Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Swiss Vocational Education & Training Initiative

Background: The Swiss VET System in a Nutshell

Apprenticeship training in Switzerland has a long-standing tradition. The first laws on vocational

education and training (VET) were enacted at the end of the 19th century. Today, VET is the predominant form of upper secondary education in Switzerland. About 65% of all young people enroll in a VET program. Most VET courses are structured along the so-called company based “dualtrack” system because there are two places of learning – a vocational school for general education and a company where the practical training takes place. In Switzerland, specific VET programs exist in around 230 occupations in all fields of industry, including commerce, hospitality and agriculture. VET programs can either be two years or three to four years in duration. Irrespective of program length, students are employed by a host company in their vocational area throughout the program. Those who wish to get a university degree after completing their apprenticeship may do so after fulfilling certain scholastic requirements.

In Switzerland, VET is seen as a joint mission of the public and private sectors. The tasks are shared among the Swiss Confederation, which functions as the overall regulatory body in charge of quality assurance, the professional sector organizations that determine the training content, the cantons (the 26 Swiss states) that supervise implementation, and the host companies that hire apprentices within the framework of special training contracts.

The strength of Switzerland’s VET system can be attributed to the following characteristics:

First, theoretical instruction and practical training are directly linked to the business requirements of companies in different vocational areas. This linkage reduces the discrepancy between skills that companies require and available labor trained in those skills. Course theory is not conducted in the rarified environment of an academic institution removed from the requirements of the marketplace but defined by these requirements. Finally, instructors themselves are systematically trained and retrained in contemporary technical and pedagogical approaches.

Second, VET has a different image in Switzerland than in many other countries of the world. It is

not the realm of low-achievers or individuals who could not make it to university. It is attributed,

respected and regarded as a desirable entry point to a successful career for the majority of Swiss youngsters. Indeed, many CEOs in Switzerland did not graduate from university but from VET programs and have worked their way up the organizational hierarchy.

Third, as a corollary of the above point, the VET path opens career opportunities for its participants. This is not only because they have been instructed in the relevant hard and soft skills, but because they have been exposed to the working environment in companies and organizations during their training program. With hands-on experience they are sought-after skilled resources after graduating who can “hit the ground running” when they enter their first employment position.

Fourth, there is a degree of flexibility in the Swiss VET system so that the university path is not shut off to graduates of the VET system. Participants can progress to higher professional education including university studies. It is largely due to the VET system that Switzerland has one of the lowest employment rates in the world, and that its companies are successful both at home and in the global marketplace.

Sharing the Swiss VET System with Other Countries: The Pilot Project in India

Switzerland has contributed to skills development projects and supported the start-up of training centers in other countries for many years. Today, in view of the growing global demand for skilled labor, key VET actors in Switzerland felt that a new approach had to be developed. The Swiss Vocational Education and Training Initiative grew out of these considerations. Consequently, a pilot project in India was launched to determine whether the concept could be implemented in a country which was not familiar with the company-based dual-track system.

In 2008 the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce (SICC) in partnership with the Swiss Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET), the Swiss Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Industries Association (SWISSMEM) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) began the pilot project in India. This was inaugurated on the occasion of the 60 year anniversary of the Indo-Swiss Friendship and Establishment Treaty signed in August 1948.

Initially implemented on a small scale in Pune and Bangalore, it was designed to achieve ‘proof of concept’, in other words, to ascertain that the key elements of the Swiss dual-track VET could be adapted successfully to the Indian environment and meet the requirements of local industry. After a period of 18 months to define all partners, conceptualize and develop course content, train the necessary ITI (Industrial Training Institute) teachers, company instructors and examiners by Swiss experts in pedagogic methods, a first batch of apprentices started a two-year training as ‘MultiSkilled Production Technicians’. In November 2011, they all successfully passed the final exam and received a SWISSMEM diploma.

With a comparable structure to the one in Switzerland, the pilot project required close cooperation between public and private actors, namely the participating ITIs and companies. The ITI’s seconded teachers to instruct the apprentices in the theory for one to two days a week. The companies, whose technical needs and human resource requirements determined the skills that were taught, hired apprentices and instructors, and established apprentice workshops on their premises. A further important element of the pilot project’s success was the establishment of a dedicated team in India. This team was instrumental in advising on the approach to take and managing program delivery. Today, it constitutes the nucleus of the organization in charge of expanding the initiative across India and Sri Lanka, as well as to other professions. It manages all aspects of the expansion in close cooperation with SWISSMEM and SFIVET. This includes the development and upgrading of further course content, ensuring proper training of the trainers and examiners, and managing the rigorous examination process.

Approximately one hundred and twenty apprentices are currently in training with prospects for exponentially more in the pipeline. Indeed, a central element of the pilot project has been to transfer the systemic know-how and create structures that allow scaling upon a self-sustainable basis.

Lessons, Challenges and the Way Forward

The Swiss Vocational Education and Training Initiative is delivering good results on the ground as

reflected in the positive responses from the Indian private and public sector partners. So far there have been several lessons gleaned from the project. These include the importance of grooming company instructors to become mentors to their apprentices. Regarding the theoretical part of the program, special emphasis must be placed on learning the technical English required for a multi-skilled production technician. Generally, the quality of teaching and training needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis.

The transfer of systemic know-how to a dedicated local team is necessary in order to enable a project scale-up. The local team has to have a strong base in Switzerland to ensure full coordination with all Swiss VET partners (in particular sector organizations and SFIVET). While adherence to quality processes and standards must be continuously monitored from Switzerland, enabling the local team to build up responsibility and ownership is paramount to successful project implementation in the target country.

In order to maintain high output quality, a precise and systematic documenting of all dual-track VET system processes is a prerequisite to scaling up in a country where VET is not widely practiced. Moreover, in a country the size of India, a broad expansion of the VET system requires the effective deployment of ICT-based technologies for teaching and training. Fortunately, India is well positioned to ensure both systematic documentation and technology-driven expansion thanks to its highly developed ICT capabilities.

Though the Swiss Vocational Education and Training Initiative in India is already reaping fruit, much work remains. The key to continued success lies with the private sector in India embracing its own role within the dual-track system as its counterparts in Switzerland, Germany and Austria are doing. Similarly, the further expansion of the Swiss Vocational Education and Training Initiative to other countries will depend largely on the response of private sectors there. In view of the growing need for skilled labor and increasing awareness among industry leaders around the worldBusiness Management Articles, there is reason for optimism.

SkillSonics aims to promote vocational training in India by adapting key elements from the Swiss Vocational Education and Training (VET) model, credited to be the backbone of Switzerland’s thriving economy and competitive strength. These courses are provided to entry-level and existing technicians in companies that help in improving work productivity and thus impacting competitiveness of companies.

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