Occupations and skills observatories: tools for shaping the futureOccupations and skills observatories: tools for shaping the future, Alexandra d'Agostino, Anne Delanoe, Training and Employment, n°99, 2012, 4 p. Télécharger la publication.
Occupations and skills observatories produce tools that can be used by industries, firms and employees. The various actors in vocational training regard them as playing an important role. This being so, their position is in need of strengthening; more specifically, their profile needs to be raised and their value better understood.

In 2011, there were 126 registered occupations and skills observatories (OSOs) in France. Their function is to help in anticipating the skill requirements of firms and employees and to provide the social partners with information that can be used in developing training policies in individual sectors and industries.
This large number of OSOs was set up in successive waves as part of a process initiated by the social partners at industry level. Two important phases in this process should be singled out. The first is the conclusion of the national interindustry agreement of 5 December 2003 on employee access to training throughout the working life, which encouraged the social partners at industry level to set up this type of organisation. Their value in making career trajectories more secure was subsequently reaffirmed in the inter-industry agreement of 5 October 2009 on the development of lifelong vocational training. This agreement also encouraged the observatories to extend the scope of their operations and to work in synergy with each other.
Until now, what has been missing is a general overview of these observatories, which have become firmly institutionalised. Such a conspectus is now available in the form of an appraisal of their functioning and work conducted by Céreq at the request of the social partners.
Newly established organisations in a highly fragmented socio-occupational landscape

The gradual establishment of the 126 OSOs is testament to the vitality of collective bargaining and the dynamic set in motion by the inter-industry agreement of 2003. Only 11% of the observatories were in existence before this agreement, such as those in automobile services, retailing, IT, engineering, consulting and advisory services, etc. Their proliferation was concentrated into the next three years: three quarters of the OSOs were set up by industry agreements between 2004 and 2006 and the rest (14%) from 2007 onwards. Thus in 2010, at the time of the survey, the average and median age of the observatories was 4 years, with three quarters having been in operation less than 5 years. Their socio-occupational fields of references reflect the fragmentation of occupational sectors in France. While some observatories cover several occupational sectors (up to 17 national collective agreements in the case of Observia, the occupations and skills observatory for certain sectors of the food industry), eight out of ten cover asingle sector. In particular, the breakdown by firms and jobs shows that half of the OSOs cover a relatively restricted field (fewer than 2,000 firms and 42,000 jobs).
Although the space in which OSOs operate turns out to be highly atomised, the situations of individual observatories vary considerably. According to those in charge of them, their fields of reference may vary from ten firms to more than 450,000 depending on the sector in question and from fewer than 1,000 jobs to 1.5 million.
On the eve of the reform of the OPCAs (organismes paritaires collecteurs agréés, the authorised joint collection bodies set up to collect, pool and redistribute employers’ training levies), the OSOs’ occupational fields of reference covered 39 OPCAs. In 23 cases, the occupational field of reference linked one OPCA to one observatory. In 13 cases, each OPCA covered at least two observatories. Quite logically, the two inter-industry OPCAs covered the largest number of observatories: Agefos PME was in first position with 27 observatories, ahead of Opcalia with 10 observatories. A number of sector-based OPCAs, such as Uniformation (9), Afdas (7), OPCA transport (6) and Habitat formation (6), were also linked with a fairly large number of observatories. Finally, construction and public works constituted an exception, since the sector’s three OPCAs (Bâtiment, Opca Travaux publics, FAF SAB) were linked with a single observatory.
‘Operational units’ lacking visibility

