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Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?

In most countries, young people regard universities as the best way to further their education and earn good salaries afterwards. But this is not the case in Switzerland — here’s why.

Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?
Trades in construction are taught at VET schools. Photo by Pixabay

After having rebounded well from the Covid pandemic, the demand for skilled workers in Switzerland’s labour market far outweighs the supply.

As The Local reported on Monday, thousands of Swiss companies are advertising vacant positions in several sectors, including IT, healthcare, hospitality and catering, construction and sales, among others.

READ MORE: Which jobs are in demand in Switzerland right now – and how much can you earn?

Many of these jobs have one thing in common: they don’t require a university degree but rather a vocational training, also known in Switzerland as apprenticeship.

This is how it works.

Compulsory education ends in Switzerland at age 16, when students have a choice between going to a university or opting for a three-year vocational education and training (VET).

More than two-thirds opt for a VET pathway, a three-year, dual-track programme that includes two days in a vocational school and three days getting an on-the-job training in their chosen sector.

It includes a variety of fields such as business and commercial, administration, retail, tourism, construction, information technology, arts, wellness services, as well as various trades — in all, 230 professions, according to Educationsuisse platform.

In all, 212, 347 students were in vocational training in 2020, the last year for which official data is available.

The most frequently chosen fields were business and administration, wholesale and retail, and building and civil engineering.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), 30 percent of Swiss companies participate in the VET programme, preparing “a broad cross-section of students for careers in a range of occupations and sectors”. 

At the end of three years, during which apprentices are paid wages, they receive a VET diploma — the Federal Certificate of Proficiency (EFZ in German, CFC in French, and AFC in Italian) — which entitles them to work in their chosen field.

Those who want to continue their education at higher schools, such as Universities of Applied Sciences, can do so, after taking additional courses and passing exams.

VET “enjoys very strong support from Swiss employers, who credit it with being a major contributor to the continuing vitality and strength of the Swiss economy”, WEF said.

And there are advantages for all involved: “The country benefits from a pipeline of young-professional talent, it says, low youth unemployment in the single digits and the skilled workforce needed to produce high-quality goods and services”, WEF added.

How can a student apply for VET training?

Anyone attending a school in Switzerland, whether a Swiss national or foreigner, is eligible for the apprenticeship option once they complete their compulsory education.

Once you decide what field interests you, you can look for a position as an apprentice in a company.

This database lists all of the available registered apprenticeship positions in each canton, so is a good place to start the search.

How much can you expect to earn after VET?

This depends on many factors, including the field you are in as well as the region where you live. Typically, wages are higher in or near large urban centres than in rural areas.

But as a general indication, and as reported in this article, the average salary five years after completing VET training is 5,270 francs a month.

In the IT sector, the salary is 1,100 francs above this average.

The second-highest gross median income for full-time employment is that of nurses.

With an average of 6,060 francs / month after five years of employment, they are followed by apprentices with degrees in electricity and mechanical construction” (5,445 francs), architecture and construction” (5,425 francs), accounting, marketing and secretariat (5,367 francs) and “the social sector (5,349 francs).

Lowest wages — below 5,000 a month — are in the retail and “personal services” sector.

READ MORE:  Which jobs pay the most and least after a Swiss apprenticeship?

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For members


Employment: This is where Switzerland’s jobs are right now

Switzerland’s labour market bounced back quite well from the Covid pandemic, with many industries looking to hire skilled workers. A new study shows where most vacant positions are.

Employment: This is where Switzerland's jobs are right now

As The Local recently reported, “many sectors are looking for qualified workers, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which reports that the unemployment rate was a record-low 2.3 percent in April, and the number of job seekers is currently 25 percent lower than at the same time in 2021. 

While many industries are experiencing a boom — for instance, jobs in IT, healthcare, construction and sales are plentiful — the shortage of skilled employees is a huge problem for many employers.

READ MORE: Which jobs are in demand in Switzerland right now – and how much can you earn?

Now a study by the Swiss section of Manpower recruiting agency sheds light on where in Switzerland most job vacancies are, which could be helpful to everyone looking for employment now.

The good news for job seekers is that “the market situation is very positive for employees…Skilled workers are scarce and the shortage cannot simply be filled by workers from neighbouring countries”, according to Peter Unternährer, Manpower’s regional director for central and eastern Switzerland.

Manpower’s survey for the second quarter of 2022 (April to June) shows that 38 percent of Switzerland’s employers plan to hire new workers.

Most job opportunities (32 percent of employers seeking to hire personnel) are found in the greater Zurich area, followed by 31 percent in the Mittelland, which encompasses the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Jura, Neuchâtel and Solothurn.

Next (30 percent) are in the Lake Geneva region, which includes the city and canton of Geneva, as well as Vaud.

In central Switzerland, 24 percent of companies are looking for employees, 23 percent in the eastern part of the country, and 18 percent in the northwest.

Manpower also found that 75 percent of the companies surveyed promote gender equality and 63 percent promote diversity in the workplace — meaning they are inclusive of employees of all backgrounds and nationalities, both in terms of hiring practices and wages.

Overall, Switzerland’s unemployment rate is much lower than across the European Union — where more than 6 percent are jobless, according to latest figures from Eurostat — because the Swiss economy was already sturdier than many others before Covid struck, so was in a better position to withstand the crisis.

But Switzerland was also one of the very few countries that have been able to attract international companies to its shores even in the midst of the pandemic, which translated into more jobs for the local workforce.

Experts believe this is due to the country’s strengths, including political, economic and financial conditions.

“Even in a time of crisis, Switzerland scored thanks to its stability, predictability and security”, said Patrik Wermelinger, member of the executive board of Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE), which promotes the country abroad on behalf of the federal government and the cantons.

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic