I am a firm advocate of apprenticeships–and I am convinced that this important element of our educational system is of great relevance to the strength of our economy and to the general socioeconomic development of our society.
Apprenticeships in Switzerland are vital: they significantly contribute to employment and provide the labor market with a skilled workforce and specialists.
Apprenticeship pathways complement academic pathways. They enable us to have the optimal skills mix across the entire value chain and support our innovation and competitiveness capacity.
Let me therefore highlight a few success factors of the Swiss apprenticeship system:
Two-thirds of our young people start their career with an apprenticeship after compulsory school at the age of fifteen to sixteen. In that way, apprenticeships contribute to low youth unemployment and give young people responsibility and inclusion in everyday working life.
Our dual apprenticeship system combines classroom instruction at vocational schools and apprenticeships at host companies, meaning that young people are trained at a company three to four days a week and spend one or two days a week at a vocational school. Apprenticeships in Switzerland are very comprehensive three- or four-year programs leading to a federally recognized degree.
But the companies have a return on investment on their training. That is because apprentices are fully integrated into the work process and become more and more productive as they move ahead in their apprenticeships.
The Swiss educational system is characterized by high permeability. Multiple options are available, leaving room for individual flexibility in career paths. Apprenticeships do not lead to dead-end qualifications, but are also designed for excellent students. Thus the option to pursue an academic career is always open.
The social prestige of apprenticeships in Switzerland is high and of great importance.
The Swiss apprenticeship system is governed by a public-private partnership. The federal level, the cantons—our states—and professional organizations—the private sector—are jointly committed to the highest possible quality standards.
Allow me to further explain the relationship between the dual apprenticeship system and the economy in Switzerland: our apprenticeship system is first and foremost carried by our private sector and is the single most important way to attain a qualification for the labor market. Therefore the Swiss economy is the driving force behind the system—it is not mainly the federal government, but the private sector, the companies and the professional organizations with their need for highly skilled workers and specialists.
In a world where technological innovation, new industries and globalization constantly change the working environment, having highly qualified and skilled employees is key to economic growth, global competitiveness, and success.
Therefore I am pleased to see several Swiss companies with subsidiaries in the U.S. strongly committed to providing Swiss-inspired apprenticeships and collaborating with local community colleges here in the United States.
We don’t think that it is possible to replicate the Swiss apprenticeship system in a copy-and-paste manner in the United States or elsewhere. Every country has its specific economic and educational history and reality which need to be observed when changes are introduced. Therefore we exchange expertise, compare good practices, and help to transfer the success factors of our system to our partner countries. Obviously, depending on our partners, those success factors differ from case to case.
Our cooperation with the United States of America, however, is very special for several reasons. We enjoy long-standing, excellent relations with very close economic ties. Switzerland is the sixth-largest investor in the U.S., more than 500 Swiss companies have subsidiaries here, and they directly employ almost half a million Americans. And for a long time already, Swiss companies here in the United States have designed their own Swiss-inspired apprenticeships.
Apart from individual Swiss companies that create apprenticeship programs, there are also companies that join forces and create a consortium, for instance. Typically they work together with local community colleges, which provide the vocational school part.
There is a third Swiss-inspired approach here in the U.S.: that is the statewide effort that started in Colorado last summer. Governor Hickenlooper led a delegation to Switzerland in early 2016 and since then we have seen a steady exchange of experts and business representatives moving back and forth between Switzerland and Colorado. CareerWise Colorado, the nonprofit leading the effort, has the goal of scaling up this new apprenticeship model to 20,000 apprentices in the coming years.
In 2014, as the interest in apprenticeships gained momentum on both the federal and state levels in this country, the Swiss government and the Swiss apprenticeship community started a dialogue with our U.S. partners. In 2015, we signed a Joint Declaration of Intent with the U.S. Secretaries of Labor, Education and Commerce in order to facilitate closer cooperation on apprenticeships. Our cooperation is a success. We have deepened our relations, and I would very much like to continue that successful work with our American colleagues.
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