Education and Apprenticeship in Switzerland

My son is an apprentice in carpentry - that's what he chose to do rather than stay any longer in high school...;)
But when he'll have finished his four years apprenticeship he will be able to chose between several options to get a higher degree in Switzerland:

a) study for one year at a school full time and get the a college degree for professionals (I mean people who are craftsmen, like for instance mechanics) and so he could enter a technical university after that.
In case he would think about studying languages like French / Italien (which he certainly wouldn't do), then he could take a course and learn Latin, because that topic is only taught in certain types of the "normal" colleges.

b) he could work on in his job and after a while get a master in carpentry. That's a specific education for each profession, in his case carpentry as I mentioned, and after that he will have an allowance to educate apprentices in a firm himself - and, of course, would have learned all you can know about carpentry.

c) he could work on in his job part time and go to college in the evenings, on Saturdays etc. Which, of course, is a hell of a workload but chosen by quite some young guys to earn money and get a higher education.

d) And that is what he most probably is going to do: think about a type of study that he would like to enroll in any field...
So let's see what he will do.

Apprenticeships are quite common in Switzerland, so more than 50% of the teenagers do that here, but it is not so common in other countries, as far as I know.
Most of the apprenticeships last 4 years, starting by the age of 16. Some of them are done in 3 years.
And nowadays, even older people get a chance to take one up - sometimes with a smaller number of topics at the schools depending on their former education.

And what does your week look like in an apprenticeship?
You work in a firm for 3 1/2 days and go to school for 1 1/2 days.
As an option, you can go to school even 2 days and get your (technical) college degree within those 4 years, so as to enroll without a test to a technical university afterwards.

The system of apprenticeships have been set up for decades now and each branch has it's own schools / classes.
So you can get an education in any field: from hairdressing, bank clerk, plumbing, roof making, assistant nurse (you need to be 18 to do a proper nurse education), polymechanic, IT-specialist, florist, farmer, baker, butcher, builder of string instruments - you name it... If I remember that correctly, there are about 150 different professions enlisted that you can choose from.
Of course, it increases your income as soon as you have finished your apprenticeship successfully with a test and practical work.

My younger son is now in his third year.

But it is to say: many of those young people decide later to get a higher education... -> not too many of them continue working in their field for too long;). So there is always a demand for professionals....

May I ask you:

-> Is there any similar kind of educating young professionals in your country?
-> Or, how do young people get their professional skills?

I'll be happy to read from you:)


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Comments (9)
    • Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Urs!! This is super interesting. You definitely changed my view about education in Switzerland since I thought your system was similar to those in most countries, which is: elementary school - high school - college - master's degree and etc. 

      I firmly believe that Apprenticeship is a great way for a young person to get exposure to the real world and understand early on what he or she enjoys doing. Many people in most countries end up realizing that what they've been learning in college is either futile or misleading. In Russia, sometimes a person receives 2 or 3 degrees to end up working as a receptionist or a sales clerk. As if the number of degrees guaranteed success in life..

      In the US, I came across with some really bizarre courses, like, believe it or not: Fat Studies.. At least, in Russia, Education is cheap but in the US kids get very often tricked into spending a fortune to get a completely useless degree. Had they had some exposure to real jobs, they probably wouldn't have been fooled that easily.

      Of course, it doesn't mean that all higher education experiences are bad nowadays. We still need doctors, engineers and scientists. But if more countries acquired similar educational practices to those in Switzerland, I'm sure the world would be a better place. 

      I've heard that some companies are slowly starting to use apprenticeship and there are even some websites that help connect businesses with apprentices but still it's far from being widely accepted in most societies. 

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      • Hello Sasha
        Thanks for your reply and for launching the topic.
        I tried to find out tonight if I was ment to do something about this, but that's fine now.
        Yes, even in our neighbour states colleges are higher regarded as an apprenticeship could ever be.
        So, foreigners who came to live here are astonished when they learn more about our system.
        The selection wether or not you go to college is quite simpel: you have a test to pass. And they sort of see to it that it is not too easy to pass. You take that test either after the 6th grade or then later from the 8th or even 9th grade, depending on your progress in school.
        For all who do not want to go to school any longer after the 9th grade, or fail to pass the test to a college or then do not pass the first 3 months at that college, take up a professional education in a firm as an apprentice - it is very rare that you do nothing about your education.

        The system with those apprenticeships have sort of a long tradition and go back, if you like, to the Medieval guilds. They were further developed in the fifties when services and products were in high demand.

        At first, private firms like the mechanical factories worked it out in detail for their own apprentices. Later the state and the crafts organisations took it over, teachers and buildings included. An important input to what should be tought in an apprenticeship comes from the professional associations.

        They still have their own courses for the highest education for craftsmen you can get - a master in carpentry, for instance.

        Another question is, wether or not young people wish to get their hands dirty...;) Not all of them want that, but still quite a lot. And because there are plenty of perspectives after finishing your apprenticeship it is not a dead end. Because all the apprentices work in a firm they get to know how things are really done at a young age. And that is an asset.

        I once talked with a guy from East Berlin when the DDR still existed. He had studied at a college, yes. But, on top of that, every student had to go and work for a few months in a factory too while studying. In his case, this was a large mechanical factory.

        Sometimes I think by myself it would be nice when college students could have a break from school and get to know the "real world" a bit better - like the guy from East Berlin.

        Funny enough: soon after 1990 he started his own business with a colleague, sort of a start up. They specialised in Quality Assurance. To speed these processes up they used videocameras and software to find iregularities in products. Simple things at first, like crumbled buiscits or missing parts, and developed it further to more complicated applications.
        That was interesting, indeed!

        But Sasha, what we have in common are schools and Universities that are available for anyone who is good enough. That's fair, and helps a lot to improve the average educational level in countries, in my view.

        I hope this conversation inspires others to participate and tell us how professional education is handled in their countries:)

        Have a good day and thanks again for setting up this homepage.






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        • Thanks a lot Urs for your really interesting stories and thoughts! I'm learning a ton from them!

          It's amazing that this apprenticeship tradition goes as far back as to the Medieval guilds. I wish more countries had this type of tradition. Maybe, in Keenston, we'll be able to build this type of culture: now we have guilds  where users can create their addresses, in which they could teach other people to master a certain skill or also exchange their experiences.  

          When it comes to University education, I agree we still need it. But I guess there should be some alternatives to it. Apprenticeship looks like a viable and robust option. Many people could benefit from that. Or they could combine it with University education. 

          In Russia, in my opinion, professional colleges have lost their prestige and now almost everyone tries to get a university degree no matter how dubious that degree can be. It also devalues university education since when it's too easy to get it is not too valuable, one has to break a sweat in order to learn something:)  Maybe we need more professional community colleges here where learning carpentry or plumbing would again be as cool as learning economics or jurisprudence. 

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          • Hello Sasha
            Thanks for replying to my post!
            You are right, the system we have here is not to be found in too many countries.
            I would have to do some research, though, to find out how common apprenticeships are in other European countries, like Germany or Austria.

            Maybe I forgot to mention that the 19th century, with booming Industrial production in my country, for instance in the field of textiles, colours, chemistry and, which was huge in my home town too, locomotives, steem engines and diesel motors for ships.

            So, to have a well educated workforce was crutial for the era of the industrialisation. I guess this really layed the ground for all that followed later on. The fact that we had no other possibilities, like minerals, oil, woods and neither agricultural products to exploit and export made it necessary to develop other possibilities. It is not to forget that Switzerland has been a rather poor country for centuries, with little influence or other means of power.

            The professional associations did not only have a great influence on the professional education system but unions were important too. After WW I we had a tough crisis here. Everyone was exhausted, after years of little food and then thousands and thousands died of the Spanish flue, especially young adults. The workers had no money and no food. So they started to protest. The military came to help and defend and people died.

