´dentaires are retired Compagnons living outside the House. Anciens and
´dentaires play key roles in the assessment of savoir-faire and savoir-e
ˆtre. Progression
to a higher grade of membership depends upon certification of savoir-faire and
ˆtre through assessments controlled by the CdD.
The House
The House is a place of residence and training in towns throughout France. Apprentis
and Aspirants stay here working for local employers, or following courses. By night
Apprentis and Aspirants sleep and eat together at the House. In the evenings they
study or work in the House’s extensively equipped workshop and libraries. Every
Compagnon has a responsibility to help the younger members. Young Apprentis share
rooms with older members. The Houses vary enormously in character; some of the
newer ones are undistinguished in appearance, but many of the older Houses have the
look and feel of ancient universities.
Education and training
Education and training runs on an eight-week cycle comprising six weeks of work
followed by two weeks’ study. Houses offer theoretical training, common courses in
English, History, Art, Languages, Science, French and Maths, and training in trade
techniques. The Maı
ˆtre de Stage[4], a Compagnon who lives in or near the House, gives
practical and theoretical courses. He may work in a local business by day. The young
learners take appropriate public examinations of savoir, for example, the Brevet
d’Etudes Professionnelle, and Certificat d’Aptitude Professionelle for Apprentis; and
Brevet de Maı
ˆtrise,Brevet de Technicien Superieur or Certificat Professionnel de
Perfectionnement for Aspirants. However, their reputation rests on their certification of
their functional skills and competency by the CdD. Grade of membership is linked to
certification of savoir-faire assessed by trade tests, and an assessment of their
ˆtre: the CdD controls both of these. The two main trade tests are le travail
d’adoption, which marks the transition from Apprenti to Aspirant; and le travail de
reception successful completion of which leads to full Compagnon status.
It is possible to progress through the CdD system without satisfying the French
State’s training requirements; on the other hand all Aspirants and Apprentis wishing to
become Compagnons must satisfy the other Compagnons in their House that they are
Les Compagnons
du Devoir
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ready for promotion. Upon completion of training many Compagnons remain with the
CdD for three or four years as Pre
ˆts[5] or as a Maı
ˆtre de Stage in a House.
The philosophy of the CdD
The CdD has a strong sense of mission, which crystallises into two related concepts:
le devoir and le metier.Le devoir is a complex, polyvalent concept that reaches to the
heart of what it means to be a Compagnon.“Le devoir” means “duty”, “work” and
“craft”; all three are indissolubly linked for a Compagnon. They define both the
Compagnonnage, and the Compagnons as individuals. It gives meaning to the
Compagnons’ roles as professionals, family men and citizens in the wider community.
Icher describes it in the following terms:
Today, as yesterday, devoir can be conceived as a sacred value by the Compagnons upon
whom it bestows an essential identity giving dimensions which eclipse the narrower domains
of me
´tier and work (Icher, 1999, p. 444).
Icher quotes Jean Bernard, the Editor of the journal of Le Compagnonnage, writing in
1943, a time of great crisis for the Compagnons when the German occupier of France
threatened their very existence:
Le devoir envelops the entire Compagnonnage with its spirit. It is the very expression of its
entirety which flows directly from the conscience of Man at work, especially manual work. It
is the way in which in one must live and enact the metier, regardless of age or status. From
this we can see that le devoir is a very far-reaching context which governs even the most
detailed aspects of practice. Indeed le devoir envelops the whole life of the Compagnon (Icher,
1999, p. 443).
Le devoir is sometimes confused with the German idea of beruf, to which it has some
outward resemblance, but philosophically they are distinct. Whilst beruf stems from a
vocational calling, le devoir stresses duty and obligation.
Le metier is a closely related idea. Very loosely it means “craft” or “trade” and the
Compagnons have an obligation to “transmettre le me
´tier” to develop, improve and
diffuse the trade and the notions of humanity and culture which, in the Compagnons
view, must be part and parcel of the practice of their work. The aims of the CdD are
summarised by Icher:
... the Compagnonnage has always placed the craft at the centre of its concerns and values.
