Switzerland’s ambassador to the U.S., Martin Dahinden, considers his country’s economic strength dependent on its willingness to invest in its people’s skills.
“We are basically a country without resources, without raw materials” he told Global Atlanta during an interview downtown on Nov. 3. ”As a knowledge-based economy, we have to invest in people, to invest in people’s skills.”
As a knowledge-based economy, we have to invest in people, to invest in people’s skills.
Mr. Dahinden was in town to meet with representatives from its consular offices in Canada and the U.S. during which they discussed evolving partnerships between Swiss and U.S. companies as well as research institutes.
The U.S. and Swiss governments also have agreed to work closely on cooperating in the implementation of Swiss vocational education and training programs in the U.S.
The ambassador referred to a declaration of intent signed last fall with the U.S. Labor Department that calls for pilot projects to be developed in a number of U.S. states where affiliates already have a presence.
Opportunities also are being explored to establish traineeships throughout the U.S. and to improve the appreciation of qualifications not only for apprentices and students but also for trainers and teaching staff.
As the unemployment rate for youths between the ages of 15-24 in the U.S. hovers around 11 percent, in Switzerland in the second quarter if this year it dropped from 7.7 percent to 6.4 percent.
And if compared to European unemployment rates for youth, which can rise to as high as 49.2 percent in Spain and 50.3 percent in Greece, they are remarkable.
Mr. Dahinden explained that through public-private partnerships the future labor force in Switzerland will receive training both academically in school and in business through an apprenticeship in a company.
One of the big advantages of this system, he said, is that the participants receive their training with the latest technology.
“When you are training people this way, you are sure that they will learn with cutting-edge technology, not something that is out of date,” he added. “They also are working with the newest materials and processes.”
He said that he personally is very committed to these programs and likes their flexibility. “People on a given track are not locked into that track for the rest of their lives,” he said. “They can go from a certain track and then on to college is they like.”
Swiss students can move between academic and vocational education and training systems, and they can choose among six post-secondary occupational fields including technical, business, design, commercial, natural sciences, and health and social work after completing their upper secondary training.
As an example of upward mobility, Mr. Dahinden cited the career of Martin Senn, the CEO of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., Switzerland’s largest insurance company, who began his career in an apprenticeship program.
He also referred to the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s report “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century,” as a comprehensive analysis of the Swiss system.
Aside from having a well-prepared workforce to fill positions that Swiss companies consider necessary, Swiss companies benefit from a widely-acclaimed degree of innovation that often links their largest companies with small- to medium-sized firms for which the country is famous.
Mr. Dahinden had no ironclad reason for its reputation for innovation. But many Swiss workers are able to earn enough while continuing their educations that once graduated they are not hampered by the constant concern of their outstanding debt.
They also benefit from the knowledge that their training is relevant because of the close cooperation between educational and public authorities who direct resources for training according to the needs of developing sectors in the economy.
In addition to the agreement signed with the U.S. Labor Department, Swiss officials also have a declaration of intent with the U.S. Commerce Department to explore options for pilot projects in states where Swiss affiliates already have a presence.
The U.S. is Switzerland’s second most important trading partner and Switzerland is the sixth largest foreign investor in the U.S.
For more information about Switzerland’s educational initiatives, call the Consulate General of Switzerland in Atlanta at 404-870-2000 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org