While young people compete for an apprenticeship position at a host company depending on their interests, host companies offer apprenticeship positions reflecting their actual and future demand of human capital in their branch. This leads to a self-regulating apprenticeship market corresponding highly with the needs of the economy and the labour market.

This involvement of the private sector with vocational education and training is one key factor for the low rate of youth unemployment in Switzerland. One of Switzerland’s overarching goals in education is to ensure that 95% of all young people have an upper secondary level qualification (this means either obtaining a VET qualification or a continuing general education qualification after compulsory education at lower secondary level). This can only be accomplished if true inclusiveness is achieved and the degree of permeability within the education system is very high.

Career guidance

The cantons are generally responsible for career guidance and information. They work closely with schools during the process of occupational choice and give pupils tools to find a suitable apprenticeship position. To facilitate this process, there are cantonal `lists of apprenticeship positions’ (Lehrstellennachweis LENA), which can be searched by occupation. Cantonal vocational guidance offices (Berufsinformationszentren BIZ) are the information points with professional career guidance counselors and staff. Individual coaching and mentoring is offered by cantons (free of charge) and private organisations (consultation fees possible). Young people may receive career guidance and counselling during and after compulsory education to help them develop their career choice, discover their personal and professional preferences and skills, and optimise their applications.

The cantonal vocational guidance offices are also responsible for involving and informing the teachers in mandatory school during the 8th and 9th grade in order to help students during their decision making process (provision of classroom aids and schedules for lessons). The students can take time off compulsory school in order to attend short individual ‘taster courses’ (Schnupperlehre) at a company of their choice (trying out the job on the job, usually over a period of 1 to 5 days) or activities offered by the BIZ.

Furthermore, the Swiss Service Centre for VET, Occupational, Educational and Career Guidance (Schweizerisches Dienstleistungszentrum Berufsbildung, Berufs-, Studien- und Laufbahnberatung, SDBB) bundles information from all the regional information centres and runs a comprehensive website on the topic. The SDBB is an institution established by the cantons, which are responsible for VET on implementation level.

According to the principle of public-private partnership, trade associations and companies themselves make other information available. They also have an interest to attract young talents for their apprenticeship positions. Therefore, they produce brochures, flyers, videos, websites and other communication media for the purpose of raising the profile of their occupations and drawing young peoples’ attention. In addition, job fairs are organised each year in Switzerland for young people, teachers and parents. The visit of job fairs usually forms part of a school excursion.

The website www.vetplus.ch, a joint campaign of the Confederation, the cantons and professional organisations, is the first online platform to provide a uniform presentation of the VPET system. One purpose of this platform is to raise awareness among young people, their parents and other reference persons, of the possibilities that VET offers (smoother transition to employment, career prospects, life-long learning because of the permeability of the education system).

Once young people have decided to enrol in a VET-programme, they have to compete in the apprenticeship market, since the availability of apprenticeship positions depends on the supply side (host companies offering apprenticeship positions) and the demand side (young people looking for apprenticeship positions).  A learner needs to write job applications to companies that offer a matching apprenticeship position. The process is similar to a regular job application and includes writing an application letter with a CV and submitting school records. Apprenticeship positions usually start to be filled around one year before the apprenticeship is due to start (apprenticeships begin in August with the start of the term in vocational schools). The apprenticeship application process encourages that the future apprentice shows his/her motivation and meets the requirements of the apprenticeship and the host company. The company chooses the candidates and invites them to an interview. Once the company has chosen its apprentice, the apprentice will receive an apprenticeship contract from the company. This nationally standardised fixed-term contract establishes the terms of employment and the apprenticeship salary. The companies notify the cantons that they have issued a new apprenticeship contract and therefore intend to  send a learner to the relevant vocational school according to the details set forth in the apprenticeship contract. The apprenticeship contract must be approved by the cantonal VET offices, which  notify the vocational schools of any new apprentices that will enrol in the upcoming year (beginning of apprenticeships usually in August). Vocational schools then assign learners to the relevant classes according to the occupation that they are learning. The government plays a mediating role. It ensures the best possible general conditions for host companies, encourages the provision of apprenticeship positions and helps young people to choose an occupation.

Preventing mismatch and fostering inclusion

Apprenticeship marketing activities and individual guidance and information opportunities are important aspects in order to prevent mismatch between the potential apprentices and the available apprenticeship positions. Mismatch is costly for all concerned. Young people who have trouble finding their occupation may take part in targeted actions like bridge years and courses, VET Case Management programmes, pre-apprenticeship and other individual mentoring opportunities. Of course, all these bridging measures are also available for young people who have not been successful in getting an apprenticeship contract, be it due to language difficulties, wrong expectations on school achievements or other situations that prevented them from commencing an apprenticeship straight away.

Furthermore, the public-private partnership is committed to a project called Match-Prof. This project, led by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), aims at reducing the number of unfilled apprenticeship positions and of young people who are part of an intermediate solution. The project helps to tackle the shortage of qualified workers. SERI can fund individual projects that focus on the integration of young adults with either a high cognitive or practical potential or with learning difficulties into VET.