Vocational training

How the Swiss model of vocational training can create jobs for young people in Kenya

Ideas & Debate

How the Swiss model of vocational training can create jobs for young people in Kenya


National Industrial Training Authority director for industrial training William Mwanza (left) and Hilti Foundation CEO Wallner Werner (centre) at the launch of an apprenticeship project in Nairobi last month. PICTURES | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Zellweger

Summary

  • One of the most important conversations taking place in Kenya right now is about how to create more and better economic opportunities for young Kenyans who have completed their formal education and now want a job.
  • An ambitious new project launched recently by Swisscontact and the Hilti Foundation will explore the potential of the Swiss vocational training model for the Kenyan market.

One of the most important conversations taking place in Kenya right now is about how to create more and better economic opportunities for young Kenyans who have completed their formal education and now want a job.

An ambitious new project launched recently by Swisscontact and the Hilti Foundation will explore the potential of the Swiss vocational training model for the Kenyan market. Early indications are promising.

In education, as in many other areas, countries benefit from studying what others have done to solve problems similar to those they face. And after such a study, they can then select from the successful models, some ideas that can be transplanted to meet the unique challenges of each country.

I think there may be useful lessons for Kenya in the way the Swiss apprenticeship system has evolved over the years to become one of the pillars of our economic success, as well as a mechanism for social inclusion.

Kenya faces a major challenge in creating enough jobs for its young people. Like many countries, Kenya has many highly qualified students but not enough job opportunities.

One thing Switzerland is well known for is its pragmatism. We Swiss have the advantage of living in a country that constantly seeks the right balance between theory and practice, in order to allow all strata of society to flourish. This characteristic is one of the pillars of the stability of the Swiss political system.

Education and training in Switzerland are also good examples of this pragmatic attitude. Indeed, Switzerland has a flexible and dynamic education system, offering different paths to young students, taking into account their skills and interests, but also the needs of the economy.

Let me briefly describe how this system works.

In Switzerland, education is managed by the cantons, the equivalent of the counties in Kenya, and not by the central government. However, the system is to a large extent harmonized and similar across the country. In no case can one say that one canton provides a higher quality of education than the others.

Compulsory education is generally made up of eight years of primary school and three years of secondary school. Then, when the students are about 15 years old, they can choose between several possibilities. They have two main options.

The first is the classic high school course to continue the general studies course. This option generally leads to university studies. The second option is to do an apprenticeship, which is more practical and intended to allow the student to learn a specific trade, and thus offer a direct route to a career in this field.

The apprenticeship is said to be dual because the training takes place both at school and in the workplace. While the work-related part is carried out at the workplace of the employing company, the apprentice also continues to follow theoretical training in the classroom.

In a typical example, an apprentice would spend two days a week at school and three working on the job.

The five most popular occupations for vocational training are commercial employees, healthcare workers, retail salespersons, social workers and computer technicians.

The dual system has two particularities, which are all the more important as they mark the specificity of the Swiss system and are at the heart of its success.

First of all, the system is very flexible. The choices of 15-year-old students are not necessarily final, as there are many ways to change paths later.

Even if someone is apprenticed as an electrician, they still have the option of going to college without starting all over again. This is crucial, because it takes the pressure off young students who have to make a final choice. It also encourages them to choose the path of learning. Honestly, who among us knew exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life at the age of 15?

The second particularity of the Swiss dual system is that apprenticeship is an integral part of the Swiss education system. They are highly valued in Swiss society and are not seen as the “little sister” of an academic career. This respect is also reflected economically. Apprenticeship offers employment opportunities with good working conditions, including in terms of salary.

And let me underline that the high value attached to vocational training both socially and economically is absolutely crucial for its success.

The value of apprenticeship in Switzerland can be demonstrated statistically. Today, more than two-thirds of Swiss pupils choose post-compulsory education instead of traditional high school.

Many of Switzerland’s top businessmen and political leaders are former apprentices. Sergio Ermotti, until recently CEO of UBS, the country’s largest bank, was an apprentice and didn’t go to high school. The same goes for Ueli Maurer, Swiss Minister of Finance and President of the country in 2019.

Successful apprenticeship enables young people to acquire practical skills, in addition to general knowledge, and to be ready for the job market. This success is reflected in particular by the fact that Switzerland has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world.

There is also added value in the dual learning program. It can be clearly demonstrated that the economic value of the work performed by apprentices far exceeds the costs of their training.

In short, this means that the system actually benefits businesses. Not only in the long term, but even during the very years that they train their apprentices.

Dr Zellweger is the Swiss Ambassador to Kenya