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Swiss Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET) - Forms, System, Stakeholders

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Emil Wettstein, Evi Schmid (SFIVET), Philipp Gonon

Swiss Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET)

Forms, System, Stakeholders

ISBN print: 978-3-0355-0863-5

ISBN e-book: 978-3-0355-0908-3


Translated from German by AHA Translation Office and Bostock Translations, edited by Silvia Kübler


First Edition printed in 2017

All rights reserved

© 2017 hep verlag ag, Berne



Table of Contents


1   Forms of VPET

1.1 VET in a small company

1.2 VET in a large company

1.3 VET in the cooperative training association

1.4 School-based VET

1.5 VET in a public trade school

1.6 Hybrid forms of VET

1.7 Forms for high-achievers

1.8 Forms for young people with impairments

1.9 Forms characterised by social pedagogy

1.10 Federal PET Diploma and Advanced Federal PET Diploma

1.11 Professional colleges

1.12 Professional education at academic institutions

1.13 VPET outside the responsibility of the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act

1.14 VET for adults

1.15 Forms of job-related continuing education and training (CET)

1.16 Informal forms of vocational learning

2   VPET – part of the education system and part of the world of work

2.1 Education system

2.2 World of work and labour market

2.3 History of VET in Switzerland (Philipp Gonon)

2.4 Legal foundations

2.5 Governance of VPET

2.6 Funding

3   Elements of successful VPET

3.1 Learning at work

3.2 Simulation

3.3 Reflection

3.4 Action-guiding knowledge

3.5 General education

3.6 Support and assistance

3.7 VPET management

3.8 Certification

4   From school to working life

4.1 Introduction: background and important terms

4.2 Career choice and the search for an apprenticeship position

4.3 The apprenticeship market

4.4 Transitional options and case management

4.5 Termination of an apprenticeship contract, changing apprenticeship position and dropping out from an apprenticeship

4.6 What next after a VET programme?

5   Stakeholders and institutions

5.1 Host companies and cooperative training associations

5.2 VET schools and professional colleges

5.3 The Confederation

5.4 Cantonal authorities

5.5 Professional organisations

5.6 VET professionals

5.7 Stakeholders from research and development

6   Areas of tension

6.1 Academic versus vocational tertiary programmes

6.2 Vocational principle versus modularisation

6.3 Broad versus narrow VET programmes

6.4 Coverage of needs versus shortage of skilled workers

6.5 State versus world of work

6.6 “Bildung” versus qualification


List of Figures

List of Tables

1   Forms of VPET

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The idea of “VPET” probably conjures up an image of an apprenticeship in a small company with a vocational trainer and an apprentice. In Switzerland, this is in fact the most common form of VET. However, VPET is much more varied; in this chapter we will present 15 other forms.

The focus of this chapter is on vocational education and training (VET) in Switzerland and, in particular, on initial VET. In addition, we also cover several forms in the area of tertiary-level professional education and training (PET) and continuing education and training (CET). We conclude the chapter with a form which is the most frequently found form throughout the world, including Switzerland: informal vocational learning.

1.1 VET in a small company

Training in small and medium-sized companies corresponds most closely with the conventional image of an apprenticeship, according to which young people work in the host company for four days and attend vocational school for one day a week.

1.1.1 Definition

In Switzerland, an apprenticeship is officially called “VET” (berufliche Grundbildung) and the school “vocational school” (Berufsfachschule).[1] School attendance can be for up to two days per week. Several times during the VET programme the learners go for several days or weeks to a “branch course” (überbetrieblicher Kurs, üK) in a training centre of the respective professional organisation (Organisation der Arbeitswelt, OdA), which is usually a regional or national trade association (cf. Chapter 5.5.2, p. 248).

The apprenticeship trainer, or VET trainer (Berufsbildner/in, traditionally “Lehrmeister/in”), in a small company is usually the owner, in larger companies it is often an experienced employee who is entrusted with the training.

The training itself is carried out as part of everyday life at the company, in the joint work on orders which come in or services. So it is often time pressure rather than didactic considerations which determines the work of the learners. This is why attendance of branch courses is today a fixed component of the VET programme in most occupations. In the branch course, it is possible to provide an introduction to new vocational tasks without being disturbed by taking subject-specific didactic principles into consideration. Thus, more difficult processes can be practised and perfected (cf. the portrait of Nicole Renggli, p. 18, and Chapter 5.5, excursus “Branch courses”, p. 250).

In this form of VET, the apprenticeship trainers are not only responsible for the training, they have generally also made the selection, are apprenticeship contract partners and coach their learners by helping them deal with professional and sometimes also personal crises.

1.1.2 Development

Apprenticeships have existed in some way or other since ancient times (Kolb, 2007). In the Middle Ages and up to the 19th century, training over several years in a company was widespread in trades which were organised in guilds, especially in towns. To become a journeyman, an apprenticeship period had to be completed first. Only then, usually after a journey to acquire additional knowledge and gain more world experience, was it possible to strive for mastery of a trade. School education in addition to the training did not develop until later; in Switzerland, it became compulsory in the field of trade, industrial, commercial and housekeeping education and training in 1933.

Today, this form of VET is common not only in traditional crafts but also in small and medium-sized businesses from many different professional branches.

The roughly 77,000 young people who took up a VET programme in 2015 were divided as follows:

70,000 began a combined school/work-based VET programme (company-based VET), of which

50,000 were in a company with fewer than 50 employees and

20,000 were in a medium-sized or large company or a cooperative training association (Ausbildungsverbund) (cf. Chapter 1.2 and 1.3, pp. 20 and 26);

7,000 attended a school-based VET programme (cf. Chapter 1.4 and Chapter 1.5, pp. 32 and 38) (SERI, 2014a, p. 12; Müller & Schweri, 2012, p. 39).

This shows that a VET programme in a small company is still by far the most common form of VET in Switzerland.

1.1.3 Example

Meat Specialist

As an example of a VET programme in a small company we will take a closer look at the training as a butcher. Since 2007, this apprenticeship occupation has no longer been referred to as “Metzger/in” (“Butcher”) but is now called “Fleischfachmann//Fleischfachfrau EFZ” (“Meat Specialist, Federal VET Diploma”) which can be completed in three areas of specialisation: meat production, meat processing and meat refinement.