Yet it is necessary to define that word which, for the compagnons, cannot and must not be
confused with words like “profession”, “work”, “occupation”, ... “job” or “career”. ... We are
at the heart of a Compagnonnage system which has as its ... aim the transmission of its
heritage. For the compagnons the essential part of that inheritance is the heritage and culture
of the craft ...always work better, teach the craft and help your fellow craftsman (Icher, 1999,
pp. 440-441).
Therefore the CdD seeks to develop the whole man, including his humanity and
cultural adaptability. His technical skills are only one element in a much larger
collection of abilities which rest on a conception of a worker as a citizen in a community
rather than as factor of production to be bought and sold in a market place. For the CdD
a good worker is more than an employee with excellent technical skills; it is as much
concerned with developing a good attitude, awareness and spirit. One member of the
CdD explained:
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The Compagnons is not like a firm. We do it for the idea of people growing up with us, of
taking up the trade and keeping it alive ...The first thing you have to do as a firm is to sell, to
make money. We don’t have to make anything. Every Compagnon gives a bit of himself.
It is our contention that le devoir, the motive force and the raison d’e
ˆtre of the CdD is a
tacit and powerful expression of the honour principle, a concept best described as a
sense of duty emanating from membership of a certain caste which can find expression
both in the workplace and in citizenship at large. It has important consequences for
definitions of “job”, “career”, “skill” and “motivation to work”. For D’Iribane (1994) the
honour principle makes itself manifest in ideals such as “lover of the craft”, “skill
involved”, and “nobility of work” (p. 90). D’Iribane expands on this idea in his analysis
of Crozier’s (1963) reporting of his interviews with employees in French public sector
These words give expression to the conflict between the nobility of work done out of love of
the craft or skill involved and the lack of nobility of a job done for purely utilitarian purposes.
This desire “to care about the work” out of love for the skill involved rather than for the
“result” required by the hierarchy is associated with “conscientiousness” and “professional
pride”, terms whose use by the interviewers elicits enthusiastic approval from interviewees
and sometimes “a great deal of warmth and emotion” ... This combination of group norms,
desire to care about work out of love of the skill involved and professional pride matches the
form of sense of duty that characterises the honour principle (D’Iribane, 1994, p. 82).
The mission of transmettre le me
´tier is driven by the honour principle, an idea deeply
embedded in French culture which can be traced back to the writings of Montesquieu
(1748). Notions of le devoir and transmettre le me
´tier were encountered many times
during the course of our fieldwork in our meetings with Compagnons and
non-Compagnons alike. For many of the UK Apprentis passing through the Houses
and factories in France it was the most noticeable aspect of French working life. One
It is different in France. They are mechanical engineers and metal-workers; that’s what they
want to do and that’s what they are. They say “I love my job, I love getting up in the
morning”; it’s just like a hobby for them, they don’t do it for the money. It’s strange; it’s weird
when you first go there.
In 2003 the CdD had nearly 8,000 young people at some stage of training and
professional development: these were 6,000 Apprentis, 1,700 Aspirants, and 700
Compagnons working as trainers, administrators and Pre
ˆts in Houses, and at the
Head Office in Paris. There is some evidence that the CdD training is a good
preparation for future professional development. According to one survey (Icher, 1999,
p.553) on completing training only about half work as tradesmen. Nearly 30 per cent
move in to management and about ten per cent remain as Pre
ˆts in the CdD system.
Others enter professions such as architecture, engineering or teaching.
Herzog argues that the CdD Apprentis qualify faster and in greater proportions than
their peers in mainstream programmes and that this pattern of success is replicated for
Aspirants. He further argues that virtually all youths who successfully graduate from
the CdD find jobs despite historically high levels of unemployment in France (Herzog,
2001, p. 3). For him the CdD offers a powerful system which develops human resources,
who would otherwise be the rejects of the colle
`ges and lyce
´es into “better craftsmen,
businessmen and citizens” with “well developed ideas about professional ethics and
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family and civic life” accompanied “by social skills in advance of their years and often
of their individual social class origins” (Herzog, 2001, p. 3). The next section discusses
some of the reasons why the CdD is so successful.
