Mémoires d’un Compagnon” by Agricol Perdiguier is one of the most important books in my collection. It tells the story of the “Compagnons du Devoir de Liberté” and describes how they lived and what they did in the 19th century.
The book covers the organization’s history as well as the author’s personal experiences.
The Compagnons stories of the 1800s had a big impact on my growth as a worker, technician, engineer, consultant, writer, business owner, and person who tells business stories (although I never had a chance to be part of this community). It affected my thoughts, my work on our Japan project, and my views on education.
TL; DR: If you’re unsure if this essay will make sense to you, here are some of my most relevant terms pertaining to the subject: Mentorship, master craftsman, craftsmanship route for the digital world, chef d’oeuvre, capstone project, fraternity, tour du Japon, apprenticeship, and learning pathway.
The Perdiguier Tour de France as an Inspiration for Japan-based Skill Development Programs for Elite Knowledge Workers
The story of the compagnons moves both the heart and the mind. It still represents a way to find better educational models in countries where craftsmanship has become obsolete, where learning from a master of his craft has been lost, and where the experience of growing under a strong authority figure through competencies has been rejected.
But First, Who are those “Compagnons”? and What is the focus of their organization?
The “Compagnons du Devoir”, full name “Compagnons du Devoir de Liberté”, is a French society of craftsmen and artisans originating from the Middle Ages. The “Tour de France” and apprenticeships with masters make up their traditional technical education.
“Compagnonnage” is a traditional mentorship network through which a young man may acquire a skill set while developing character through exposure to community life, travel, and mentorship.
The apprentice Compagnons live in a house called a “cayenne,” which is run by a “mother” or “mistress,” a woman who is in charge of the well-being of these young learners, who live there in France. The dwellings range in size from a modest home for five people to huge residences for more than 100 people.
A similar tradition exists in Germany (Wandergesellen), or journeymen, who go on the Wanderjahre.
The term “compagnon” is derived from the Old French word compaignon, which literally means “he with whom one shares one’s bread”.
Here is a very limited list of the types of craftsmanship for a limited number of industry sectors:
- building and construction : stonemasons, carpenters, roofers, joiners, locksmiths, plasterers, and painters-glaziers,
- metallurgy: blacksmiths, farriers, wheelwrights, stove makers, cutlers, founders,
- leather: tanners, saddlers,
- textile: tailors, dyers.
Again, this remains a very VERY limited list.
The “compagnon” model represented a real support system (for training, development, as well as for the tasks Workers Unions have today) for the whole worker and artisan path to getting quality jobs.
Just remember that time by putting it into perspective. A XXIst Century with today’s comfortable working conditions vs. a XIXth Century where underage children worked as part of the standard hiring procedure.
It was a time when welfare, health insurance, unions, minimum wages, paid vacations (and today’s strange “unlimited paid absence”), and remote work were all non-existent. Let’s list some of the main pain points (many of these applied to the workers’ conditions of the first quarter or even half of the 20th century too):
- Lack of vacation time: workers in the 19th century often worked six days a week with no paid vacation time.
- Long working hours: 10-12 hours a day, with no overtime pay or breaks.
- Dangerous working conditions: many jobs in the 19th (for a good part of the 20th century too) century involved dangerous machinery and equipment, leading to high rates of injury and death.
- Poor health: workers often suffered from poor health due to long working hours, poor diet, and lack of access to healthcare.
- Unsafe housing: many workers lived in overcrowded, unsanitary housing conditions, which led to the spread of disease.
- Child labor: children as young as six years old were often employed in factories and mines, and were often subjected to long working hours, dangerous conditions, and little or no education. If you read original texts about how those kids’ health was deteriorating in their early adolescence, you’ll be unable to continue reading for your eyes will flood up with tears.
- Discrimination: workers of color and immigrants often faced discrimination and were often paid less than white workers for the same work.
- Lack of disability and retirement benefits: there were no disability or retirement benefits, leaving many unable to support themselves in old age.
- No compensation for work-related injuries: there were no laws in place to compensate workers for work-related injuries, leaving them to bear the costs themselves.
- No regulation of working conditions: there were no laws or regulations to ensure that workplaces were safe and healthy for workers.
- No paid sick leave: workers who were sick were often docked pay or even fired, and were not entitled to any paid sick leave.
- No minimum wage: workers were often paid very low wages, which often left them struggling to make ends meet.
- No job security: workers could be easily fired or laid off with no notice or compensation, leaving them without a source of income.
- No access to education and training: workers in the 19th century often had limited access to education and training, making it difficult for them to acquire new skills or advance in their careers.
- No protection for strikes or unionizing: workers who attempted to strike or unionize were often met with violence and repression from factory owners and government officials.
In some ways, the Compagnons model represented a fraternity, a skills training and development organization, a kind of recruiting and staffing organization, a protection against shady recruitment practices, but most importantly, a safety net and a craftsmanship fellowship that set them apart from a so-called competition.