Like the CPNEs (commissions paritaires nationales pour l’emploi, joint national employment commissions), the occupations and skills observatories are established by collective agreement (see box opposite), although this does not always mean that they have their own independent legal or even physical existence. Thus OSOs tend to be defined in terms of the tasks assigned to them, which usually consist of a series of specific projects, rather than as operational entities with their own dedicated teams. With a few exceptions (9%), the observatories do not have their own separate legal identity: the vast majority of them are described as ‘jointly managed bodies’ that form part of either an OPCA (42%) or an employers’ organisation (20%). This organisational structure provides them with the technical, logistical and human support essential to their functioning, particularly in the light of the limited human resources available to them. Indeed, half of the observatories employ just one person, and even then not on a full-time basis (half of the observatories operate with one person working half-time at most). Fewer than 20% of the observatories have a dedicated team (more than one FTE and up to 5 FTEs). This characteristic reflects the distinction between ‘contracting body’ and ‘project manager’, but it must obviously also be viewed in the context of the financial resources available to the OSOs. The overall sums are low, with half of the OSOs having an annual budget of less than 50,000 euros. Here too, however, individual situations vary considerably, ranging from the total absence of any dedicated budget at all to a budget of 2 million euros allocated to one observatory in 2010. There is a direct parallel with the scope of their occupational field of reference, since 80% of their budgets comes from activities in the field of professional development.
On the basis of these data, three modes of operation can be identified, depending on the time at which the observatories were established. Those set up before the 2003 agreement have an independent legal status, a dedicated team and a budget of at least 250,000 euros; those established just after the 2003 agreement employ one or two people (one FTE) and have budgets of at least 90,000 euros; finally, those founded since 2008 have limited human and financial resources (1/10 of an FTE and fewer than 35,000 euros). In practice, observatories in this latter group operate in one of two ways: either as working groups set up within a joint industry body or with the support of a project manager in the research department of an OPCA working for several observatories.
A tool at the service of industry actors
Although they operate in a variety of different ways, OSOs are very similar in terms of their activity and output. Surveys and analyses are the common denominator, since these are activities undertaken by two out of three observatories (63%), regardless of their mode of operation. When an OSO undertakes only one type of work, priority is given to surveys and analyses. Nevertheless, the range of themes is very extensive and includes, by order of mentions: industry reports, occupation surveys, forward-looking jobs and skills management, training, recruitment needs, forecasting, age management, certification schemes, equality at work, etc.
The next activity in order of importance is the production of statistical databases (59%) and the mapping/listing of occupations (56%). Projects of this kind, which make it possible to build up a panoramic overview of the field, give structure to the observatories’ activity when they are set up. The ad hoc surveys carried out by the observatories themselves constitute their initial source of data (43% of mentions), making them producers of original, ‘custommade’ data.
Beyond improving knowledge of the jobs and occupations in a given industry, the observatories’ work is markedly operational in nature. After all, it is their role to embrace a dynamic of change and to support firms as they implement change. In three quarters of cases, the observatories’ output serves as a basis for drawing up recommendations and in half of cases it is the basis for formulating actions and tools. These tools are essentially intended for use by firms and workers in the industry in question. They are more informative than normative and in some cases may be specific plans or measures. They include everything relating to the publication and circulation of job factsheets, lists of training programmes, etc. Specifically HR tools are also developed and made available; they cover a range of different areas, such as recruitment, training, support for internal or external mobility, performance appraisal interviews, support for forward-looking jobs and skills management, etc.
A number of measures are also targeted specifically at young people (information on particular industries and their occupations, on initial training programmes and on blockrelease training programmes, whether in the form of apprenticeships or the so-called ‘contrats de professionnalisation’, for young people without qualifications or who have been unemployed for some time).
Half of observatories say they have carried out or initiated forecasts

In contrast to the other types of work (surveys and analyses, statistical databases, introductions to occupations), the probability of observatories undertaking forecasting studies is all the greater the more expertise (established for five years or more and completion of several surveys and analyses), human resources (≥ one FTE), funding (≥ budget of 250,000 euros) and databases (statistics and occupations) they have accumulated.
These studies are mainly of two kinds: occupation surveys, many of which include a section on the future of the occupation in question and a forecast of the likely skill requirements; actual forecasting studies, which relate to the industry in question and are intended to identify the factors impacting on it and its occupations in the medium term, with or without socio-economic scenarios and with or without projections of employment levels, retirements and recruitment needs.
Observatories subjected to conflicting demands

The OSOs are in an unusual position, caught up as they are in the tension between a mode of governance based on joint management and their mission to produce knowledge and analyses for use in their industry. The ‘production of shared diagnoses’ causes difficulties, as 83% of observatory heads noted. These difficulties affect both the observatories’ work (access to company data, for example) and their functioning (funding, management, monitoring of activity).
It would seem perfectly natural, therefore, that the expectations articulated by observatory heads were inextricably institutional and operational. The survey was conducted immediately before the reform of the OPCAs was implemented and observatory heads were unanimous in calling for the future of their organisations to be clarified. Their other priorities were raising the profile of the observatories and their work and gaining greater recognition of their value, both to firms and employees in the various industries, to the social partners, to national public organisations (including the SPE) and even to the general public. This would require a real communication campaign, at both sectoral and inter-industry level. Finally, the survey revealed a strong desire for the observatories to work in synergy with each other, reflecting both a frequently expressed feeling of isolation and the need to share results, tools and methods. Télécharger la publication.