Factors of Success to Low Youth Unemployment in Switzerland

When the Swiss State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, and the Vice-Rector of the University of Basel, Dr. Ed Constable, visited Seoul on the occasion of the 2nd Swiss-Korean Life Science Symposium, they had an extensive interview with Chosun News, Korea’s largest news outlet. The topics of discussion were focused on the topic of youth unemployment – one of the most pressing topics for Korea currently and a topic where Switzerland serves as a benchmark.

“Al Jazeera News” claims that Vocational Education and Training (VET) is the main reason why Switzerland was able to maintain such a low youth unemployment rate. The youth unemployment rate for Switzerland in 2014 was 3.16%, which is the lowest unemployment rate in all of Europe. The figure below shows that Switzerland was able to maintain a consistently low youth unemployment rate over the last years.

Picture Source: Statista

In Korea, the picture looks less positive. According to data from the National Statistics Office that was collected in July 2015, the youth unemployment rate in Korea was calculated to be approximately 10%. But because this number takes temporary and contract jobs into consideration, experts estimate the actual youth unemployment rate to be somewhere close to 15%.

To discuss the success of Switzerland in maintaining such a low youth unemployment rate, Chosun posed some questions to State Secretary Dell’Ambrogio and the Vice-Rector Constable. State Secretary Dell’Ambrogio gave a detailed overview regarding the purpose of Swiss VET system and its effectiveness and positive outcome:

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“We have analyzed the mid to long-term school programs that youths go through from age 15 until university. We found that if students only receive classroom lessons from middle school and high school up to university, a significant number of students lose interest in their studies. So the government began to contemplate.

This is why we decided to enforce vocational education training (VET) on students at age 15 who have lost interest in their studies. We believed that students can handle vocational education training at age 15. Of course, this vocational education training would parallel their classes at school. Students receive vocational education training and take regular classes at school 3-4 times a week and 1-2 times a week, respectively. 

Picture Source: NCEEPicture Source: NCEE

If students want, they can get a job right after graduation or they can choose to study more at a university. The choice belongs to the student. Seeing how the school dropout rate decreased significantly after Switzerland started to offer two different paths, we believe this system is successful. To give you exact numbers, less than 5% of people in Switzerland have no certificate or diploma.”

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Chosun then raised another interesting question. Military Service may interrupt studies or career for young gentlemen in Korea. In such a case, how could this gap be resolved in the system of VET? State Secretary Dell’Ambrogio answered:

“If we just think about the issue with military service, Switzerland also requires military service. But of course, it is only for 5 months. But, I’ll tell you what we do in Switzerland. For example, let’s say I am a 19 year old who received vocational education training as a chef. This student can serve in the military as a kitchen police, which is appropriate given their vocational education training. A student who received training in the IT field can be placed in the communication field.

The Federal Department of Defense will look at what vocational education training the student previously received [during the high school level] and place them in a similar branch of service if possible. Of course, not every field of society can be covered in the military, but this is done whenever possible. So, the two years of military service can become a part of the vocational education training experience.”

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The university also has an important role in relation to the low youth unemployment rate in Switzerland, namely by encouraging entrepreneurship. Vice-Rector Constable shared his perspective on the situation in Basel.

“…we encourage these talents (graduate students) to break out of the shell of traditional education methods. This is part of what incubating facilities and the production lab in workshop [of University of Basel] offers.

This incubating program and facility is not there to teach students theory, but to teach them knowledge and skills that can be used directly in the market. Even if these skills are trivial, we make sure they find success as an entrepreneur in the actual market. Simply put, by teaching them commercial skills, we help students to become successful entrepreneurs. These skills are different from publishing an academic paper on “Nature”, the journal. Thus, even though there is risk involved in starting a business in the short run, I think it will help lower the youth unemployment rate in the long run.”

Picture Source: Basel Inkubator

Picture Source: Basel Inkubator

An english translation of the original article can be downloaded here. In addition to the interviews with the State Secretary Dell’Ambrogio and Vice-Rector Constable, the article also includes interviews of two Korean students who received VET training in Switzerland through  in South Korea’s established program with Roche Diagnostics and Bühler.