The Tour de France
The tour de France was a common rite of passage for apprentices in the organization. During it, they went to different towns to work for different “bourgeois” (business owners) and learn different skills. The journey was often measured in years. If I remember well, Perdiguier’s expedition lasted around six years.
Agricol Perdiguier did his “Tour de France” like any other apprentice of the Compagnons du Devoir de Liberté, a group of skilled craftsmen that still exists today in a very different way.
In his book, Perdiguier recounts his personal experience of the journey, which brought him to several French towns. Among others, he mentions visiting those cities (I hope it’s in the right order) Marseille, Nîmes, Montpellier, Béziers, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rochefort, Nantes, Chartres, Paris, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Lyon.
Many roles and names, like “mère,” “rouleur,” and “bourgeois,” were used to describe the Compagnons du Devoir members and their roles and their jobs. All of them worked to make sure the trip went as smoothly as possible.
The “mère” (mother) was the leader of the local fraternity, in charge of monitoring the organization and its members’ accommodations and daily concerns. The “rouleur” was an experienced compagnon who introduced compagnon apprentices to favorable employment opportunities. The “bourgeois” was often the master craftsman who took on apprentices and taught them how to do their jobs.
The purpose of the trip was to be hard and demanding so that apprentices could improve their skills, knowledge, and discipline, which shows how accomplished they have become. Today’s Compagnons in France are still regarded as one of a kind skilled worker.
The Main Apprentice Learnings
On his journey to complete his Tour de France, an apprentice learns the following:
- a sense of commitment and responsibility towards one’s craft and towards other compagnons,
- the pursuit of professional excellence, and a desire to constantly improve,
- respect for standards and professional rules,
- the importance of training and lifelong learning, and
- an open-mindedness and curiosity to discover new trades and techniques.
Other qualities that are commonly found in compagnons include:
- generosity and mutual aid among members,
- the ability to adapt to change and thrive in different professional environments,
- the ability to make quick decisions and manage unexpected situations,
- the ability to manage professional relationships and
- communicate effectively,
- the ability to manage finances and invest in one’s professional future, and
- the ability to transmit one’s knowledge and experience to future generations.
We can easily link those characteristics to the soft skills set expected in today’s job descriptions or claimed as a profession of faith by many businesses. However, in the twenty-first century, a detailed explanation of what they are for, how we monitor them, and how we train for this specific skills amounts to mostly pep talks.
I consider those 19th century learnings as essential in our own Academy development.
Apprentice Compagnon Main Values
The common values that unite the compagnons of the Devoir and the compagnons of the Tour de France are:
- respect for tradition and the transmission of craftsmanship,
- a spirit of camaraderie and solidarity among members,
- a sense of commitment and responsibility towards one’s craft and towards other compagnons,
- the pursuit of professional excellence, and
- a desire to constantly improve,
- respect for standards and professional rules,
- the importance of training and lifelong learning, and an
- open-mindedness, and
- curiosity to discover new trades and techniques.
Those values, are what I have continuously wanted to peg to my personal and professional value system.
What All this Has to Do with Digital Transformation, Japan and Knowledge (Digital) Workers?
In short: EVERYTHING!
In long: The most focused apprentices of the 19th century, just like today’s youth, were driven by a desire to learn and improve their craft path to mastery, to become the best in their field, and to make a name for themselves.
As we look back at the history of the Compagnons du Devoir and the Tour de France, it is striking to see how the aspirations and struggles of the most demanding young men have remained unchanged over time.
They were faced with many of the same challenges, such as a lack of discipline, unpreparedness, and the need for guidance and mentorship from experienced professionals.
Even though time has passed, the values, qualities, and rules that guided apprentices in the past still apply, although to a very different type of learner today.
The pursuit of excellence, the value of training and learning throughout life, the need to adapt to change, and the importance of strong relationships and communication are all values that are still important in today’s society.
Both the demanding apprentices of the past and the motivated and disciplined youth of today share a fear of failure, a desire to succeed, a need for concrete, usable skills, a desire to make a positive difference in the world, and a desire to leave at least some kind of lasting legacy.
Craftsmanship and Digital Transformation in Japan
In today’s Japan, the need for skilled and experienced professionals is greater than ever. The digital transformation that is taking place in the country is driving a demand for highly skilled web developers, UX designers, growth hackers, and product managers.
These professionals will play a critical role in the country’s economic and social development, and their skills and expertise will be in high demand.
Many young people don’t have the necessary focus, motivation, and discipline they need to do well in the digital world, which is very competitive and changes quickly. Many also don’t have the guidance and mentorship of experienced professionals who could help them improve their skills and deal with the challenges in their field.
They don’t know the true, huge, and highly sought-after value of apprenticeship with a craftsmanship mindset. They are unable to see how an apprenticeship may be a life-changing opportunity, a character-forming journey, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For a “Tour of Japan”
Junior web developers, UX designers, growth hackers, and product managers in the digital field can become real elites if they follow this learning path. After their own “Tour of Japan,” they learned from the best professionals from months spent in different companies, discovering new technologies and methods, business practices, and ways of leading, while living in 10 different cities (from Kitami to Kagoshima), working and learning under 10 different “masters of their craft” bosses, and gaining a breadth and depth of technical and personal experience, unmatched anywhere else on the planet.