Analysis of reasons for success
The volume of off-the job learning
The pattern of study and work prescribed for an Apprenti was two weeks of Stage, or
full-time study in the classrooms and workshops of the House, followed by six weeks of
employment in his workplace. During the full-time study phase they would be required
to attend workshops and classes for 50-55 hours each week. Whilst working in his
factory the Apprenti was expected to attend five two-hour evening classes and a
four-hour class on a Saturday morning. Attendance at these classes was compulsory
and enforced; whilst working the UK Apprentis reported a minimum weekly average of
14 hours devoted to classes, workshop practice and private study. Often this was
supplemented by voluntary study on Saturday afternoon and Sundays. Therefore over
an eight-week cycle of full-time study and work they received an average of 23 hours
class and workshop time each week. It is difficult to establish international comparison
for this volume of off-the-job learning owing to differences in national VET provision.
Yet the most eloquent testimony as to its meaning came from the Apprentis
Dinner is at 19.00; everyone eats together; it’s a bit formal with collars and ties expected. At
20.00 everyone is in the workshop doing homework, which can be a practical piece or
theoretical exercises; or in a class following a course. This goes on every night, except
Saturday and Sunday, until 22.00. You’re also in classes on Saturday mornings between
08.00-12.00. Some Apprentis go out on a Friday night when class is finished, but a lot of them
are too tired. Saturday afternoon and Sunday is free time, but people don’t have a lot of money
to spend. (Matt, UK Apprenti, Lille and Muizon Houses).
What is striking about the UK apprentices’ comments is that the study regime was
seen as very demanding, but not as onerous. Ben, who lived in the Toulouse House,
I admit that for the first month I thought that I am not up to working this many hours, but
after a while I thought that this is something special, it’s a big tradition and that if you are up
for the challenge then it is very rewarding one.
For another UK Apprentice the programme of study was a defining experience of the
Compagnonnage. He said:
There are always classes on the night; it’s a different week when they are not. When you do
not have a class you can do what you want – but then you are not really in the Compagnons
(Simon, UK Apprenti, Epo
ˆne House).
When asked about his workload in the CdD as compared with that he had undertaken
in the UK, Simon commented:
When I first arrived and was told that I would be doing night classes from Monday to Friday
and Saturday morning, I though this is not possible there just is not enough time and there
is not enough work. But you find you could do more. There is that much packed in. Before I
started I thought two years is not really enough. But when I talk to some of my mates [in the
UK] they have been doing three-year courses and they don’t seem to be doing any work
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compared with what I am doing. We do a lot more work a lot more work. Once you get into
it it’s easy. Everyone is in the same boat.
This regime had two striking elements. The first was the extent to which it was
enforced, by direct supervision and by economics. On average the UK apprentices were
paid e577 net a month, the same as French Apprentis; House charges were e450 a
month. There were tool allowances available, but these rarely covered the full cost.
This meant that Apprentices’ discretionary income was quite limited, but again this
was not seen as a problem. One commented: “How do you make out? Living in the
House and working all the time means that you don’t actually need a lot of money”.
Direct supervision was important. The UK Apprentis all commented on how they
would be asked to account for themselves if found outside a class during scheduled
work periods. One recounted how attendance at Saturday morning classes was
encouraged by two Compagnons who overturned any bed they found occupied after
07.30. These constraints combined with a rigorous work schedule meant that there
were few distractions from the classroom, book or workbench.
Second, the Apprentis actually welcomed this regime: words like “special”,
“challenge” and “rewarding” litter the interview transcripts. The re
´gime was seen as
demanding, but not punishing, as evidenced by their willingness to work extra hours
to those demanded. This evidence draws attention to the importance of the volume of
the HRD experience an aspect which is perhaps overshadowed at times by a
pre-occupation with process. A second reason for the success of the system can be
found in the wide range of HRD support offered to the learner. Amongst the many
pillars supporting the learner were the near-peer and peer mentoring systems and the
use of working (Ancien) and retired (Se
´dentaire) members.
