VOCATIONAL training has a long tradition in Switzerland. We are therefore following with interest the discussions about the improvement of the Slovak system of vocational education and training (VET). On September 1, 2009, the new law on VET came into force. This was indisputably an important milestone in the quest to introduce reforms. The law will have to be filled with content and its provisions have to be implemented in practice. Swiss experiences could serve as source of inspiration that might be useful not only for Slovakia but also for other countries.
Let me highlight some of the main advantages of the Swiss system: close cooperation between the public and private sector and hence a close match between the skills of school leavers and the needs of the labour market; the permeability of the system, allowing students to earn academic degrees through both general and vocational education; in-company training 3 or 4 days a week and access to the latest technologies.
Switzerland’s long tradition of upper secondary-level vocational education and training, and tertiary-level professional education and training (PET) is based on the close cooperation between the confederation (Federal Office for Professional Education and Training OPET), the cantons and professional organisations. Such a partnership ensures a good match of the content of VET/PET programmes with the needs of employers and the labour market. By systematically linking training components to the labour market, Switzerland has, at 7.0 percent, one of the lowest youth unemployment rates compared to the OECD average of 12.4 percent; Slovakia registered 18.9 percent, according to OECD figures for 2008.
One of the strongest features of the Swiss system is the principle of upward mobility from all parts of the system. The system itself has the ability to adapt quickly to new labour market conditions. In addition, qualified workers may be trained both at upper secondary and tertiary level. This enables the Swiss system to bring a “skill-grade-mix”. Knowing how university-oriented Slovak youngsters are nowadays, a system similar to the Swiss model could have a positive echo in this country since it leaves the door open to university education.
Vocational education and training programmes last for two (Federal VET Certificate), three or four years (Federal VET Diploma). With the diploma it is possible to progress to professional college degrees programmes.
Those interested can earn a baccalaureate or even enrol in any of Switzerland’s cantonal universities or in either of the two federal institutes of technology. Approximately two-thirds of all young people entering upper secondary-level education opt for a vocational education and training programme and hence do not opt for high-school graduation and direct enrolment in university studies.
In Switzerland, there are VET programmes for over 200 different occupations. About 90 percent of them are based on the dual-track approach. With the dual-track approach, practical training courses are carried out by host companies. These host companies organise paid apprenticeships for VET students. The apprentices spend three to four days at the host company where they do productive work while undergoing practical training. On the other hand, vocational schools, for one to two days per week, provide students with general education courses and theoretical vocational training.
One of the many positive results of the dual-track vocational training system is the early involvement of the trainees in the labour market. The apprentice learns responsibility and loyalty to the company, and the employer gets used to responsibility and loyalty towards the young employee.
Professional education and training focuses on providing people with professional qualifications that enable them to handle challenging tasks. Access to PET qualifications is basically open to holders of a Federal VET Diploma who have also gained professional experience.
Funding of the Swiss VET/PET system is provided by the public and the private sector. The cantons contribute the highest share of public funding. On the private sector side, funding comes from host companies, which offer practical training, and from trade associations. The host companies consider the option to offer apprenticeships an advantage. They can rely on well-educated professionals and save resources which they would otherwise have to invest in in-house training. Two-thirds of the companies involved report a positive cost-benefit ratio.
As in Slovakia, Switzerland has the saying ‘Handwerk hat goldenen Boden’, i.e. craftsmanship brings rich rewards. Holders of professional diplomas enjoy respect and recognition in society. This is a direct consequence of the high quality of their education. Now, in times of economic recession and growing rates of unemployment, it is crucial to do the utmost to promote a qualified and competitive workforce. This can not only help to attract foreign investors to the country but can contribute to the reduction of unemployment by increasing the responsiveness of the VET systems to the labour market’s needs.
An independent assessment of the Swiss system of vocational training by the OECD is published at www.oecd.org and additional information is online at www.bbt.admin.ch.
Josef Aregger is the Ambassador of Switzerland to Slovakia
21. Dec 2009 at 0:00 | Josef Aregger