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EXPLAINED: What Swiss employers are doing to recruit hard-to-find staff

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What Swiss employers are doing to recruit hard-to-find staff
Architects and planners are in short supply in Switzerland. Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Switzerland has been impacted by a worker shortage for months, pushing companies to come up with innovative ways to attract new employees. Here's a look at what they're doing.

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Switzerland is in the enviable position of having a very low unemployment rate — 2.2 percent — compared to just over 6 percent in the eurozone

Economists agree this is due to the strong economy, which proved to be resilient (at least more so than other countries) to global crises of recent years like the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

READ MORE: Switzerland 'an island of bliss' compared to US, chief economist says

However, low unemployment is a double-edged sword: while it indicates that the economy is robust, it also means that a lack of qualified personnel could impact productivity and therefore, ultimately, Switzerland’s prosperity.

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Why is there an employee shortage in Switzerland?

Two main reasons cited by economists are retirement and emigration.

In the first case, the number of people retiring exceeds the number of those entering the labour market, according to the Swiss Employers' Association (SEA). 

And the situation ls not likely to improve soon: over the next 10 years, one million people from the 'baby boomer' generation will retire, while only 500,000 new workers will fill the vacancies retirees leave behind, SEA said.

In terms of emigration, while it is true that more foreigners are arriving in rather than leaving Switzerland, the gap is narrowing, with many Italians and Portuguese in particular returning to their country of origin, according to economist Susanne Achermann.

And once they leave they are not easy to replace because many were working in lower-wage sectors, where it is difficult to retain staff.

Other foreigners that could be recruited for those sectors prefer to settle in Germany, because of the high cost of living in Switzerland, Achermann added.

Some foreigners are arriving while others leave. Photo: Pixabay

Which companies and sectors are most affected by labour shortages?

Among jobs that companies have had difficulties filling recently are “architecture and planning,” along with the construction sector. Specialists in “environmental techniques,” “water supply," as well as IT are also in high demand.

However, shortages are not only limited to those sectors, but impact many other industries as well, including healthcare, gastronomy, retail, and others outlined in this article:

Jobs in Switzerland: Five in-demand sectors in 2023

Small and medium-sized firms have most problems recruiting staff, as they face competition from multinational companies that abound in Switzerland, and which are able to offer better salaries and other perks to attract top-notch employees.

So what are Swiss employers doing to attract staff?

The top priority of many firms in Switzerland right now is creating an attractive working environment for future and present employees. And the main element of that is better pay.

A number of employers, especially in traditionally low-paid sectors like retail, have announced salary increases.

For instance, both Coop and Migros raised wages by 2 percent in 2023, and Denner by 2.3 percent.

Lidl has announced an even higher hike — 2.5 percent — which means that no employee of the chain would earn less than 4,500 francs a month for full-time work. 

Other companies, including Swiss Post, Swiss Federal Railways, as well as a number of pharmaceutical firms, have also upped their salaries by over 2 percent — an increase that will be given out both in terms of wages and bonuses.

Higher pay is a good incentive to attract and retain employees, but it only goes so far, since part of the increase compensates for inflation, so is not a pure gain.

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Flexible working and other benefits

But many companies also have another incentive up their sleeves.  

According to a Credit Suisse study, “in order to remain desirable as an employer in an environment characterised by a shortage of skilled workers, companies can also offer more attractive working conditions and fringe benefits".

A majority of companies surveyed by the bank “have been recently relying on flexible working models, such as home office options or more flexible arrangements in terms of working hours," the bank said.

But not everyone is for that idea. 

Flexible work may seem like a good idea to attract employees, but it could backfire, said Swiss Employers' Association president Valentin Vogt.

The growing trend toward part-time work “is the greatest obstacle” to the growth of the country’s economy, he pointed out.

Among the measures Vogt is proposing on the political level is the development of more childcare facilities, so parents are encouraged to work more hours, as well as allowing more immigrants from outside the EU / EFTA to come to Switzerland by better regulating the distribution of quotas for foreigners from third countries.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Switzerland's planned work quotas for third-country nationals

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