A model of success – Swiss skills unite theory and practice


The world admires Switzerland’s vocational education and training (VET) model that brings together shop floor training and classroom instruction. Theory and practice complement each other in an ideal fashion. The top quality Swiss approach to vocational training has enriched this little country in the heart of Europe and its companies.  In this article, Philippe Welti – Swiss Communications and PR Specialist, Campaigner takes us through the key differentiating features of Swiss VET that have made it popular globally. Let’s read on…

Swiss skilling success lies in the fact that apprentices are immersed in theoretical instruction and practical application from the day they begin their apprenticeships.  Two out of three youngsters choose to do an apprenticeship after completing their mandatory schooling. And everybody benefits.

Two thirds do an apprenticeship

Young people choose either to continue on a school trajectory or to do an apprenticeship after completing their obligatory schooling. The dual track vocational training model unites classroom instruction and hands-on technical training. The basic structure of an apprenticeship involves practical work of three to four days a week in a company combined with classroom learning in a vocational school. There are about 300 professions that are officially recognized by the Swiss state from commercial apprentice to glassblower. The apprentice gets a salary from the company during the apprenticeship which lasts two to four years. Switzerland combats skills shortages by providing upskilling for older members of the labor force. This is possible with shorter courses because their acquired skills and competencies are already recognized.

Swiss skills model


Interplay between the state, the companies and the trainees

Vocational training in Switzerland is a joint undertaking of state and economy. The dual track apprenticeship system is practically-oriented and is characterized by high quality standards.  The state is responsible for the legal frame conditions; the economy – companies and sector associations – ensure that the apprenticeships align with market requirements. Apprentice training within a company can be adjusted quickly and flexibly in response to changing market conditions. As such trainees get exactly those competencies that are important for the company, today and tomorrow. Apprentices are well aware of the advantage of vocational training. They are in high demand as employees and find well-paying jobs thanks to their Swiss Federal Certificate of Competence. Switzerland’s low youth unemployment rate testifies to the value of an apprenticeship in the marketplace.

Trainees earn a salary from day one

Companies employ trainees on the basis of an apprenticeship contract and cover part of their training costs. The trainee receives a monthly salary of between $500 to $1000 depending on profession and training year. It pays companies to invest in trainees during their apprenticeships because they already do productive work during this time. Moreover, companies secure the supply of new professional talent. In this sense, they assume an important social and economic responsibility. The apprenticeship contract automatically ends when the apprenticeship is over. The company is not obligated to continue employing the trainee who now has an education and is sought-after as a practitioner. Switzerland’s low unemployment is proof of this fact.

A permeable educational system

The Swiss vocational training system allows apprentices who have received a first vocational diploma to go onto higher education at a university of applied sciences. Thereafter, many doors open, including onto a traditional university education.  The so-called “permeability” of the Swiss educational system is a characteristic of Swiss vocational training. The careers of Peter Voser, Chairman of ABB and Sergio Ermotti, CEO of UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, would not have been possible without this permeability.

Global interest in Swiss skills

No wonder that Swiss vocational training is an export hit. Minister of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Johannes Schneider-Ammann tirelessly propagates VET all over the world. He emphasizes that Swiss vocational training is a win-win for apprentice and company. Last fall, US President Donald Trump also showed interest in the Swiss apprenticeship system after Schneider-Ammann personally explained its enormous advantages to him. Currently, China is showing the greatest interest in VET. When the Swiss educational expert and former parliamentarian visited China, everybody talked about vocational training. Other countries such as India, Brazil, South Korea and Saudi Arabia are also showing an interest in the Swiss approach to skilling.

Philippe Welti, Swiss communication specialist and campaigner, pw@skillsonics.com 

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