Switzerland: postcode scenery, punctual trains and the world’s best practice in education-employer partnerships

Switzerland is known as a nation that has postcode scenery, trains that run on time and cows that “ring their bells”. What is not so well known is that the Swiss have developed the world’s best practice in education-employer partnerships that enhance the learning of their teenagers and tackle levels of youth (in particular) teenage unemployment.

For the last 30 years, I have been more than a regular visitor to Switzerland. I have stayed with close friends and become a part of their community and social networks – adults, children and teenagers a like!! During the last 3 years, I have conducted thorough research into their education – employer collaboration, interviewing young people, their parents, teachers, employers and relevant government officials.

I have learnt that:

  • Young people strongly believe that their apprenticeship experience has enabled them to grow and develop into adults who have had a significant role, have taken on real responsibilities and now appreciate the value of lifelong learning
  • 70% of all teenagers (15 – 19) undertake an apprenticeship whilst still studying at school, and there is a 90% completion rate
  • Teenager unemployment is as low as 3%, and the youth (15 – 24) unemployment ratio is below 6%
  • That young people, parents, teachers and employers value the vocational route to learning highly
  • That employer commit to the collaboration for reasons of both productivity/self-interest and for the common good of their nation. It is the Swiss way!!
  • That parents believe that their child who chooses the vocational route will be both nurtured and challenged to achieve in a world of high quality work based learning
  • That every employer that takes on an apprentice will have on site, a trained Vocational Trainer/Apprentice Mentor to coordinate that work based learning.

It is the systemic and strategic partnership between education and employment that is strongly supported by both the populace and government which underpins this success story. OECD nations can learn a great deal from the Swiss, especially as many member nations experience unacceptable levels of youth unemployment.

From year 7 to the age of 19, Swiss teenagers experience a thorough and progressive program of career development and vocational learning. The continuum of activities that emerge from this partnering is outlined in the following chart.

Continuum of Activities

The system is strong, yet like all other endeavours in a global economy it faces challenges and must continue to evolve. Creative thinking around more explicitly promoting the apprenticeship as a pathway to further learning, developing E-Learning and international placements and organising even more the intensive communication between staff (including young apprentices) and school students will be developed.

Dave Turner has written a series of reports about the Swiss system for Australian organisations, which can be found below. He can be contacted by email via djturner10@bigpond.com

Preceding and then Participating in the Swiss Apprenticeship System

Swiss Apprenticeships – The Young Person’s Perspective