This kind of exposure helps students develop the technical and interpersonal skills necessary for professional success, as well as a global perspective of the trends and difficulties in their industry, enabling them to make educated choices and innovate in their job.
The role of the masters (Master Artisans), or mentors, is crucial in the training of apprentices, as they are experienced professionals who have achieved a high level of skill in their trade and have been trained to teach their skills and knowledge to apprentices.
The role of the masters is:
- to transmit the technical skills and theoretical knowledge necessary to practice the trade,
- to teach apprentices basic techniques, tools and materials used in their trade,
- as well as professional standards and rules,
- to supervise the work of apprentices and help them overcome difficulties they encounter.
Masters also play an important role in training appropriate professional behaviors and attitudes. Compagnons of the Devoir and the Tour de France are often proud of what they do for a living and of being part of a fraternity.
They teach apprentices:
- the values and standards of the fraternity, like respect for tradition, a sense of commitment and responsibility, and the pursuit of professional excellence,
- the appropriate behaviors in the workplace, such as punctuality, integrity, and professional ethics,
- interpersonal skills and self-leadership qualities,
- how to communicate well,
- solve problems, and
- manage professional relationships.
At least, that is the way I want to see it.
For a Knowledge Worker Apprentice Japan Tour
By getting ideas from the Compagnons du Devoir and the Tour de France, young web engineers, UX designers, growth hackers, and product managers may get the knowledge and guidance they need to become real experts in their fields.
Through the “Tour of Japan,” apprentices will be able to work with the best experts in different fields, gain a wide range of experience and information, and build the hard and soft skills they need to succeed in the digital world.
Being exposed to different environments and organizational cultures will help students become more flexible and teach them how to work with a wide range of people and entities, which is a skill that every professional needs.
The Never-Ending Youth Challenges
Youth aspirations have stayed consistent throughout history. Demanding apprentices of the past and motivated young people today share a same desire to learn and improve their skills, to become the best in their field, and to make a positive impact on the world. The “Tour of Japan” gives young people of today a chance to be like the Compagnons du Devoir and the Tour de France of the 1800s and get the experience, direction, and discipline they need to thrive in the digital world and help them build a strong Japan society.
Also, working in different places and with different kinds of people will help them become more flexible and learn how to work with a wide range of people, which is an important skill for any professional.
You Belong Here
The “Tour of Japan” helps foster a sense of belonging and community which is essential to our organization. The connection and camaraderie that formerly existed among apprentice craftsmen of the XIXth century may also be formed among the participants of the “Tour of Japan.”
Through shared experiences and struggles, adolescents may forge lifelong alliances and connections. This feeling of community and belonging may also serve as a source of encouragement and inspiration through challenging times.
In conclusion, the “Tour of Japan” is a fantastic chance for young web engineers, UX designers, growth hackers, and product managers to become actual industry leaders. By mimicking the Compagnons du Devoir and their Tour de France, they may acquire the necessary expertise, advice, and discipline for success in the digital world. The trip also aids in the development of the full wholistic person, supporting personal growth and development as well as a feeling of community and belonging.
The strong authority figure with the levels of skills apprentices seek is in high demand for a robust Japan society. The Tour of Japan can help to produce the next generation of skilled and experienced professionals who will play a crucial role in the country’s economic and social development for a long-term commitment to digital transformation.
The Product House Apprenticeship and the “Tour of Japan” has the ability to foster a new generation of leaders who are not only talented in their respective fields, but also possess a strong sense of ethics, integrity, and responsibility. These leaders will be able then to coach and motivate others (the novices: the future generations of apprentices) to work towards a shared goal and constructively contribute to society.
To make the most of this opportunity, it is essential to ensure that the “Tour of Japan” is well-structured, has defined aims and objectives, and is guided by seasoned experts who have the skills and understanding to mentor and assist the participants. This will need a mix of government backing and private sector efforts, as well as the participants’ own commitment to the hard work and dedication required for success.
The “Tour of Japan” has the ability to produce a new generation of talented and experienced individuals who can contribute to the growth and development of the digital transformation in Japan and to society as a whole.
I’m just referring to the nineteenth-century Compagnons, and we’re bringing some of the most important aspects of their trip into our Product House Academy work in a very “digital” approach. We are not referring to the contemporary Compagnons groups, nor are we linked with them, nor do we comment on their real programs. But we hold them in high respect.
I attempted to present a little of the famous France’s Craftsmanship Path History in a very short text, and I’m not quite happy with the outcome. The Perdiguier Compagnons “Du Devoir de Liberté” deserve a much longer introduction. This shall be done soon in a whole blog post category dedicated to our students.
JAD-X [NPO]: Japan Institute for Apprenticeship & Digital Transformation Association is looking for founding members (companies and organizations) to help us build the future of Digital Transformation the long tail way: through digital worker apprentice education, tours, mentorship, and creating an elite knowledge worker generation in Japan.
Contact us to find out more.