Elements of success in our education system

Winterthur, 21.06.2016 - International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training Rede von Bundespräsident Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Vorsteher des Eidgenössischen Departements für Wirtschaft, Bildung und Forschung WBF


Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Swiss government, I would like to welcome all of you – representatives  of national ministries,  international organisations,  education institutions, the private sector and academia, and the apprentices and digital natives also here today – to the second international Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training in Winterthur.

Welcome to „#VPET16“ 

Vocational and Professional Education  and Training – or VPET – is a matter of considerable importance to the Swiss government and to me, in particular, as President of the Confederation and Education Minister.
There are three main reasons for this:

  • VPET ensures an income;
  • it imparts knowledge;
  • and it creates jobs.

“From skills to prosperity –  sharing elements of success” 

The motto of this year’s congress puts it in a nutshell. It also raises two important questions:

Firstly, what skills are needed  if we are to be successful and create prosperity?

Secondly, how can we use the skills acquired to best effect?

The motto also suggests how to address these questions. Not by retreating to an ivory tower and trying to solve problems all by ourselves, but by going out and exchanging ideas in the workplace, between the workplace and school, within our own country and with our neighbours beyond our borders.

That’s why I am particularly pleased that over 450 representatives from around 80 countries have made their way here today. I am sure this will create a learning community that benefits us all: you as individuals, your company, school, university, and country. So thank you for coming to Winterthur and thank you for making this dialogue possible.

Allow me to say a few words about my country, Switzerland.

As you know, we now have one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world, one of the highest labour force participation rates (at 84%, 13 percentage points above the OECD average) and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, and, indeed, the world.

That was not always the case. Switzerland used to be a poor country. 200 years ago, at the beginning of the 19th century, the people here in the canton of Zurich did not have enough to eat. As a small, landlocked country at the centre of Europe, with no raw materials worth mentioning, Switzerland had no choice but to develop into an innovative knowledge society, and to constantly invest, expand and diversify in it. One of our country’s greatest strengths is our mixed education system, which allows us to recognise both practical and academic talent and to invest in each accordingly.

This is a major contributor to our innovativeness and competitive strength. It also means that we can continue to develop our education system, making it fit to respond to the needs of the future, both of the country’s economy and of the individual. Please don’t misunderstand me: the last thing I want to do is suggest that other countries should adopt our education system. Each country has its own historical, economic and socio-economic context. A country’s education policy should take account of this background and reconcile what is desirable with what is feasible.

But I would like to reveal to you briefly what I believe are the Elements of Success in the Swiss education system:

1.  Duality and work based learning.

The dual vocational education and training system, in which apprentices spend time in both a host company and in vocational school, is a key element of success and the main VET model in Switzerland.

About two thirds of all young people in Switzerland take up an apprenticeship when they are about 15. There are about 230 nationally recognised and regulated apprenticeships to choose from.

This dual system is based on a very simple idea: learning by doing. Young people are able to learn the skills that businesses require. Their job prospects are therefore excellent.

2.  Permeability

The next Element of Success is permeability, which occurs in two directions: laterally, between the academic and vocational education paths, and bottom-up, with opportunities for life-long learning and promotion.

Whichever path a person takes, it offers the potential for a successful career.

I can give you a good example of this. A colleague of mine recently spoke to a woman who had done an apprenticeship as a hairdresser. Having obtained advanced qualifications in her trade, she successfully ran her own business for twenty years. She then obtained the baccalaureate qualification and went on to university to study social sciences. Today she runs her own consulting company. The point I’d like to make is: no qualification leads to a dead-end.

As we say in German: kein Abschluss ohne Anschluss! With a qualification under your belt, doors will open to you.

3.  Private-sector involvement

Another success factor in Swiss VPET I would like to highlight is the role and involvement of businesses, which makes for a system attuned to the needs of the labour market.

Small to medium-sized businesses make up over 99 per cent of the Swiss economy. So it is especially important for these small companies to be involved in training young people. And indeed, about 40 per cent of companies in a position to offer apprenticeships do so. They do this on a voluntary basis – there is no obligation. This private-sector involvement and cooperation with trade associations is hugely important in Switzerland. It is the trade associations that define the apprenticeship curricula. This means that young people acquire the skills that are required on the labour market. At the first VPET congress in 2014,  we looked at why companies take the trouble to train apprentices.

Studies show that businesses benefit from offering training. I used to be the CEO of a construction machine manufacturing company that trained apprentices. And I can assure you that the benefits of employing apprentices can usually be felt even before they complete their training: after a time, their productive work more than compensates for their employment and training costs.

Furthermore, to train apprentices is an investment in the future skills available to the company: the company can then save indirectly on the costs of recruiting and training new employees. I am curious to know what the businesspeople among the congress speakers have to say to us on this topic.

In times of great change, no-one can afford to stand still. Let’s take a look into the future. There are two major forces of change in the world today.

Firstly, the effects of global competition are being felt in many countries. Traditional economies are affected by a gradual process of deindustrialisation.

This threatens the jobs of many. In Switzerland, where about a fifth of economic output is still generated by the industrial sector, there are two principal factors ensuring that industrial production remains efficient – a liberal labour market and a skilled workforce.

The second big change in society is digitalisation. This offers huge opportunities both in our private lives and at work. Take today’s congress. As I stand here before you, you may well be tweeting to each other about our congress – under “#VPET16”.

So I have to compete with Twitter and your mobile phones for your attention. Of course, I am not really being serious – but the digitalisation of our society does become a serious threat when employees are in fear of losing their jobs.

Certain occupations will no doubt disappear.

But here again, our flexible and permeable labour market opens up new opportunities. New jobs will be created and new training programmes developed. Life Long Learning applies not only to individuals, but to our education and training system too. A system that is to be successful long term must continue to develop and adapt to external circumstances.

To quote the physicist and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” I am convinced that the dual education and training system can adapt quickly to technological change.

When the public and private sectors work closely together, young people can acquire exactly the skills they need for the labour market of tomorrow.

In order to be able to cope with challenges and change, we need to think and to act collectively. Truly viable solutions don’t come from isolated thinkers, locked in isolated rooms, but develop from networks and discussions.

The time has come to learn from one another and to share our countries’ experiences. All of us are attending this congress because we believe in the importance of vocational and professional education and training, we are convinced of its place in the future of our countries and so we wish to see it promoted.

My country, Switzerland, is honoured to be acting as a platform for the exchange of ideas, experiences and good practices.

I would like to thank you all for supporting us in this, and I wish you all a successful and enjoyable International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training 2016.

Thank you for your attention.

Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!

Adresse für Rückfragen

Informationsdienst WBF
058 462 20 07, info@gs-wbf.admin.ch


Eidgenössisches Departement für Wirtschaft, Bildung und Forschung

Staatssekretariat für Bildung, Forschung und Innovation

Letzte Änderung 11.05.2016

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