Near-peer and peer mentoring
One of the most interesting aspects of the Apprentis’ accounts is the extent to which the
CdD relied on what has been identified as “near-peer mentoring” (Herzog and Herzog,
1999a; Herzog, 2001; Herzog and Herzog, 1998). The term refers to the practice of the
CdD of appointing newly graduated Compagnons with less than three years
post-Compagnon work experience to key positions of responsibility. The Herzogs
(1998, 1999a and 2001) analyse the relationship between the Apprenti and the Aspirant
on the one hand, and their Maı
ˆtre de Stage as that of “near-peer” mentoring.
Appointments to these posts were reserved to Compagnons who were not much older
than the learners they were guiding. This was a planned and deliberate strategy on the
part of the CdD and its use seems to have been extended in recent years to include the
ˆtresponsible for running the House. The Herzogs observe that these near-peers
present themselves as positive role-models with whom Apprentis and Aspirants could
form intense personal relationships (Herzog and Herzog, 1998, p. 6).
We found many examples to support this view of a relationship between learner and
mentor which was so strong it could transcend language barriers. One UK Apprenti
described how his Maı
ˆtre de Stage engaged with him in the absence of a common
He works here full time and lives in a flat on the premises. There are lessons every week and
he teaches drawing and technology? What’s he like? Cool and friendly. It’s a weird
relationship; I tend to use hand gestures quite a lot and somehow we understand each other
not always. If I was stuck with a piece of work, I would understand what he would be saying.
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For example he would make a drawing of a job and as he spoke I would understand some of
the words and I would remember them next time. One example is a piece I had to do a
square and I was not sure how to calculate the angles on the plate metal. He said I will not
show you how to do it for a square; I’ll show you how to do it for a different angle I
remembered what he had said and then used the same process with the angle I was trying to
get and it seemed OK. I followed that (Ben, UK Apprenti, Toulouse House.)
In other transcripts the Maı
ˆtre emerged as someone who encouraged Apprentis to
progress to Aspirant; liaising with the Anciens,Pre
ˆts and the workplace on the
development of his charges; physically helping the youngsters to finish work tasks;
and acting as a diplomat to resolve the interpersonal difficulties which inevitably occur
in any community of more than hundred young people. In so doing they enacted some
key messages of le me
´tier and le devoir and rendered visible some pillars of the
philosophy of the Compagnons namely mutual support, striving for success, fraternity
and achievement of goals. Ben described one apparently small and apparently
insignificant incident, but which was revealing to us, particularly when taken in
conjunction with the lesson Ben took from the incident:
There are two lads, Michel and Simon who are working on their [travail d’adoption] and are
pretty close to finishing it. This is taken seriously. Does anyone ever fail? Not that I know of.
With the amount of hours that you do and the amount of help that you get, it’s almost
impossible to fail. The other night, Simon was stuck and the Maı
ˆtre de Stage helped him out a
bit; he cut some metal and did some drilling for him. If you need help, you can get help. It is
not a one-man job, you know (Ben, UK Apprenti, Toulouse House).
The principle of near-peer mentoring extended beyond the hierarchy of the Maı
ˆtre and
the Apprenti. We noted examples of the phenomena in the relationships between the
Aspirants and the Apprenti and frequently it crossed trade boundaries. An earlier
study noted that the Compagnons were not only highly skilled within their discipline,
but multi-skilled: they could work in related trades (Malloch and Redman, 2005). Many
of these polyvalent skills came from what Apprentis and Aspirants in different trades
taught each other in the ordinary course of living and studying together. Five of the UK
Apprentis in our study were sheet-metal workers, but they had been taught to mix
cement by a stonemason, heat metal by a wrought-iron metal worker and to tap holes
by a fitter. The sixth was a fitter; he had been taught to fit gaskets by a sheet-metal
worker specialising in pipe-work.
These mentoring processes extended beyond the acquisition of technical skills; they
embraced acculturation and socialisation. Manners and convention were important
parts of life in the House and in France. These were imparted by the older members to
the younger ones. One UK Apprenti described dinners; these were semi-formal
occasions with dress codes and rituals.