Related training programmes are the two-year VET course to become a Meat Specialist Assistant, Federal Certificate of Vocational Education and Training or Federal VET Certificate (Fleischfachassistent/in EBA = eidgenössisches Berufsattest) and the three-year programme to become a Retail Specialist, Federal VET Diploma (Detailhandelsfachfrau/Detailhandelsfachmann EFZ).

The branch courses in this occupation comprise only two days per apprenticeship year, school one day a week (40 days or 360 lessons per year). Very good learners can attend general education courses in preparation for the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination on a second day (cf. the portrait of Lukas Signer, p. 48).

To encourage reflection about their own learning and also as a means of assuring the quality of the training, the learners – like in nearly all apprenticeship occupations – have to keep a “training logbook” (Lerndokumentation), developed by the Ausbildungszentrum für die Schweizer Fleischwirtschaft ABZ (Training Centre for the Swiss Meat Industry, www.abzspiez.ch) in Spiez which, on behalf of the trade association, the Schweizer Fleisch-Fachverband SFF (Swiss Meat Association), promotes initial and continuing training in many different ways.

The training teaches specialist competences (meat production and animal welfare, processing, applied mathematics, hygiene, occupational safety, etc.) and – like all modern VET programmes – also promotes methodological, social and personal competences which are set out in detail in the “training plan” (Bildungsplan).

Very good learners can attend a special support course which is also offered at the training centre in Spiez. Candidates for national and international competitions are selected from the participants.

A lot of importance is attached to continuing education and training: Figure 1-1 shows the diversity and scope of the continuing education and training programme in this very traditional yet modern profession.

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Figure 1-1:
VET and CET in the meat industry. Diagram by the authors, based on documents by ABZ Spiez

1.1.4 Several variants

Meat specialists are not only trained in commercially oriented small businesses but also in industrial meat processing firms. In some occupational fields, the apprenticeship occupations differ depending on the company form, however. For the production of baked goods, for example, training is conducted in SMEs for Baker-Pâtissier-Confectioner, Federal VET Diploma (Bäcker-Konditor-Confiseur/in EFZ), while in large bakeries Food Processing Technicians, Federal VET Diploma (Lebensmitteltechnologen/Lebensmitteltechnologinnen EFZ) with a specialisation in baked goods are trained.

In some occupations and/or regions, vocational school classes are not distributed over 40 weeks per year but are organised in blocks, for example in the case of millers: only 20 learners begin this training programme each year, their vocational school teaching is provided in the Berufsbildungszentrum Uzwil (Uzwil Vocational Training Centre) because the company Bühler AG, the leading international producer of milling machines, runs a training centre in Uzwil. This allows for synergies but means that many learners have to travel a long way. This is why teaching is done in block courses lasting two to three weeks. During this period, some learners are accommodated at the learning location in a boarding home or with host families.

In agriculture, VET was divided into two parts for a long time: in the first and second year of apprenticeship, the young people were mainly given practical training and attended vocational school for only 240 lessons per year. In the third apprenticeship year, they were taught more theoretical aspects in the form of agricultural winter schools or all-year schools. When the training became subject to the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz) (cf. Chapter 2.4.3, p. 131), it was brought into line with apprenticeships in other fields. Since 2008, it has been a three-year training programme with eight days of branch courses and 360 vocational school lessons in each of the first two years, taught in blocks or on a daily basis. In the third apprenticeship year, teaching comprises 880 lessons and is sometimes in block form. The host company is often changed once or twice during the VET programme.

Learners in occupations of the hotel, restaurant and catering branch who are trained in a health resort with seasonal business attend vocational school classes and branch courses in one of the five hotel schools of the trade association hotelleriesuisse, for example in the Regina hotel school in Interlaken. Teaching takes place twice per apprenticeship year in a five-week intercantonal school course each time. During the courses, the learners are accommodated in the hotel school.

Some businesses cannot or do not want to provide training in all qualifications which are envisaged or required for an apprenticeship occupation. They can join forces in “host company networks” (Lehrbetriebsverbünde). This is also the solution for very small businesses which do not have enough work for learners.

There are two different forms here:

A host company which itself cannot provide the full range of work-based training finds a partner firm where the learners can learn and work for several weeks or months (“supplementary training” (Ergänzungsausbildung), cf. Fig. 1-2, p. 20).

A number of firms each focus on a particular aspect of the VET programme, thus providing a joint training programme. One company is designated as the main company (Leitbetrieb) in each case. Its responsibilities include concluding the apprenticeship contract with the learner and it also represents the host company network externally (cf. Fig. 1-3, p. 20).



The middle of the three learning locations

Sensing how a patient feels, finding out how work is done in other institutions – prospective health care assistants can experience this in the branch course. Nicole Renggli is one of them.

Mr Traber is 65 years old. He has suffered from chronic polyarthritis for many years, and now he has also had a fall. He has broken his right ankle, two ribs and his right forearm. In Flavia’s enactment, he moans and keeps the staff on their toes: “Can it not go a bit faster, have you ever been in pain!” Enactment? That’s right: we are in the training centre of the Zentralschweizer Interessengemeinschaft Gesundheitsberufe ZIGG (the professional organisation of health care professions of the cantons in central Switzerland) in Alpnach Dorf and are witnessing role playing. Prospective health care assistants are enacting a “postoperative situation” and documenting it with a movie camera.

Scenes like this are part of the didactic repertoire of branch courses (überbetriebliche Kurse, üK) in the health care sector. Here, 70 per cent of the learning time consists of exercises or group projects, the rest is used for silent reading and lectures. The training centre in Alpnach Dorf – a new building in the industrial area – is equipped accordingly: in the classrooms, there are beds behind the desks, a materials store contains around 700 care items. Measuring vital signs, gait training, pressure-relieving positioning – Module 6, with which the learners are currently occupied, offers countless opportunities for practising. Nicole Renggli, one of the learners, thinks this is great. First of all, the exercises offer the opportunity to carefully try out procedures and discuss questions. And secondly, in the role of the patient, the students learn how care work feels. In the case of Mr Traber, aka Flavia, the change of perspective had a downright cathartic effect. “You were really nasty,” said one of her colleagues after the role play. Flavia replied: “My patients are too sometimes.”

