Swiss apprenticeships as a springboard to a global career


Some of the world’s most successful managers have one thing in common: They started their careers with a Swiss apprenticeship. The dual vocational education and training system is one of the secrets of Switzerland’s success. Not only does this small Alpine country have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world, but its economy has topped the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Competitiveness Index in nine out of the past ten years, including this year. This guest article by Prasenjit Kundu, CEO, Skillsonics, talks about how the evolving skill development ecosystem in India can adopt many best practices from Swiss Apprenticeship and VET models.

Swiss Apprenticeships skillsonics.JPGPeter Voser, former CEO of global giant Shell and now Chairman of ABB, became an apprentice at the age of 16. And so did Sergio Ermotti, Group CEO of UBS who began his career in financial services at a bank in Lugano, Switzerland. In both cases, an apprenticeship with hands-on business experience served as the springboard to a successful future career. Lacking natural resources, Switzerland has instead invested in the resource of a highly skilled, trained workforce. Apprenticeships are popular: After completing school, 70 percent of Swiss youngsters decide to enrol in a three- or four-year apprenticeship. As a small country with a population of just 8 million, Switzerland took home 20 medals at the 2017 WorldSkills in Abu Dhabi, coming in second in the overall medal count behind the People’s Republic of China.

So, are there best practices which the Indian vocational education system should adopt, and is there a proven tool which can support the Indian industry’s aspiration to improve its global competitiveness?

Skills for companies and for society

swiss_apprenticeships1Doing a job well requires practical skills and know-how. An engineer or a CNC machine operator who is to produce a metal part for a machine component can only do so by knowing the metal’s specific properties. However, studying these properties at university or in a theory class for their entire education is not going to equip students with the practical know-how needed to perform the job. That’s why the Swiss VET model is based on a dual-track education system combining theory with practical, hands-on skills. Apprentices work at their training company three to four days a week, and pursue studies at a VET school one to two days a week.

Demand-driven and managed by the private sector

SkillSonics works together with Swissmem, the Association of the Swiss Mechanical and Electrical Manufacturing Industries. As a private sector body, Swissmem develops occupational profiles and curricula for apprenticeships in the metal and electrical industries. As such, the industry association sets the standards and, through its members, implements training, while the Swiss government approves those standards and supports domain-related delivery by providing classrooms and teachers. Through this model, Swissmem not only strengthens its member companies’ industries, but ensures continuous, market-driven curriculum development, efficiency as well as permeability of further education programs.

Learn while you earn

During their vocational training, Swiss apprentices are paid a salary according to the chosen track, the company, and the year of training. Within this model, they earn between one eighth and one fourth of a fully trained person’s salary. And even though companies that provide in-house practical training incur costs, the investment yields a worthwhile return on costs as soon as or shortly after an apprenticeship is completed. Because Swiss businesses are the driving force behind the training content, goals, and initiatives, the Swiss dual-track education system not only benefits young people, but the entire economy by avoiding a mismatch between what participants learn and what employers need. 

A skilled workforce instead of academics with no practical skills

Graduates of Swiss apprenticeships are in high demand and rarely struggle to find meaningful, well-paid work. In India, on the other hand, 15 million university graduates flood the labor market every year, with most of them lacking the skills and practical experience that companies seek – a dilemma as new hires first need to be (re-)trained to bridge the obvious skill gap. This link between education and employment is yet to be developed in India, whereas in Switzerland it has enjoyed a long tradition.

Enhancing India’s competitiveness with Swiss skills

Swiss Apprenticeships3JPGIn India, there is a widespread belief that a sustainable career requires a university degree, while vocational and professional education and training continues to be spurned. Yet stigmatizing apprenticeships in this way is wrong. SkillSonics is breaking new ground by bringing the globally reputed Swiss dual-track methodology to India and helping young Indians become employable. At the same time, SkillSonics supports companies in improving their global competitiveness and staff loyalty through curriculum content and training of trainers, and by supporting implementation and providing certification. In workshops equipped with modern tools and technology, students are trained in well-founded technical skills, but also in soft skills. Since 2008, the SkillSonics team has been training Indian workforce at companies such as ABB, ACC, Ambuja Cement, Bühler, Rieter and Texmo, through programs ranging from shorter advanced courses to comprehensive 3-year apprenticeships. The students thus trained have proven to be readily deployable as supervisors, production technicians, operators of automated manufacturing processes and quality technicians. And they have helped the companies investing in them achieve a higher return on investment (ROI) on every rupee spent on training.

(This guest article is contributed by Prasenjit Kundu, CEO SkillSonics.)

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