Who Needs College? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School

As young Americans contemplate the immense cost (and considerable indebtedness) involved in a college education, it may be worthwhile to consider the options available to the Swiss—and whether they are worth importing into the U.S. In Switzerland, even though university education is free, the vast majority of students opt for a vocational training instead. Take Jonathan Bove. This spring, after he completed his three-year business training at an insurance company, the 19-year-old was hired by a telecommunications firm; his job as a customer care representative offers a starting salary of $52,000 a year, a generous annual bonus, and a four-week paid vacation – no small potatoes for the teenager who is still living at home and has no plans to move out. “The idea of university never appealed to me,” he says. “The vocational training is more hands-on and the path to a good job is shorter.” Bove’s situation may be enviable to teens in the United States, but it is not unusual in Switzerland. About two-thirds of 15 and 16 year olds who finish nine years of obligatory schooling choose to continue their education through Vocational Education and Training (VET), a system that churns out skilled workers who are the backbone of the country’s thriving economy. (MORE: Lessons from the Swiss Apprenticeships) Youngsters like Bove, who opt for the vocational education, follow a dual-track approach combining practical training at a host company with a part-time classroom instruction at a VET school. Trade organizations determine skills that are most in demand in the labor market,ensuring that apprentices will be adequately trained for jobs in their fields. So far, this approach has been very successful: less than 3% of Switzerland’s young people are unemployed, the lowest rate among 30 industrialized countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (As a comparison, that rate is over 12% in the U.S and 22% in European Union nations). Currently, approximately 58,000 Swiss companies provide VET program to roughly 80,000 apprentices – impressive numbers in a country of only 8 million people. They … Continue reading Who Needs College? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School