The three-year training of Nicole Renggli includes 34 branch course days which are divided into 12 modules. Their contents are coordinated with events at the two other learning locations. Ernst Schäfer, head of education and training in the training centre, explains: “If possible, new topics are introduced as theoretical aspects at vocational school, practised in the branch course after a repetition of the theory and carried out in the company.” Nicole Renggli says that the coordination between school and branch course works very well, while tasks are sometimes done prematurely at the workplaces in hospitals or home care. This means that even without having the theoretical basis she has had to empty permanent catheters. More demanding activities such as preparing medication or injecting insulin definitely have to be introduced in the branch course, however. Ernst Schäfer explains: “We managed to establish coordination planning for the three learning locations. It is based on the mutual trust of the training partners and the willingness to be in constant contact with the companies.”

In the meantime, Nicole Renggli has also slipped into the role of a health care assistant and is using a pulse oximeter to check the oxygen content in the blood of Ms Wüthrich, who is played by Jasmin. Here, she is being observed by the instructor who does not carry out any examinations but assesses the progress of generic competences such as respectful interaction, adequate forms of communication and motivated working. “We do not use this type of oxygen measurement in the home where I work,” Nicole Renggli explains later. The fact that she can learn to handle it, however, is another benefit of the branch course. “In the branch course, health care assistants from all sectors – acute care departments, long-term care and home care – are trained,” says Ernst Schäfer. He speaks of a “hub function” of the branch course, which makes specific learning steps possible: “Learners and VET professionals from different contexts meet in the branch course. So it is necessary to notice, disclose and understand differences. In the branch course, we teach basic principles and the ability to reflect on deviations from norms and standards.” This role of the branch course is also important because the five schools in the catchment area of the ZIGG training centre use different teaching materials and the 175 feeder companies work differently. Here, the branch course manuals for learners and instructors which were created by a team of permanent employees at the ZIGG are also very important.

Sometimes cooperative training associations are also called host company networks (“large networks”). Cooperative training associations and host company networks differ clearly with regard to the allocation of tasks and the purpose of the cooperation, however: a host company network itself takes care of the practical training (with one of the participating companies carrying the main responsibility), while in the case of a cooperative training association there is an independent office which is responsible for education management and, if necessary, for teaching the basic training. Work-based training itself, however, takes place in partner companies of the cooperative training association, which themselves are largely relieved of the burden of training management including administration (cf. Chapter 1.3 and Fig. 1-4, p. 26.

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Figure 1-2:
Supplementary training. Representation by the authors

Figure 1-3:
Host company network. Representation by the authors

1.2 VET in a large company

Regardless of how big the host company is, at the end of the training all learners in an occupation have to pass the same qualification procedure (final examination to obtain their Federal VET Certificate or Diploma). But there are definitely differences in the training itself.

1.2.1 Definition

In Switzerland in the 20th century, the large businesses adopted the apprenticeship system developed in the crafts. Industry-standard forms of work and the professionalisation of the training of junior staff led to fundamental differences, however: if a company trains more than around ten learners, it is common for the company to appoint a part-time or full-time “director of apprentices” (Lehrlingschef). If the number of learners continues to increase (at Swiss Post, for example, there were 2,077 learners in 2015, at Swisscom there were more than 900, at the City of Zurich 1,208), a department of personnel development and training, which is usually part of the HR department, takes on the management. This has wide-reaching consequences for the selection of the learners, the procedure of the training, etc.

In many larger companies, the learners change departments every three, six or twelve months so that they have the opportunity to become familiar with different parts of their company.

In the departments, professionally qualified employees are designated as supervisors of the learners, the “practical trainers” (Praxisausbildner/Praxisausbildnerinnen) (cf. Chapter 5.1.3, p. 215). These are specialists who, in only a few cases, have completed the course required for apprenticeship trainers. The training department, in which trained VET trainers work, is responsible for supervising the learners, planning their employment and for other training management tasks. They also maintain contact with the vocational school, with the provider of branch courses (üK) and with the responsible authorities.

The body which signed the apprenticeship contract has responsibility with regard to authorities and apprenticeship contract partners. In some companies, this is the training department, in others, the department which carries out the training or the department’s management.

Often vocational school teaching and branch courses are complemented by in-company courses to teach specific knowledge required at the companies, by apprentice camps to promote self-competences and social skills, possibilities of repetition and enhancement for the subject material, courses to prepare students for the qualification procedure, parents’ evenings, graduation ceremony, etc.

The learners in large companies are not required to participate in branch courses if the company proves that it teaches the corresponding contents as part of in-company courses.

Well-known large companies often receive a very high number of applications. The selection process is demanding (cf. Chapter 4.3.4, p. 191). Generally it is ultimately carried out by staff in the training department, in some cases together with the management of the department in which the learners then complete their training.

1.2.2 Examples

Training of commercial employees in a large bank

The commercial training lasts for three years and can be completed on three levels: B (Basis = basic), E (erweitert = advanced) and M (with Berufsmaturität, the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate). Additionally, there is a differentiation between branches (currently 24): automotive industry, banking, federal administration, chemistry, services and administration, commerce, etc. The contents of the branch courses and sometimes those of the qualification procedures are determined by the selected branch.

The learners attend classes at an upper-secondary level commercial school for one or two days per week (total of 1,800 lessons – 200 days) and overall four branch courses, totalling between 8 and 16 days. As in many other occupations, there is a branch-specific training plan for structuring the training in the company.

For learners in the “banking” branch, the focus is on activities at the bank counter and in the back office (cf. the portrait of Gioia Bolter, p. 24). The branch courses are offered by the Center for Young Professionals in Banking (CYP) in Zurich. The banks can also send their learners to the CYP for the “specialist instruction” (Fachunterricht) to relieve themselves of the burden of carrying out certain training tasks.