            We were lucky that decent people on both sides started to discuss the problems. And as a result after a few years, both sides, employers and unions agreed on a system which we call here "peace of work". Which means: in bigger firms and factories they installed a board with the bosses and the representatives of the workforce at the table. Before going on strike, this board tried to find better solutions so as not to stop the production.

            Initiatives led to other improvements for the workforce, like a limit to the weekly hours they had to work. So, step by step a better situation could be established - in the interest of both sides.

            It worked fine and well as long as there was a high demand on workers. It sort of failed so, when firms closed down for on or the other reason. So my neighbour lost his job by the age of 62 in a print shop with 400 workers about 10 years ago, because the factory could not compete anymore - so the management told them. That might be right, but in his view, the bosses had failed to invest in new machinery some years back. He was a keen representative of the union in his firm - and therefore very disappointed. But nothing could be done about it.

            But in other cases, firms in my home town were taken over by the management, and successfully so. Some of them were later sold to foreign owners - happens too...

            In the years 1970 - 1990 many investors said that it is no use to produce goods, machinery and the like anymore in Switzerland - but: this turned out not to be true, luckily. The products have changed, though. It is less mass production but more specialisation. The mechanical industries were a driving factor in all that for one and a half century now - and are still around. I hope this will stay that way...

            Very kindly 


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            • Hi Urs, 

              Thanks a lot for continuing to enlighten me about education and professional life in your place!! Really appreciate that:) Thanks to you I know much more about Switzerland and how things work over there.. 

              I also hope that you will get to keep all your industries and investors won't be outsourcing everything to cheaper countries just to earn a quick buck regardless of the consequences.. I think it's more important for any county to keep all the industrial production intact even if it's more expensive short term.. And overall I believe that it's better to have goods and food produced as close to one's home as possible...

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            • Hello Urs and Sasha! Such an amazing opportunity to know more about the "only world" we are having. We need it instead of beating around the bushes of political issues and discussing which system is better to live in.

              Instead, we can just find more positive things to find the way how to improve our abilities and possibilities. Our past is not only the history but it is the place where we can return, find new things (we know that “everything new is well forgotten old”) and bring them back to our present and future.

              And that is true not only for old-forgotten approaches but for all modern technologies those developed around the lots of inventions of our past. The modern technologies are great but, I am sure, that there exist the things which are eternal and they should not be replaced by modern materials and utensils.

              There is nothing better and efficient than those old-fashioned Siberian houses equipped with a famous Russian stove. First, the wood is the healthiest building material. Second, it is the safest as far as it can resist any earthquake (once I witnessed how the logs of the Russian izba wall were trembling like the fingers of my palm when the strongest earthquake happened in our valley).   

              And the Russian stove: there are few of them left here but I remember that one, which was used in the times of my granny Praskovia. She baked the tastiest bread I had ever eaten because there was a special technology developed through the centuries. The stews, soups, baked vegetables prepared in that stove were especially delicious. The stove was a universal instrument to use: it prepared our food, heated a house, dried berries, mushrooms, medicinal plants and even the wood for carpentry.

              To cut my long story short, I have a dream. I would like to have such a stove in my new house. I have discussed the matter with my wife and she agrees with me. Now, I have to find a craftsman to build the stove and that is quite a task. Less and less people order Russian stoves and the technology is getting forgotten. The majority of people who built those constructions have died and there are less and less people who are eager to have ones at their homes.

              There are people in Russia who do their best to preserve old crafts and traditions and I hope to contribute to that. Moreover, I started to do that. I try to return the tradition of making woven fences and to develop old Russian way of gardening – using high (warm) beds for growing vegetables. But this is the topic for another post.  

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              • A really interesting post!! I agree progress is good but we also should try more to rediscover our past and learn new things from there :)

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              • And I am totally with you when it comes to wooden houses, earthquakes but also healthy construction materials to keep building our homes with. ..

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