Everyone has to shake hands with everyone else at the table; collars and ties were expected.
The Aspirants are more formal; they try and teach the younger ones. You watched what they
did. You’ve just got to try and follow them. (Gareth, UK Apprenti, Lyon House).
At times it was difficult to maintain a distinction between near-peer and peer
mentoring. Neither could it be seen as a unique feature of life in the CdD. There were
many examples of such mentoring to be found in the Apprentis’ accounts of life and
work in the French factory. This leads us to conclude that it a general characteristic of
French culture, rooted in the honour principle. It exists in an intense form in the CdD
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where the philosophy of transmettre le me
´tier and le devoir lay upon all a general
obligation to improve upon the trade and to pass it on to all who could benefit from it.
The concept of near-peer mentoring is theoretically significant to the HRD student
because there is little literature on near-peer or peer mentoring. For many the notion of
“peer” and “mentoring” are incompatible. For Fagenson and Amendola (1993) a mentor
is “an experienced, influential member of the organization” a definition which would
appear specifically to exclude peers, especially at lower levels of the organization.
Kram and Isabella (1985) clearly distinguish between “conventionally defined
mentors” and peer relationships. For them the distinguishing features of mentoring
.There are “significant differences in age and hierarchical level” between the
mentor and the mentee (p. 129). This is not the case in the CdD.
.That it is a “one-way helping dynamic”. In the CdD le devoir lays a general
obligation on everyone to help all members of the community.
.Peer relationships last longer than that of the mentor and mentee. But the
relationships between the Maı
ˆtre and the Apprenti can be long lasting and
intense, placing the Maı
ˆtre much closer to the “Meister”, “Hoc¸a”or“Sensei” than
to the mentor.
The CdD experience shows that the definitions and relevance of distinctions between
peer and mentors can only be interpreted in the light of the particular institutional
context. The CdD is, in one sense, a cause devoted to the ideal of transmettre le me
and le devoir, moral goals accepted and internalised by all members, organizational
purposes which elicited normative involvement from them. Seen in this light,
distinctions between “mentoring”, “near-peer mentoring” and “peer mentoring” are
neither useful nor relevant. Mentoring can come from anywhere in the organization or
outside it as long as it is consistent with the CdD’s mission.
The relationship between the Maı
ˆtre and his charges has some parallels with what
is known in Japan as the “Sempai-Kohai” relationship, a term which can be roughly
translated into “older peer” and “younger peer” (Journal of Japanese Cultural Arts,
2003). Both the Sempai and the Kohai will very quickly assume their respective roles:
the Sempai that of an older brother, a near-peer tutor, an informal guide and
interpreter. The Kohai’s role is that of younger brother, who owes a very subtle form of
respect to his Sempai, and is supposed to learn from him. Both are bound together by a
certain loyalty. Japanese culture is based on tate shakai, or “vertical (or class) society.”
This is a system that Westerners might compare to the relationship between a parent
and child. In Japan it influences relationships between employer and employee, and
teacher and student, in fact most relationships in Japan. In its ideal form it is a system
of mutual service and duty, patronage and respect, alternating from one level to the
other and back again.
Sempai-Kohai relationships can be found in families, groups of friends,
schoolchildren, and, significantly for the present study, in Japanese corporate life.
Newly hired young graduates are assigned a Sempai, typically a junior manager who
has been hired a year or two before. The Sempai will smoothen his Kohai’s
socialisation process, act as a role model, and provide psychological support; there
are many overlaps here with the mentor’s role as defined by Fagenson and
Amendola (1993).
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A survey of the literature on mentoring reveals two points of interest for this study.
First, peer mentoring has mostly been examined from a very utilitarian viewpoint,
focusing on the cost-benefits of mentoring relationships, and especially social
exchange theory (for example, see Ensher et al., 2001). Second, the literature on peer
mentoring suggests that it is of particular interest to HRD in health care, especially
nursing (Davidhizar, 1995; Ensher et al., 2001; Grant, 1994; Hader, 2004; Holbeche,
1996; Shaffer et al., 2000; Smith, 2000; Tourigny and Pulich, 2005; Verdejo, 2002)
This conjunction of Sempai-Kohai relationship in Japanese organizations, nursing
and the CdD raises the question of what these three institutions could have in common.