This specialist instruction is a voluntary service of the banks. It replaces (in full or in part) the theoretical part of instruction which larger banks used to offer their learners on an in-house basis.

Learners at the ETH

The Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich or ETH Zurich) offers academic study programmes to 18,000 students – but also trains 170 learners in VET programmes.

Interested young people can apply to the ETH for 13 different VET programmes, including Electronics Engineer, Federal VET Diploma (Elektroniker/in EFZ), Specialist in Facility Management, Federal VET Diploma (Fachmann/Fachfrau Betriebsunterhalt EFZ), IT Technician, Federal VET Diploma (Informatiker/in EFZ), Commercial Employee, Federal VET Diploma (Kaufmann/Kauffrau EFZ), Laboratory Assistant, Federal VET Diploma (Laborant/in EFZ), Mediamatics Technician, Federal VET Diploma (Mediamatiker/in EFZ), Physics Laboratory Technician, Federal VET Diploma (Physiklaborant/in EFZ), Animal Caretaker, Federal VET Diploma (Tierpfleger/in EFZ).

The apprenticeship places are very popular. In 2012, 1,100 interested people applied for the 60 available apprenticeship places. The person responsible estimates that up to 40 per cent would have been suitable for the apprenticeship occupation for which they applied.

In the most important occupations, the ETH runs company-based trade schools with 44 training laboratories (Lehrlabors) with professional trainers; the learners work here for around 35 per cent of their apprenticeship period. This means they are not required to attend branch courses. The remaining two thirds of the time, they work in the workshops and laboratories of the ETH or in administration. Around half of ETH learners attend general education courses in preparation for the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination during their apprenticeship. Twice during the VET programme there is a “Bergwald” (Mountain Forest) project week for them in which they do charitable work. Towards the end of the apprenticeship they can take part in job application training.

The VPET concerns at the ETH are represented by the human resources (HR) department and by a VPET committee. Members are professors, works managers, professional trainers, the head of HR and the head of VPET, but also two learners.



Welcome camps, CYP and specific aspects

Gioia Bolter is doing her VET programme at the large bank UBS. The training is well structured, there are a welcome camp and specific in-house aspects.

When Gioia Bolter switched on the computer on the first day of her apprenticeship there was already a lot going on. There were more than 20 e-mails sent to her UBS address, welcome greetings and information sheets, stock market information and a first WBT. Gioia Bolter did not know what this abbreviation meant, but she was exempt from “web-based training”. She was a learner, still a bit nervous and still right at the start. Well, almost.

Right at the start, a week previously, Gioia Bolter had been at the welcome camp, which UBS held for the 30 commercial learners in the region of Eastern Switzerland. Here, over the course of three days, there was information on the themes of working hours and the intranet, people discussed expectations and changes, “behaviour and appearance” was a theme: rules on clothing, “How do I come across?” and “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. With its camp, UBS made a good first impression on the prospective commercial employee. She felt accepted and found out how her training is structured.

As part of her VET programme Gioia Bolter is passing through various departments at the bank. In the first six months, she worked in Heiden where she grew up and therefore knew a lot of customers. Then followed activities in other regional branches, Speicher, Teufen, Herisau and St. Gallen, always supervised by local practical trainers. “I discovered that the large bank UBS also has small branches. Speicher was the smallest with four employees.” Gioia Bolter thinks the order of the departments makes sense: at the counter for small payment transactions, later private customers with mortgage enquiries, for example, currently customers with considerable assets and corporate customers. Here, it is a matter of investments and loans or the issue of compliance: which business transactions are too risky? This series of themes is similar for all learners in the banking sector. It enables coordination with the branch courses and the in-house training programmes.

Gioia Bolter attends the branch courses at the “Center for Young Professionals in Banking”. Here, she meets colleagues from other banks and finds out that there are different banking cultures. On ten individual days per year, the young people are given theoretical insights into topics such as payment transactions, deposit-taking business, investments and loans. Teaching materials make learning easier, with tablets handed out rather than books; the learning contents are now presented in an interactive form. In the in-house training programmes of UBS, contents specific to the bank are also learned in detail and practised. These “specific aspects” are for teaching standardised knowledge to the around 270 commercial learners in the whole of Switzerland who begin an apprenticeship every year at UBS and to enable them to practise these aspects in role play – there are eleven such days over the course of three years. This relieves the burden on the practical trainers at the bank. Finally, Gioia Bolter goes to vocational school for two days a week. She attends a class to prepare for the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination, now together with commercial learners from other branches such as insurance, travel agencies and federal administration.

Gioia Bolter likes working in the bank, she already noticed this during the taster days she attended while she was choosing a profession. The upper-secondary level baccalaureate school she had decided on did not meet her expectations and she dropped out after a successful first year. She successfully passed the selection procedure of UBS. That does not go without saying: there are 10 to 15 young people applying for every apprenticeship place, around a quarter of these are invited to an interview. Whether Gioia Bolter will also overcome the hurdle to join UBS’s in-house support programme for the best graduates of the VET programme remains to be seen.

1.3 VET in the cooperative training association

Cooperative training associations are repeatedly confused with host company networks. A comparison of Figures 1-2 and 1-3 (host company network, p. 20) and 1-4 (cooperative training association, see below) reveals differences.

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Figure 1-4:
Cooperative training association. Representation by the authors

1.3.1 Definition

Both models have one element in common – in both cases the learners generally change their host company several times. With the host company networks, however, responsibility lies with one of the participating host companies, while with the cooperative training associations responsibility lies with an independent organisation whose main task is not the training itself but rather the management of training (cf. Chapter 3.7, p. 169).

Cooperative training associations are often organised as associations or foundations, and sometimes also as a public organisation, a limited liability company or a joint stock company. The office of the cooperative training association deals with the selection of the learners, supervises the young people and above all ensures that there are enough host companies available to train the learners.

Although they are often contractual partners of the young people according to Article 14 of the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA, 2002), the cooperative training associations do not teach professional practice themselves but rather, in addition to management activities, are responsible for the tasks of the third-party training centre by teaching basic skills in trade schools (full-time vocational schools including work-based training and classroom instruction), training offices or pilot facilities.

