Arnaud Castagnède is opening up a new track to efficiently rehabilitate disqualified and long-term unemployed persons. Arnaud is tipping the job rehabilitation sector by designing an integrated market-based process whose success lies in the combination of professional qualification and social support with real work experience and the engagement of private companies.
The New Idea
To facilitate the professional reintegration of the most excluded unemployed populations, Arnaud has designed an integrated process of rehabilitation based on the renovation of historical patrimony. By helping participants through social support, vocational guidance, and professional experience in construction and renovation work, Arnaud offers an adapted, high-value and certified job qualification program, the first of its kind in France. Participants of his program, who are also paid employees, learn how to master cutting-edge techniques in the eco-construction field, such as eco-friendly lime and hemp thermal insulation. Equipped with specialized skills, these formerly unemployed individuals now make up a workforce in high demand by private construction companies who lack qualified employees for emerging markets.
Arnaud has built a social business that has gained recognition as a market leader in the job rehabilitation field. His organization, Actavista, has six regional branches and turns over 8M EUR; it is considered the leader among professional rehabilitation companies in the south of France (the Bouches-du-Rhône region). Through systematized sub and co-contracting with large private construction firms, Arnaud reinforces synergies with the private sector. He demonstrates the value of skilled employees, facilitates their hiring processes, and deeply changes recruitment practices. As a result, 65 percent of Actavista’s employees are hired or continue their training after their six-month or one-year contracts with Actavista, a success rate four times the national average for professional rehabilitation programs.
Fully aware that his approach to job integration can inform diverse situations of exclusion and is easily replicable, the impact he aims to deliver is approved and recognized at the European level. Arnaud plans to spread Actavista to the global market by multiplying his program around renovation sites of historical patrimony. He thus builds the infrastructure to train other rehabilitation companies and raises awareness of private companies on his rehabilitation approach. Furthermore, Arnaud’s training center delivers certification degrees in eco-construction and social entrepreneurship.
Over the past 40 years, fast economic, political and demographic changes in Europe have resulted in the exclusion of more and more people from the labor market, leading them to precarious situations. Non-qualified workers, immigrants, and people from underserved areas are the first victims of inequality in a two-tiered Europe. In France, for example, 7 million people live below the poverty line and over 1 million are unemployed for more than a year.
Since the 1970s social entrepreneurs have decided to tackle the problem of unemployment by creating subsidized rehabilitation companies to facilitate the reintegration of the most excluded populations into social and professional life. However, despite the growth of these public companies across France, they have never succeeded in coping with the large and complex issue of exclusion: On average, only 17 percent of people who go through the first step of the reintegration process successfully obtain a job or training. This is partly due to the fragmentation of the rehabilitation sector. An unemployed individual will typically go from one rehabilitation company to another, with no coordination between the companies, and will spend most of his time on occupational activities, rather than professional trainings and specialized qualification. Without professional or specialized skills, participants of rehabilitation programs have trouble getting hired, as they already suffer from a bad reputation among employers by being considered “at-risk workers.”
In terms of demand, growing markets are looking for low-qualified workers, but are having difficulty recruiting them. For example, in the construction sector 500,000 jobs remain vacant each year. This gap could be filled through appropriate professional trainings and qualifications. The chance of being unemployed decreases as an individual’s qualifications grow: The unemployment rate for people with no qualifications is 38 percent, while it is only 16 percent for people with a vocational qualification and 6 percent with a university degree.
Systematizing vocational trainings would double the chances of marginalized people finding a job. It would also create new opportunities for the private sector by connecting corporations with the appropriate qualified workers. Finally, with public subsidies for rehabilitation programs on the decline, partnering with private firms opens up entirely new sources of funding. Built on a new economic model independent from public funding, rehabilitation companies could have a successful future in European and global markets.
