Lessons from Switzerland: Could Youth Apprenticeship be the Answer to Indiana’s Workforce Woes?

Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.


By 2025, 60 percent of jobs will require some type of high-quality degree or credential beyond high school. Currently only 43.4 percent of Hoosiers attain a postsecondary credential or degree, meaning nearly six out of every ten Indiana workers are not prepared to take on the majority of jobs that will be available in just five years.

Additionally, Indiana employers continue to report challenges in filling positions with qualified applicants. Last year, 80 percent of Indiana employers reported workforce needs as one of their biggest challenges. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that there is a major leak in the education and training pipeline to prepare students for success beyond school.

Last week, Dr. Ursula Renold, Head of Comparative Education Research Division at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, joined nearly 500 Indiana business and civic leaders to pose a solution to Indiana’s problem: create a link between education and employment through a dual system of education and apprenticeships, like the Swiss Vocational Education and Training (VET) system.

In the Swiss VET system, between 60 and 70 percent of young people begin a three-year, paid apprenticeship in 10th grade, while continuing classroom instruction. Over the course of the 3-year apprenticeship, students spend progressively less time in the classroom and more time in the workplace. The VET system culminates in the earning of a federal diploma that can lead to full employment, continued professional education, or traditional higher education. Apprenticeships are paid learning opportunities offered across the majority of industry sectors – from IT to financial services to healthcare and manufacturing – that allow VET students to develop the hard and soft skills necessary for success beyond the formal education system.

The result of a VET system is more youth engaged in both work and learning. For example, in the United States, 12.7 percent of youth ages 15 to 29 are not enrolled in education, employed, or in training, compared with only 8.1 percent of youth the same ages in Switzerland.

What’s also key to the success of the Swiss VET system is its value to the business community. Participating employers have found that the benefits they receive from hiring, training, and retaining productive apprentices outweigh the costs – in other words, there is a positive ROI. It is the business case for employers to lead and fund this type of initiative that keeps them engaged in the VET system.

For Hoosier employers struggling to find talent, apprenticeship programs similar to those offered in Switzerland could offer a new pipeline of engaged and dedicated employees.

Developing a structured link between the K-12 and higher education systems and businesses allows employers to become not just consumers of skills, but also producers of skills. In a dual education system, employers take the lead in ensuring that students gain certain skills in the classroom and also learn new skills as apprentices in the workplace.

As Indiana works to address a significant skills gap, we have an opportunity to reimagine how we prepare the next generation for success.

Learn more about Dr. Ursula Renold’s presentation on the Swiss VET system here.

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