A defining feature of the Swiss VET system is its close correlation with the labour market. Training is geared to the actual demand for vocational qualifications and to the jobs available. Thanks to this direct connection to the labour market, Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe.
Vocational training is an integral part of the Swiss education system. It begins at the upper-secondary level, with pupils having the option of continuing through to tertiary level. It is characterised by a high degree of permeability: pupils may pursue more advanced education and training opportunities and later change the course of their working lives with relative ease.
After completing their compulsory education, around two-thirds of young people in Switzerland opt for the vocational route. Most VET programmes are of the dual-track variety: serving an apprenticeship for three to four days a week to learn the trade in practice, and the rest of the time receiving classroom tuition on the theoretical aspects at a trade (VET) school.
There are around 250 officially recognised basic VET programmes in Switzerland to choose from. The most popular occupations are: commercial employee, retail employee, health care worker, social care worker, electrician, cook and IT specialist. The duration of the programmes varies depending on the occupation but can last from two to four years. These programmes lead to a federal VET diploma or a federal VET certificate, both of which are recognised nationwide.
The next level is professional education and training (PET). It enables holders of a VET qualification to specialise in a given field and prepares them for highly technical and managerial roles. There are around 400 federal PET examinations as well as 52 PET college degree programmes in eight different professional fields. Holders of a federal vocational baccalaureat are entitled to enroll in any of Switzerland’s universities of applied sciences without having to take an entrance examination.