1.3.2 Development

The oldest cooperative training association is probably the vocational training centre (Berufsbildungszentrum) SIG Georg Fischer AG in Neuhausen, which was founded in 1993 (today Wibilea AG). Soon, other large companies outsourced their apprentice training departments, including ABB to the Libs association, Novartis (cf. the portrait of Cagdas Guerakar, p. 30) and other chemical companies in the Basel area to Aprentas, Schweizerische Bundesbahnen SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), Rhätische Bahn RhB (Rhaetian Railway), Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich VBZ (Zurich Public Transport) to the Login association, Sulzer to AZW.

To create additional apprenticeship positions, associations, municipalities and socially active organisations like HEKS and Caritas later set up cooperative training associations, usually supported by start-up funds from the Confederation. The Laufbahnzentrum Zürich (Zurich Career Centre) founded the Berufslehr-Verbund Zürich BVZ (Zurich Apprenticeship Association), the Zürcher Schreinermeisterverband (Zurich Master Carpenters’ Association) founded the Verbund Schreinermacher SVZ (Carpenters’ Association). Bildungsnetz Zug (Zug Education Network) and others created associations for two-year VET programmes. Others promote training opportunities in specific occupations, e.g. Uster cooperative training association for telematics technicians, SpedLogSwiss Basel for logistics experts.

The companies Wibilea AG and Klever AG in Winterthur are probably the first joint stock companies active in this business field. Bildxzug provides the opportunity for young people to complete a VET programme in an English-speaking company.

Today, there are small cooperative training associations with five or ten learners but also large companies such as Login with 2,100 learners and Libs with 1,150 learners (2015).

1.3.3 Variants

Some cooperative training associations deal with the human resource administration, including the conclusion of the contract and wage payments to the learners, while others concentrate more on preparing the learners for working in the companies by running trade schools (full-time vocational schools, including work-based training and classroom instruction). Aprentas also provides the classroom instruction segment for certain learners. In some associations, the learners are employed by the association during the first part of the VET programme or throughout the entire training period, in others, they are employed at one of the participating host companies.

Cooperative training associations also help solve another problem of modern host companies – the relatively short planning horizon: the obligation for two to four years, which is a consequence of concluding an apprenticeship contract, prevents some companies from training learners.

As Imdorf and Leemann (2010) have shown, the selection behaviour of cooperative training associations differs from that of an SME or a large company. This depends on the goals of the association, however – some pursue social objectives, for example supporting young people with certain weaknesses or disadvantages. Others are oriented mainly towards the needs of the participating companies. Others in turn pursue a more pedagogical goal, for example to enable prospective top athletes to attend a VET programme alongside their sports training.

The terms “host company network” and “cooperative training association” (which incidentally does not appear in the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act) are not used in a uniform manner. This is also shown by the “Evaluation Lehrbetriebsverbünde” (Evaluation of host company networks), which was carried out in 2007 by the Bundesamt für Berufsbildung und Technologie or BBT (Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology or OPET – today: SERI) (OPET, 2008b).

Cooperative training associations must be understood as an adaptation of company-based VET to the developments in the world of work: they are an expression of a professionalisation of training activities, enable companies to concentrate on their core competences and take a shorter planning horizon into consideration.

In recent years, the establishment of cooperative training associations has made a significant contribution to the expansion of the number of available apprenticeship places and the relatively fast response of the VPET system to changing requirements of the world of work. However, the question needs to be asked whether these associations can continue to be financed in the longer term from funds of the participating companies (Wolter, 2008) or whether sooner or later operating contributions from public funds will be required, which would mean a step towards “school-based VET” (cf. Chapter 1.4, p. 32).

1.3.4 Examples

Stiftung Berufslehr-Verbund Zürich (BVZ)

The Stiftung Berufslehr-Verbund Zürich (Foundation of the Zurich Apprenticeship Association) was established in 1999 as a department of the Zurich Career Guidance Centre (LBZ) and on the initiative of leading LBZ employees who wanted to respond to the problematic lack of apprenticeship positions.

In 2006, a foundation was established as a provider, which meant the association was legally separated from the Career Guidance Centre and the City of Zurich. In 2015, the foundation joined forces with 160 employing companies to train 207 learners in more than ten apprenticeship occupations. This means the integration of young people – in particular socially disadvantaged youths – in working life is being promoted. The association is financed by employing companies, public funds and contributions from foundations, sponsorships and private individuals (BVZ, 2015).

Centre d’enseignement professionnel UIG-Unia, Geneva

The Centre d’enseignement professionnel UIG-Unia (UIG-Unia Professional Training Centre) in Geneva is one of the few cooperative training associations in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The institutions responsible for its organisation are the Union Industrielle Genevoise, UIG (Geneva Industrial Union) and the trade union Unia. It is financed using funds of the Confederation, the canton, the cantonal VET fund (Fondation pour la formation professionnelle et continue, FFPC) and the UIG.

Young people who are interested in a profession in the mechanical, electrical or metal industry (MEM occupation) are tested by the CEP (130 to 150 candidates per year for the 35 to 40 places). After this, all participating companies receive their documents. This is because it is the companies which employ the young people, so the apprenticeship contract is signed in the name of the apprenticeship training company from the start. However, since 1992 the training in the first year has not been carried out in the host company but rather at the premises of the CEP (traineeship entry year). At the CEP, the learners later attend only the branch courses and are prepared for the qualification procedure. In the third and fourth apprenticeship year, they also complete traineeships in other companies of the association in order to be given broader training. For three to four half-days per week they attend the cantonal vocational school “Centre de formation professionnelle technique CFPT” (Technical Vocational Training Centre) together with young people who receive their practical training in the trade school located there; CEP learners, however, can also attend practical courses at the CFPT in its very well-equipped trade school (Amos, 2010).

