Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear apprentices, I would like to begin by congratulating you. Congratulations to you on starting a new phase in your life. You had the courage to try something new and are now paving the way for your future careers. This is a moment to celebrate, and I wish you all the best for a successful apprenticeship.
I would also like to congratulate CEO Mike Foley and everyone at Zurich Insurance who helped to establish the apprenticeship program. In a great article that came out in early January, the "Chicago Tribune" referred to it as "the country's first insurance apprenticeship program." That is a remarkable milestone. Hopefully your commitment toward developing the next generation of insurance-industry professionals will inspire many other companies to offer apprenticeships in the insurance sector.
I am impressed to see how active and successful Swiss companies are in the United States. Switzerland is the seventh most important foreign investor, creating half a million jobs, most of which at the top end and with above-average salaries. More and more of those Swiss companies are establishing apprenticeship programs at their American branches; not only in the insurance sector, but also in advanced manufacturing, IT, and other areas. Those apprenticeship programs are inspired by what the companies are used to doing back home in Switzerland. They work together with local community colleges to create teaching curricula, interact with the community to convince students and parents of the advantages of apprenticeship programs, and actively encourage business partners and other companies to offer similar programs.
The private sector’s involvement is crucial for expanding apprenticeships. I like to think that the positive change in the perception of apprenticeships as a successful career pathway and the private sector’s increased commitment toward workforce development are, to some extent, the fruits of Swiss-U.S. cooperation in the area of vocational education and training.
For a while now, apprenticeships have been on the political agenda of the White House and of Congress. There is widespread bipartisan interest among government officials as well as entrepreneurs and workforce experts in learning about the Swiss and other European vocational education and training models. Many have identified the great potential for the labor market presented by the fundamental idea of combining on-the-job training with classroom instruction.
That great interest in the Swiss model is the reason why Switzerland signed a Joint Declaration of Intent with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education last summer. By signing the document, our two countries agreed to further strengthen and formalize their cooperation in the area of vocational education and training.
At the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C., and the Swiss representations across the U.S., we encourage international dialogue and promote awareness of Swiss vocational education and training. We liaise with the Swiss and U.S. governments and we are committed to sharing Switzerland’s expertise in the area.
The Embassy of Switzerland’s goal is to connect stakeholders participating in the apprenticeship discussion and to support Swiss companies doing business in the United States. It is in the Embassy of Switzerland’s interest to help those companies train the next generation of skilled workers and to find the workforce they need.
Zurich Insurance is helping to shape the future of apprenticeships here in the U.S. It shows what can be achieved when apprenticeship advocates come together. To me, this is the right path to ensure that all young people will have secure job prospects in the future. Not only businesses benefit from apprenticeships; they have proven to be one of the best ways of combating youth unemployment.
I look forward to seeing how your program and the apprentices will grow and prosper in the coming years.
Thank you very much.
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