We would suggest that all are highly institutionalised; that is, highly codified and
complex organizations in the case of Japanese organizations and hospitals; and with a
strong professional role marked by le devoir and le me
´tier, in the case of the CdD and
nursing. All possess many rituals and are marked by explicit and implicit behaviour
codes. All three rely heavily on tacit knowledge. These requirements seem to be met in
part by forms of near-peer mentoring. This analysis suggests that an understanding of
their work transcends utilitarian considerations.
The involvement of Anciens and Sedentaires
Anciens and Se
´dentaires emerged as key figures in the development of the Apprenti
and Aspirant. This was partly through the provision of pastoral support:
An Ancien is someone who is in the same trade as you; he’s been through the whole system,
done his Tour de France and he is still involved with the House. ...Most of them are married
and have children, but they still come to the House and talk to you about how things are
going. They have meetings about the Corporation – your trade group – that live in the
House. Some evenings you will go to their home and have a meal and have a drink. These are
people you can ask anything you need. Normally you would ask them if you can do your
Travail d’Adoption. You have to ask them and if they say that you can, then you go ahead.
(Matt, UK Apprenti, Lille and Muizon Houses).
They were an additional learning resource available to the young learners in the House
and took an active role in preparing the Aspirant for his travail de re
´ception. In the
quotation below the Ancien, like the Maı
ˆtre de Stage, gives living expression to key
elements of the CdD mission such as mutual support, co-operation and nurturing.
They are the guys who set the work for the travail de re
´ception. If you are an Aspirant in your
second year, every year they are given work to do and the Anciens will come and have a look
at what you have been doing, to see if you have been doing it correctly or if you have been
doing it off-form. My Ancien used to come in sometimes on a Saturday when you were
working in the House workshop. He would just pop around to see who is in the workshop and
who is in the classroom and he would have a look at the [homework] that I had to do. He
would give a helping hand if I was struggling. (Matt, UK Apprenti, Lille and Muizon Houses).
In conjunction with the Maı
ˆtre de Stage the Ancien also played an active part in
assessing the progress of the Apprenti in formal meetings. One UK Apprenti described
the process:
The Ancien arrives and talks to the Maı
ˆtre de Stage. He will tell the Apprentis to leave and
they will discuss the Apprentis in private. ... They bring in the Apprentis one by one and
discuss the topics they discussed with the Maı
ˆtre de Stage, saying you are doing well here
and not so well there. Then all the group will come in for a question and answer session
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what do you want to know, what do you want to do, where do you see your life going. Then
afterwards there is an aperitif. (Darren, UK Apprenti, Dijon House).
Ancients and Se
´dentaires are closely involved in the assessment process. When an
Aspirant decides to apply for acceptance as a Compagnon he must make a chef
d’oeuvre for his travail de reception. Either an Ancien or Se
´dentaire guides him through
the process. A travail de reception is more than carving an art-deco door or constructing
a section of roofing in a particular style of tiling. The Aspirant must also prepare a
report detailing the history of his chosen design, and justifying his choice of materials.
This is an addition to a detailed plan of the chef d’oeuvre. His Ancien or Se
´dentaire is
consulted at every step. When the design is finalised, the Aspirant makes a large-scale
model of his chef d’oeuvre, which must be approved by the Ancien or Se
´dentaire. This
yet another example both of the extent of the support offered to the learner in this
system, and of the safeguards against failure.
The assessment of any Aspirant wishing to become a Compagnon fell into two
distinct phases. The process lasted all day and during that period the House was closed
for all other business. In the first instance his chef d’oeuvre was assessed by the
Compagnons of his particular Corporation including Se
´dentaires,Anciens and Maı
de Stage. They assessed savoir-faire; they looked for evidence of competent planning
and execution of a high quality piece of craft work. This stage was conducted in public.