Ausbildungsverbund OdA Gesundheit beider Basel

The Ausbildungsverbund OdA Gesundheit beider Basel (Professional Organisation for Health Care of Both Basel Cantons) undertakes tasks of host companies such as recruitment, corporate education planning and also human resource administration for the VET programmes Health Care Assistant (Fachfrau/Fachmann Gesundheit, FaGe) and Health and Social Care Worker (Assistent/in Gesundheit Soziales, AGS). This work is funded by training contributions of the members of between CHF 1,200 and CHF 2,200 per learner per month. The professional organisation is the apprenticeship contract partner and also pays the learners their learner’s salary. It supports and coaches the professionals at the companies (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) in which the learners work productively for three to four days depending on the apprenticeship year (OdA Gesundheit beider Basel, 2013).



Like with King Thrushbeard

Cagdas Guerakar is being trained as a Chemical and Pharmaceutical Technician, Federal VET Diploma (Chemie- und Pharmatechnologe EFZ) and is in his second apprenticeship year. So far, it has been almost only in the “training pilot” (Lehrpilot) and in the school laboratories of aprentas that he has been given a practical insight into his profession.

His group is called CPT, CPT like “Chemical and Pharmaceutical Technology”. The members are all learners with whom Cagdas Guerakar is doing the VET programme. Nearly every day, the prospective chemical and pharmaceutical technicians send WhatsApp messages to each other, usually to ask comprehension questions on what they have learned and to give possible answers, and in some cases organisational information about lessons. “We all help each other,” says Cagdas Guerakar. “My class has become like a family for me.”

Cagdas Guerakar is in the second year of the three-year VET programme Chemical and Pharmaceutical Technician, Federal VET Diploma. Lessons at the vocational school and in its laboratories and also the courses in the “training pilot” have been the focus of his training so far. The laboratory courses and training pilot correspond with the branch courses but their scope goes well beyond the minimum requirements of the VET ordinance (Bildungsverordnung). “We are talking about practical training,” specifies Reto Fankhauser, Head of Production Training at aprentas. Fankhauser explains: “The first apprenticeship year essentially corresponds with a traineeship entry year, hardly anything is happening in the companies.” The second apprenticeship year is also mainly school-based: out of 47 working weeks, Cagdas Guerakar spends only around 17 weeks at his host company Novartis. The rest of the time he continues to spend on the school subjects which are important for his occupation, such as Technology, IT and English, as well as practical tasks in the school laboratory. The prospective chemical and pharmaceutical technician will not really knuckle down until the third apprenticeship year which, apart from seven weeks at school, he will spend entirely at Novartis. With the exception of the special project (Vertiefungsarbeit), he will by then already have completed the qualification procedure in instruction in Language, Communication and Society (LCS) (allgemeinbildender Unterricht, ABU).

Chemical and pharmaceutical technicians work in production and development companies of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. They control systems – such as reaction vessels or reactors – with which drugs, phytopharmaceuticals or dyes are produced. In the three courses (a total of seven weeks) in the training pilot, Cagdas Guerakar learned how they are operated. The two-storey training hall is equipped with all important reactors and other systems for the likes of filtration, distillation and drying. Here, Cagdas Guerakar’s class practised dealing with parameters such as temperature, pressure, quantity and flow velocity – like in reality but without hazardous substances. This means the people in the class were able to comprehend and transfer to reality what they had learned at school.

The fact that knowledge acquired at school does not simply mean mere theory is something Cagdas Guerakar is also experiencing in vocational instruction. In the laboratory of the Ausbildungszentrum Schweizerhalle (Schweizerhalle Training Centre) Cagdas Guerakar and his class are currently examining various substances and carrying out ion detection. The young professional knows that CO32- ions can be revealed by adding acid. “We have to understand connections like this, even if we are not working in a laboratory in our profession,” he says.

Cagdas Guerakar’s training is mainly provided by aprentas, a cooperative training association with currently 74 member companies. Overall, aprentas trains around 600 learners in 15 occupations and carries out continuing education and training programmes. Although Cagdas Guerakar has an apprenticeship contract with Novartis, so far he has nearly always had teachers and instructors from aprentas. It is like in the fairy tale of the omnipresent King Thrushbeard: the branch course in the training pilot, the vocational instruction in the Schweizerhalle Training Centre, even the Language, Communication and Society lessons in Muttenz are the responsibility of the cooperative training association. This training model with a relatively high school-based part was also developed by aprentas (based on earlier models from industrial chemistry).

1.4 School-based VET

The upper-secondary level in Switzerland is characterised by two large blocks: upper-secondary level baccalaureate schools and VET programmes. In between there are other education and training programmes and institutions, however, including commercial schools (Handelsmittelschulen), specialised schools (Fachmittelschulen), trade schools (Lehrwerkstätten, i.e. full-time vocational schools including work-based training and classroom instruction) and professional schools, (Fachschulen). Many of these are counted among the school-based VET programmes to distinguish them from combined school/work-based VET programmes (“company-based VET”).

1.4.1 Definition

According to Article 6 of the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance or VPETO (Berufsbildungsverordnung or BBV; VPETO, 2003), school-based VET is a “VET programme where most learning takes place at a school, namely a trade school or a commercial school” and which prepares people for a Federal VET Diploma (eidgenössisches Fähigkeitszeugnis or EFZ) or a Federal VET Certificate (eidgenössisches Berufsattest or EBA) (VPETO, 2003, Art. 6).

Combined school/work-based and school-based VET programmes cannot always be clearly distinguished from each other, however. The following characteristics are typical of school-based VET programmes (Wettstein & Amos, 2010):

Responsibility for the training lies with the participating school, not with the company.

The theoretical part of the content is often more comprehensive and is generally taught at a school.

The learners receive a wage only during the traineeships, which are required for all school-based VET programmes. In the trade schools (full-time vocational schools, including work-based training and classroom instruction), a modest remuneration is sometimes paid. At privately funded schools, the learners have to pay school fees.

The level of lump sums which the Confederation pays to the cantons is higher for school-based VET programmes than for combined school/work-based VET programmes (VPETO, 2003, Art. 62, cf. Chapter 2.6.1, p. 137).

