Ladies and Gentlemen,
The allocation of $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants last fall marks a milestone for apprenticeships in the United States. It is the result of a process that has been going on for a while now, as apprenticeships have constantly gained in importance on the political agendas of the White House and Congress. It is exciting to see that there is bipartisan interest in this issue and that government officials as well as entrepreneurs and workforce experts are pushing and advocating for the development of apprenticeships in the United States. While general interest in apprenticeships in the United States has increased, interest in what other countries are doing in this area has grown as well. That is what put Switzerland and the Swiss vocational education and training model on the map.
In Switzerland, two-thirds of all young people who finish their compulsory education decide to take the path of vocational education and training: they start their careers with an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship usually takes three to four years and combines classes at a vocational school with on-the-job training at a host company. The apprentices have regular employment, they “earn while they learn,” and once they graduate, they receive a federal VET diploma, which is recognized by all employers in Switzerland. The apprentices enter the workforce without any debts, but with many valuable skills for their future careers and the option to continue their education by earning a university degree.
In Switzerland, apprenticeships are respected and have a long-standing tradition in our society. They are seen as high-quality education. The federal and state governments work hand in hand with the private sector to make sure that apprenticeships are well defined, nationally recognized and standardized throughout the country. The system is driven by the labor market so that the needs of the industries are heard and knowledge and skill standards can be adapted.
I am proud to see that the Swiss vocational education and training model is being so closely examined here in the United States and that it serves as an inspiration. It is because of the great interest in the Swiss model that Switzerland signed a Joint Declaration of Intent with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Education last summer. By signing that document, our two countries agreed that they would strengthen their cooperation in vocational education and training. In the past eighteen months, we proudly welcomed the Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, as well as Labor Secretary Tom Perez and the Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu. They, and numerous other delegations, including one with Colorado Governor Hickenlooper visited Switzerland to learn more about our vocational education and training system.
At the Embassy of Switzerland here in Washington, D.C., we are very committed to sharing Switzerland’s expertise in the area of apprenticeships. Our goal is to bring together all stakeholders involved in the discussion and to mediate and connect where necessary. In that respect, we also support Swiss companies doing business in the United States which have launched their own apprenticeship programs. Swiss companies such as Daetwyler in North Carolina, Bühler in Minnesota, and Feintool in Ohio have been apprenticeship pioneers and have set up their own programs to invest in the future of young Americans and gain skilled employees. Those companies are drawing from the knowledge they have available back home in Switzerland. They work together with local community colleges, convincing students and parents of the advantages of apprenticeship programs and encouraging business partners and other companies to offer similar programs. This process is ongoing. Just recently, the Swiss company Zurich Insurance North America began a so-called “white collar” apprenticeship for their needs in Chicago, and Mikron, a Swiss manufacturer of precision instruments in Colorado, has also created an apprenticeship program.
The amount of $175 million allocated to grantees all over the U.S. will create valuable additional apprenticeship opportunities. It will pave the way for the future careers of young women and men who are eager to work and learn. For this investment to reach its full potential, it will require the joint efforts of the federal government and the state governments, employers, community colleges, and many others. Switzerland is committed to being a part of those joint efforts and one of the voices promoting a productive discussion on apprenticeships so that vocational education and training in the United States become known as a successful and valuable career pathway that benefits students, employers, the economy, and ultimately society as a whole.
Check against delivery