Then they retire to discuss the Aspirant’s competency, his social behaviour, as
assessed by his contribution to the life of the House, his willingness to share
knowledge, and his support for Apprentis. Following this the Aspirant is summoned to
meet his examiners and the decision, almost invariably successful, is announced. There
then follows a secret ritual in which the Aspirant is inducted as a Compagnon.Aperitifs
and a formal dinner for the whole House follow.
The process of assessment and accreditation of expertise in the CdD is shown in
Figure 2. It can be seen from Figure 2 that of the three dimensions of expertise
identified in Figure 1 the French state assesses knowledge, but competency and skills
remain the property of the CdD. The diagram also reflects our impression that state
Figure 2.
The assessment and
accreditation of
knowledge, skills and
competency in the CdD
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controlled element of the assessment of knowledge becomes less important of as the
young people progressed through the CdD, whilst the salience of the CdD controlled
elements of assessment of savoir-faire and savoir-e
ˆtre increased. As we indicated
previously, in theory the would-be Compagnon could pass from Apprenti to Aspirant
to Compagnon without passing the state contolled examinations for the Breve
d’Etudes Professionnelles or the Brevet de Maı
There is no assessment documentation to help the CdD assessors in their
assessment of candidates’ savoir-faire and savoir-e
ˆtre. Benchmark statements, formal
statements of learning outcomes, range indicators, check lists are entirely missing from
this process. Rather the assessment of functional competence depends upon a
combination of tacit knowledge and shared understandings supported by a process in
which learning and assessment are closely interwoven. People who have lived and
worked together with the candidate in a community for a period of up to eight years
conduct the assessment of competency as savoir-e
The management of spatial movement and change
A key feature of the system of training and development is the Tour de France,
undertaken by Aspirants wishing to become a Compagnon. The assumption is that
Aspirants can only become Compagnons by being exposed to, and learning from,
different firm, industry and regional settings. Managing this process of continually
changing exposures to new work place settings demanded a capacity for managing
spatial flexibility the ability to move learners through different towns and regions.
The Tour de France is an example of spatial flexibility as a strategy for promoting
HRD. Twice a year, in a process known as le changement de ville, each Aspirant was
required to change towns, Houses and employers. He had to find his place in a new
community and integrate himself into a new workplace; he would be compelled to work
with different employers, each with a different specialist market niche, different
workshops, patterns of work organizations and different workforces. Living in
different regions exposed the learner to different foods, local cultures and tastes. In
recent years many Aspirants have gone abroad, thus substituting a Tour du Monde for
the Tour de France, a globalisation of learning with all its implications for personal
growth and development. Apprentis did not have a Tour de France, but they did have
an element of mobility in their Stages. Many had to change Houses to receive the
specialist teaching that was necessary for training. Further, when Apprentis were on
Stage in their mother House, they would usually receive Apprentis from other Houses
attending the course. So in this sense the world of the Compagnonnage provided an
ever-shifting constellation of new faces, new places, different workplaces and practices.
As one of the UK Apprentis commented: “It forces you to change”.
What makes this mobility possible is the network of Houses. A single House is of
little value, but the network gives the CdD a means of changing working and cultural
environments for Aspirants. It not only offered flexibility, but also offered a degree of
robustness which enabled the system to withstand disruptions to training caused by
factory closures and de-skilling. If an Aspirant found that his firm had been taken over,
or that his work was no longer offering him the skilled work he required, then he could
change Houses and employers. The network provided buffers against environmental
tendencies such as Taylorism, massification and takeover that could have removed
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opportunities for the skilled, culturally rich training offered by the CdD. We found
examples of this in our interviews.
The case suggests several modifications to HRD theory in general, and to Swanson’s
model in particular. First, to describe the CdD as an organization concerned with
human resource development is to miss the point; rather it is an institution which
exists to develop both humans and the crafts which it represents, with forming the
whole man, and not just his technical training. His humanity, awareness, his
socialisation and his acculturation are all concerns. What the case also suggests is that
the distinction between the technically competent worker as defined by savoir and
savoir-faire; and the skilled human being, as defined by savoir-e
ˆtre is a false one.