Combined school/work-based VET (“company-based VET”) is predominant in VET: only around 10 per cent of learners obtain their Federal VET Diploma or their Federal VET Certificate in a school-based VET programme, in German-speaking Switzerland, this figure is much lower while in French-speaking Switzerland, it is considerably higher. Nevertheless, the range of programmes is very wide: in 2010, a total of 225 providers were recorded (Wettstein & Amos, 2010, p. 41 et seqq.). Binding lists exist for the providers for which the cantons receive federal funding.[2]

School-based VET programmes are repeatedly a topic of educational policy debates. The training costs the public sector many times more than the combined school/work-based equivalent. Their orientation towards the labour market is questioned, and the influence of companies is less than with combined school/work-based VET programmes. Unlike other European countries (cf. loc. cit, pp. 20–25), in Switzerland they are complementary and therefore subsidiary and should continue not being in competition with company-based VET. They can (or could) bridge gaps in the market, in particular:

as an opportunity for young people who cannot find a position in host companies,

to even out economic fluctuations,

for branches of industry without sufficient VET,

to open up new areas of the world of work for VPET,

to launch new lines of business in a region,

to maintain traditional professions and technologies,

to enable upper-secondary school graduates to complete traineeships,

as opportunities for young people who want to continue to attend a school and not primarily to prepare for academic studies but rather to prepare for gainful employment.

1.4.2 Examples

Commercial schools

For commercial training, back in the 19th century an alternative to apprenticeships was already developed: commercial schools (Handelsschulen) (cf. Wettstein, 1987, p. 38).

The commercial schools, today called Handelsmittelschulen (HMS), are vocational upper-secondary schools, often also called Wirtschaftsmittelschulen. Previously, they generally prepared young people for a commercial school diploma, since the beginning of training in 2010 or 2011 – depending on the canton – the graduates have obtained a Federal VET Diploma (EFZ) and usually pass the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination like learners in corresponding combined school/work-based VET programmes.

VET programmes without a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination take three years at commercial schools; if preparation for the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate Examination is included, the programmes last three or four years.

For work-based training there are two educational models available (Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology; OPET, 2009):

Model i: in the “integrated model”, the practical parts and traineeships in companies are continually integrated in the school programme. Work-based training, in addition to a short traineeship of four weeks, comprises at least 1,220 lessons covering “problem-oriented teaching” (problemorientierter Unterricht, POU) in languages and other specialist areas as well as “integrated practical parts” (integrierte Praxisteile, IPT), for example in the form of junior companies (Juniorfirmen) (OPET, 2009).

Model 3+1: the second model is characterised by a long traineeship of at least twelve months towards the end of the programme. The other elements of work-based training are continually integrated in school lessons. At least 880 lessons must be earmarked for this in the syllabus. This model is possible only if the Federal VET Diploma with Federal Vocational Baccalaureate is targeted.

In 2016, there were 75 commercial schools in Switzerland, most of them located in the French-speaking part of the country (SERI, 2016g). In 2015, a total of 2,385 students obtained the qualification of a Federal VET Diploma in Commerce, Extended Basic Training (Kaufmann/Kauffrau mit E-Profil) at a school compared to 9,336 in a combined school/work-based VET programme.

Information technology schools (IT schools)

Information technology schools (Informatikmittelschulen, IMS) are commercial schools which prepare students for the qualification procedure to become an IT technician in conjunction with a commercial Federal Vocational Baccalaureate (cf. the portrait of Claudia Juon, p. 36). The IT schools were established at the end of the 1990s when more training places for IT technicians were badly needed. In 2016, there were IT schools in Aarau, Baden, Basel, Berne, Frauenfeld, Winterthur and Zurich, which took in an annual total of around 200 learners, corresponding to approximately 10 per cent of the learners in this occupational field, another school is in preparation in Lucerne.

They follow the model 3+1, which is common for many school-based VET programmes, in particular for the commercial schools: a three-year school-based programme is followed by a one-year training programme in a firm.

1.4.3 Variants

Alongside the commercial schools and the IT schools, the trade schools (full-time vocational schools including work-based training and classroom instruction) are the most common form of school-based VET programmes (in some cases also called “school-supported programmes” (schulgestützte Ausbildungen)). They are described in Chapter 1.5 (cf. p. 38). Special needs and social education establishments also offer school-based VET programmes. The training of artists (music, dance) is also mostly school-based, and finally there are specialist classes for training graphic designers.

Not all programmes between the two large blocks upper-secondary level baccalaureate school and VET are to be counted among school-based VET programmes, in particular not the specialised schools (Fachmittelschulen).

The specialised schools are sometimes combined with school-supported VET programmes, however: the Fach- und Mittelschulzentrum (Professional and Upper-Secondary School Centre) in Lucerne, in addition to the specialised school, also comprises the commercial school (Wirtschaftsmittelschule, HMS), health care school (Gesundheitsmittelschule) which leads to the vocational qualification Health Care Assistant, Federal VET Diploma (Fachmann/Fachfrau Gesundheit EFZ), and a specialist class in graphic art. The specialised schools in Delémont and Canobbio also lead to the vocational qualification Health Care Assistant, Federal VET Diploma.

Increasingly, there are combined programmes where the first part of a VET programme is at school and the second part is in the form of company-based VET. Examples are programmes by cooperative training associations, company-based VET programmes with traineeship entry years and also some full-time VET schools and programmes in social education establishments.

Such combinations of school-based VET programmes and combined school/work-based VET programmes could potentially open up further areas of the world of work for VPET, for example by implementing forms of alternance where training blocks at a company and at school alternate (cf. Gindroz, 2004).



When school means practical experience

Getting the commercial Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and the Federal VET Diploma, but twelve weeks of holidays a year – that sounds like education paradise. Claudia Juon is one of the people who lives there.

The 12 August 2013 was a special day in the life of Claudia Juon. For three years, the 19-year-old had attended the Informatikmittelschule (IMS) Frauenfeld (Frauenfeld Information Technology School) and had to deal with classmates and teachers. But now, the fourth year of her training had begun, the traineeship at the company Bühler in Uzwil. Open-plan office, real orders, new reference persons – “I was nervous because I did not know how useful the knowledge from the IT school would be,” recalls Claudia Juon. After two weeks the uncertainty had gone: “I had to continue learning, the programming language alone was different at Bühler.” But the prospective IT technician specialising in applications development had the tools to cope.

