Mathieu Saulnier tells us about his vocational training.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
After completing a high-school diploma in Engineering Sciences and vocational training (BTS) in Microtechnology, I wanted to move towards the use and more receptive aspects of the objects I was designing. I decided to go to L’École de design Nantes Atlantique to acquire more creative skills and combine them with my technical knowledge. I completed my first year at the school. I then had the opportunity to complete some vocational training thanks to the BTS in product design. After that, I completed the third year specializing in Brand Design with the international class, which allowed me to experience new design cultures.
Finally, I gained a place on the Design and Innovation Management in Apprenticeship Master’s program to complete the creative side of my studies.
How did you come across the company where you are doing your apprenticeship?
For my vocational training in product design, L’École de design suggested several potential companies and I ended up joining Agriplas in Dinard. The company makes many types of plastic bottles for various sectors. They make bottles for fertilizers, motor oils, cleaning products, sports bottles and even food products such as cartons of sauce.
For my Master’s, I had to expand my research and head south. After more than a hundred e-mails and a dozen interviews, I joined Corep in Bordeaux.
The company specializes in manufacturing mass-produced lights; from desk lamps to suspended lights and even streetlights. They have many, highly diverse ranges. Corep was not really thinking of taking on an apprentice, but the management team was open to the possibility of expanding its design team.
What tasks are entrusted to you?
In my first company, my role was to create the shape of the bottles, with sketches, rough drawings and 3D modelling. We buy a bottle because of what is inside it; however, the packaging is the first visual contact with the product. It is a real challenge to create packaging that encourages new uses and redefines the sector for which it was created. What can you do to help a user tell the difference between a bottle of engine oil and a bottle of fertiliser at a glance?
At my second company, I was entirely responsible for monitoring the development of lamps. From designing the products to mass-producing them, I worked with many providers both in France and abroad. I was able to tackle customer requests and industrial constraints. It is easy to make beautiful, expensive objects, but low-cost aesthetics is a very interesting challenge. You get a certain sense of pride when you see products displayed in the showroom and when you find them in the shops.
Has your vision of the business world changed since you became an apprentice?
The main advantage of being an apprentice is that you are allowed to make mistakes. I was able to learn about the company’s world gradually. I had imagined that it was a closed professional sector, but the apprenticeship allowed me to create a bilateral exchange. While my tutors taught me about the industrial reality, I was able to provide them with a fresh perspective thanks to what I had learnt during my studies.
What do you think the future will hold for you once you have graduated?
The modules I took with the international class and the contacts I made with international providers during my vocational training made me realize that there are many ways to think about design. Now that I have a good understanding of the professional design world in France, I want to make the most of the Erasmus+ program designed for apprentices, to discover other places, people and other design methods abroad. I find the Nordic countries particularly interesting.
What advice would you give to a future apprentice or college student who is trying to choose between the academic or the vocational training route?
I have seen a lot of people who have been disappointed at the end of their studies when they find out what their profession is really like and see the sorts of tasks that they are given. Vocational training gives a more comprehensive view of how a designer works within a company, so there’s no chance of being misled.
As a result, my advice would be: Try your luck! Go ahead and contact companies, even if they don’t seem to be looking for apprentices. Most organisations just don’t think about it. Furthermore, it gives a good impression if you take the initiative to contact them. Target companies that you like; that interest and motivate you work-wise, and set yourself a goal for your studies. You will come out of it with more confidence in your decision and you will have a much more realistic view of your role as designer. You will feel a sense of reward both when you see your finished projects and when you get paid, which also makes you more independent.