Technical skills are developed by a training which is rich in culture and humanity and
not just about technical functioning: these are complements, not competitors. Further,
the CdD did this for normative rather than economic reasons. It was done neither for
personal gain (financial or career advancement), nor corporate profit. It could be
concluded therefore that the conception of human resource development as an activity
focused on human resource management, career development and quality
improvement, and tied to the improvement of the performance of the employing
organization is too narrow.
Second, the case points to the limitations of Swanson’s choice of “theoretical
foundations”; that is psychology, economics and systems theory (Swanson, 2001,
pp. 304-5). The data presented on peer and near-peer mentoring suggest a need for a
theoretical approach to HRD which allows researchers to understand wider
organizational contexts than those bounded by Swanson’s three disciplines, one
where HRD policies such as mentoring, are not seen as a means to an end, but as an
integral part of a very coherent institutional environment. These contexts can be found
in organizations that are institutionally grounded in concepts such as le devoir and
le me
´tier. HRD and its supporting practices cannot be separated from the overall
functioning of the organization. An institutional perspective of an organization and its
HRD is required. This can only be fully achieved if it includes an anthropological view.
From this perspective Swanson’s (2001, p. 306) three-legged stool (is missing a
theoretical leg anthropology.
Third, the cases raises questions about the identity of Swanson’s “HRD
professionals” (2001, p. 304). It is clear that the CdD is a “community of practice”
(Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), but the case shows that key members of this
community were Se
´dentaires and Anciens, former members of the Houses. The CdD
proved itself very adept at using them as resources to help the development and
assessment of the younger members. This raises the possibility of using retired
workers in HRD programmes. The Anciens and Se
´dentaires themselves point to the
fact that the CdD is a successful organization run and managed by workers, rather
than “HRD professionals”. This can be seen as pointing the way to HRD strategies
which more fully embrace workers, and see it less of a preserve of the HRD
“professional”, or management. The presence of the worker in the CdD model of HRD
in turn draws attention to the neglected role of workers and the bodies, which represent
them certainly in the formal processes of learning and assessment.
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The case draws attention to the importance of the volume of learning and the social
context in which it was transmitted; both combine here to make failure a near
impossibility. Finally the case suggests that there is another dimension to the
repertoire of flexibility. To the better-known numerical, functional and financial
flexibilities must be added a fourth spatial flexibility. In this case it emerges as
central to the creation of knowledge, skills and competency.
1. A Compagnon is a fully qualified member of Les Compagnons du Devoir.
2. A Maison is a place of residence and study owned by the CdD; the words maison and House
are used interchangeably.
3. An Apprenti is a term used to describe an apprentice in the first two years of a French
4. A Maı
ˆtre de Stage is in charge of the training of a specific trade group in a House.
5. A Pre
ˆtis working in the CdD in some general management post, such as running a House.
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About the authors
Hedley Malloch is an academic working in the IE
´SEG School of Management, Catholic
University of Lille where he teaches Strategy and HRM. Research interests include the
Compagnonnage and comparative national systems of human resource development. He holds a
PhD from the University of Glasgow and he serves on the Editorial Advisory Boards of the
Journal of Vocational Education and Training and Personnel Review. Hedley Malloch is the
corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Birgit Kleymann is a Senior Assistant Professor of Strategy and Organization at the the
´SEG School of Management, Catholic University of Lille in France. She holds a PhD from the
Helsinki School of Economics. Her current research focuses on the development of loosely
coupled organizational systems, such as multilateral alliances, large heterogeneous
organizations and social networks.
Jacques Angot is Assistant Professor in Management at the IE
´SEG School of Management,
Catholic University of Lille. Past research interests include decision making processes and the
unexpected consequences on action; definitions and measurement of rationality in organization
theory. He is currently working on the idea of critical management learning; that is new ways of
teaching, talent management and aesthetics in the management management as art and art as
Tom Redman is Professor of Human Resource Management in Durham Business School,
Durham University. His current research includes projects on leadership and organizational,
union and occupational commitment.
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