Learning contents at the IT school comprise general education subjects and a focus on “Information Technology” and “Economy and Law”. The vocational instruction is geared towards the training plan of the VET programme for the specialisation in applications development and leads to the Federal VET Diploma (EFZ). It is divided into 29 modules. Here, school does not only mean theory, it also means practical experience. Claudia Juon explains: “Around half of the modules were more theoretical, usually chalk and talk. The other half consisted of exercises, group work or projects.” The results of this work were, for example, a website of her own or a reprogrammed calculator. Each module is completed with a competence record consisting of semester grades and a written exam or a project assignment at the end of the module.

Claudia Juon has completed the school-based part of her training. For the Federal VET Diploma she now needs the “individual practical project” (individuelle praktische Arbeit, IPA), while completion of the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate requires an “interdisciplinary project” (interdisziplinäre Projektarbeit). Claudia Juon will tackle both projects during her traineeship, she even has company time available for this, two weeks for each project according to the traineeship contract. This contract also contains information on holidays and the wage, which is generally at the level of a learner in the fourth apprenticeship year. It has to be checked by the IT school and must be approved by the cantonal VET office.

Claudia Juon had to find her traineeship herself, but this was easy for her – “an advantage of being a woman,” she says, smiling. If the search is going slowly, the head of department at the IT school in Frauenfeld, Walter Schnyder, helps out. He says that around half of the traineeship positions are at companies which do not offer dual-track training places. The only requirement for the training is that a programmer has to be part of the team at the company. Until around five years ago, this led to a loss of quality, as Walter Schnyder admits: “At the time, we were glad about every company that offered a traineeship position.” Today, the learners can usually choose between several options.

Claudia Juon has been working at Bühler for a month, supervised by one of the practical trainers who are also responsible for the learners in a dual-track VET programme at the company. At the moment, she is using instructions to install the PCs of external clients, which she then checks and makes ready for delivery. She also helps with the migration of old data to a new version of the department’s project database; she is writing small programs for this, too. And finally she reads the IT books which her specialist supervisor recommends. “For all of this work there is no training plan,” explains Walter Schnyder, “but the companies have to provide evidence that the learners have the opportunity to program during a large part of the traineeship – and are therefore given the foundations for the individual practical project.”

From the perspective of the company Bühler, 42 traineeship weeks is rather short to achieve the training goals, become integrated in the team and become familiar with the company and its culture. Which is why it favours the dual-track training form. Claudia Juon herself would, nevertheless, choose the IT school again. She thinks attending school and subsequently joining the company makes sense and she considers the two of equal value. Laughing, she admits that the twelve weeks of holidays during IT school proved to be no disadvantage.

1.5 VET in a public trade school

Public trade schools are full-time vocational schools which provide entire VET programmes, i.e. both work-based training and classroom instruction. They offer classrooms and workshops and can, therefore, teach theory and practice seamlessly. The public trade schools are largely financed by public funds. Many of them make products which are sold on the market and whose proceeds cover a small part of the costs. In the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act, they are counted among the “school-based VET programmes” (cf. Chapter 1.4, p. 32).

1.5.1 Emergence of public trade schools in many occupations

Back in the 18th and 19th century, municipalities, associations and also the state founded publicly organised trade schools which guaranteed complete training, in particular in the watchmaking industry (Fallet & Simonin, 2010).

In Switzerland, training programmes for certain professions with high theoretical, technical and also practical requirements are often such full-time school-based programmes (cf. portrait of Maybe Simons, p. 42). In addition to the watchmaking schools mentioned above, which can look back on a long tradition, there are also commercial, crafts and trade and even agricultural establishments of this type in Switzerland. Likewise, there are many specific training programmes and handcraft-related training establishments organised in this way, for example the traditional workshops for dressmakers and the current Bespoke Tailors, Federal VET Diploma (Bekleidungsgestalter/innen EFZ) or the Schule für Holzbildhauerei (Woodcarving School) in Brienz.

1.5.2 Funding of public trade schools

Trade schools, like most school-based training programmes – with the exception of private professional schools – are largely financed from public funds, with money provided by the Confederation, cantons and municipalities. Only a small part of the costs is covered by sales of products made in the public trade school, although there are big differences here depending on the type. In some cases, the learners conclude an apprenticeship contract with the trade school and also receive a wage from the school, in other cases they receive only an allowance or even pay school fees. Accordingly, they are referred to as either learners or students.

1.5.3 Reasons for creating public trade schools

The main motives for establishing public trade schools in the 19th and also later in the 20th century can be identified as follows:

promoting industrial development,

developing an elite among professionals,

maintaining the competitiveness of the trade,

fostering local commercial/industrial production,

reducing the shortage of qualified employees in particularly in-demand professions where there are hardly any training positions offered,

guaranteeing training options in cost-intensive VET programmes,

enabling VET for young people with good school grades who, at the same time, are aiming to obtain the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate,

providing VET programmes for young people with special needs in training programmes which, for example, lead to a Federal VET Certificate (EBA).

These motives often occur in combination. The objective of developing specialised skilled workers still plays an important role today – especially in the development cooperation in countries which want to launch an industry or aim at promoting professionally qualified entrepreneurship.

1.5.4 The role of public trade schools in the foundation phase of Swiss VPET

In the years when Swiss VPET was founded at the end of the 19th century, there was the idea that a large part of VPET could be organised systematically in trade schools, i.e. full-time vocational schools including work-based training and classroom instruction (Gonon, 2002c). The aim was to train an elite of well-trained skilled workers and supervisors who were familiar with the requirements of modern production as the basis for founding new companies. This approach, developed above all in France, seemed to be in line with the requirements of the Industrial Age (Bücher, 1877). The French “ateliers publics” were also a model for many start-ups in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The trade schools of the City of Berne, the metalworkers’ school in Winterthur, and also the cabinetmakers’ school in Zurich were founded by craft and trade enterprises and were oriented towards such models.

In the 1970s, public trade schools, i.e. full-time vocational schools including work-based training and classroom instruction were, in turn, seen as an alternative to traditional apprenticeships because these were considered deficient, especially in comparison with ...

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