Arnaud is seizing these opportunities to open a groundbreaking path for the next generation of professional rehabilitation players. In 2001 he founded Actavista, recognizing the huge potential of a historical patrimony market that demands the revival of eco-construction competencies. His innovative and personalized rehabilitation process offers a three-fold package:
1) Certified qualification, obtained by on-site and classroom courses on eco-construction techniques2) Support that determines each individual’s situation of exclusion and connects them to vocational guidance and solutions tailored to their specific needs (e.g. alphabetization, driving license, and so on) 3) Support at the end of their rehabilitation contract that facilitates hiring by monitoring the job market and introducing workers to private companies
Each year, more than 350 people are supported and trained by Actavista. During their training period they work on enhancive jobs among the six branches operating on 20 historical and natural patrimony renovation sites. During their six-month to one-year trainings, participants benefit from 540 hours of professional training. For the first time ever in the rehabilitation field, Arnaud makes it possible for participants to obtain a certified professional qualification at the end of their training period. Now recognized as official qualifications, French institutions in charge of collecting continuing education tax from employers pay for Actavista trainings.
Combining professionalism and efficiency, Actavista’s unprecedented success shifts the bad reputation of professional reintegration organizations, from inefficient publicly subsidized programs to high-value recruitment partners for construction companies. Arnaud seizes this opportunity by co-contracting or sub-contracting with companies by operating common renovation sites and sharing human resources management. He has also strategically associated Actavista with France’s national association of traditional construction techniques and with the National Forest Agency. These strategies reinforce his economic model and guarantee Actavista’s sustainability if public subsidies were to disappear in the years to come.
To build and sustain relationships with construction companies, Arnaud has built a non-profit group with six branches that can anchor their activities in a given territory and integrate the local business networks. Structured as a network of regional branches, Actavista can also lower his costs by mutualizing some departments (i.e. supplier, accountability, or communications) Actavista currently has a team of 43, with 40 percent dedicated to social support and 60 percent to the vocational training on-site and in the classroom.
To optimize the professional placement of participants once their training comes to an end, Arnaud has created a dedicated department in charge of monitoring regional labor markets, identifying job offers, and matching them with the appropriate workers from Actavista, thanks to a centralized tracking database. He has also launched a temporary job agency which targets low-qualified people, and is managed by former Actavista employees.
As the last ten years have highlighted developing a quality model, Arnaud now wants to spread his idea into other regions and countries with historical patrimony and restoration needs, such as Morocco. He will also systematize his innovative methodology based on personalized support and high-value trainings. To structure his development strategy at a European level, Arnaud has instigated a working group supported by the European Union and is gathering construction firms and citizen organizations (COs) from Mediterranean basin countries, such as Italy, Cyprus, and Malta. This has led to the launch of the construction of the first European training center on historical patrimony techniques and social entrepreneurship. In September 2010 it offered common trainings to the workers of reintegration companies, business construction firms, and European COs that would like to build a professional integration department. The center offers a European diploma and is the first certified training center managed by a rehabilitation company.
Graduating as a surveyor topographer, Arnaud began his career in French Guyana as an engineer for the National Forest Agency. He moved up quickly and became fond of working on community-based projects to develop housing and tourist infrastructure. These projects involved the local Amerindian population in community development and gave Arnaud the idea to base the construction work in his rehabilitation company on local know-how, ancestral techniques, and natural materials. A few years later, Arnaud also applied his community-based development experiences to an eco-friendly mining project, where he combined employment rehabilitation of the excluded Hmong population with eco-friendly techniques to preserve the environment surrounding the mine.
Enriched by these experiences, Arnaud returned to France where he ended his surveyor career to continue on job integration projects. As lack of mobility is one of the main obstacles for employment, Arnaud first launched an associative driving school for job seekers. He began to see the disconnection between the labor market and job seekers, and observed the inefficiency of the integration sector. Arnaud decided to create his own system, Actavista, and led by his previous experiences, he chose the renovation of historical patrimony to serve his rehabilitation work. From the beginning, Actavista distinguished itself from the other integration players by its eco-construction position, professionalism, and the efficiency of its economic model.
Arnaud has created a social business at the frontier of the private and citizen sector. In line with his goal to provide access to state-of-the-art eco-construction trainings to the most excluded people, he has joined several networks to maintain an edge of new innovations. The PRIDES label allows him to regularly collect information on new techniques and meet key players. This is how he has developed strong competitive advantages and now mastered the lime and hemp thermal insulation.
Arnaud is also deeply committed and recognized in social entrepreneurship networks in France. Convinced that his job integration process could be easily replicated, he wishes to spread his methodologies in the field. For instance, the database and knowledge management software applications he specifically developed to better track his beneficiaries, is now available to other integration companies.