Assuring professional skills the Swiss way
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Ivo Sieber (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2013 - 12:00am

In today’s increasingly globalized world, creating enough and the right jobs is imperative for all governments, irrespective of whether their economies are developing or industrialized. The reasons are compelling: it allows individuals to strive for their aspirations, it contributes to the empowerment of the people and to society’s cohesion. And it makes economic sense. Many elements play a role in determining whether these objectives can be met. Moreover, factors such as economic slow-downs, political transitions or the implementation of structural reforms entrust concerned governments with a particular responsibility. Regardless of the mix of challenges that prevail, a priority of every government and society must be to ensure that young people find a job where they can use the skills acquired through their education, contribute to economic progress, and where they can bring out their best.

 In his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Aquino highlighted this challenge. He explicitly mentioned the importance of the technical education system for employment generation. Drawing attention to TESDA’s track record and the success of its “Technical Vocational Education and Training” or “TVET” module, he noted that six out of 10 TESDA-DOLE scholars found work after graduation. These are very promising developments which are bound to have an impact on the reduction of unemployment especially among the young, promote the creation of small and medium-sized companies, and contribute to more inclusive economic growth.

Indeed, for growth to be more sustainable and inclusive, a favorable business environment and the availability of qualified, creative and skilled workers are essential. If a high innovation level and low unemployment are seen as relevant indicators of this linkage, the Swiss experience can tell a story. With Switzerland repeatedly placed first in the global innovation and competitiveness rankings and benefiting from one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe (including youth unemployment), a factor significantly contributing to this outcome is the Swiss dual education system.

Entering a professional apprenticeship after completing nine years of compulsory primary and secondary schooling is the common thing to do for Swiss youths. For people not familiar with this system, learning that more than two-thirds of the high-school graduates forgo a college or university course for three to four years of vocational training oftentimes raises eyebrows. In the Swiss context, the “Vocational Education and Training” or VET courses consist of an apprenticeship with a company that ensures skills-related on-the-job training and a complementary part-time classroom instruction in designated schools. The in-company training has many advantages: graduates quickly meet the demands of the employer, apprentices are productive and the practical relevance of their activities motivates young people to learn. In a tripartite set-up, the national government, regional governments and the private sector determine strategic objectives, define the responsibilities and curricula, and guarantee quality standards. This arrangement ensures that the VET programs closely match the needs of a dynamic labor market, both in terms of occupational skills and the number of available jobs.

To meet today’s economic and social challenges, the need to modernize and adapt national education policies is increasingly becoming an international issue. Facing persistent structural unemployment, productivity gaps and slow economic growth, many European countries have launched this debate. Preparing the ASEAN integrated economic area also demands new responses for the countries in this region, including the Philippines. President Aquino’s SONA eloquently recognized this. In today’s world, providing a well-trained work force able to actively participate in and contribute to an inclusive economic development is both urgent and expedient. Sharing experiences across borders can offer valuable inputs. Switzerland’s time-tested dual education system could be one of them.

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(Ivo Sieber is the Ambassador of Switzerland.)


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