Unused apprenticeship places and apprenticeship break offs

Take care of the education of our youth and the dual vocational training system!

by Dr iur. Marianne WŁthrich

In August, tens of thousands of young people in the country start an apprenticeship. In Switzerland, dual vocational training, which usually lasts three days a week at the company and two days at vocational school, is regarded as the “ideal way” to start their careers. According to the homepage berufsberatung.ch, apprenticeships in more than 2,600 occupations are available to school leavers. The fact that the proportion of grammar school students is smaller by international standards, is neither a disadvantage for young people nor for the business location. According to history Professor Caspar Hirschi: “The Swiss education system has three advantages in international comparison: Diversity, openness and permeability. It is versatile because young people have the choice between vocational training and grammar school and thereafter access to new training or education with almost every qualification. It is open, because educational institutions right up to the top universities grant everyone with the appropriate qualifications free access. In addition, it is permeable because at almost every level a lateral entry is possible into other training programmes. Thanks to our education system, many paths lead to the top of business and politics.”1
We should take care of this excellent education system for the benefit of young people and the Swiss economy, which is still well functioning today. It is alarming that thousands of apprenticeship places are still vacant this summer and that an appalling number of apprenticeship contracts is terminated prematurely. At the apprenticeship meeting point yousty (www.yousty.ch) – even after the apprenticeship year has started already – more than 4,600 vacant places are offered in all sectors, including the popular professions of commercial clerk (KV) and health specialist (FaGe), and even occasional positions in the most sought-after field of information technology and many in skilled crafts and trades and for salespersons. The fact that the number of students in secondary school has declined in recent years is one attempt of an explanation, but another is that more and more young people want to attain “Matura”, the higher school certificate.2 However, the purely statistical approach omits essential aspects.

Many apprentices with large school deficits

What most media withhold from their readership is the unfortunate fact that part of the apprenticeship places remain vacant because many school leavers bring a less well-filled backpack from primary school than young people used to do. The image of the “filled rucksack” is deliberately used here, even though it is now frowned upon as being “backward”: The “accumulation” of knowledge is no longer necessary, according to the school reformers, because in the digitised world everything is retrievable at any time and would be outdated more quickly. Despite constant repetition, this statement does not become more right, but demonstrates the lack of pedagogical grip on reality of the “experts” who make use of it.
Fact is that training companies and vocational schools are increasingly finding that there are major shortcomings in the essential basic school skills (reading, writing, arithmetic). This is due to the paradigm shift in the primary school curricula and in teacher training. This means for example “that in this school of the future each child decides for him- or herself at the beginning of the week what he or she wants to learn. Maybe they want to programme a computer game themselves, or perhaps practice some French with the help of a Youtube video. Older students help younger ones, thus receiving bonus points and can rise to new levels like in a game: from ‘basic student’ to ‘expert’. To maintain their status, they have to support other children. Although the teacher is still sitting in the classroom, she now calls herself a learning coach and advises the students individually. Her main task is to motivate. She tracks the progress online, because each child works with a tablet. As utopian as this may sound now, in some places in Switzerland it is more or less reality.”3
Against such “reality”, protest must urgently become louder! How can a child practice French alone with a Youtube film if he or she does not know the pronunciation rules and does not understand the words – not to mention sentence structure and grammar? The teacher’s online control can never replace the real teacher-pupil relationship, and the important voluntary interaction among classmates is close to perversion with a sophisticated reward system. It is the essence of the teaching profession, its actual purpose, to address to or awaken the children’s joy of learning. To reduce the teacher to a coach and to leave each child alone with his tablet is an injustice to our youth. It can lead children to avoid, wherever possible, the learning areas they do not feel confident in. As a result, good apprenticeship places remain unused.

One quarter of apprenticeship contracts are dissolved prematurely

A school like the one described above can make it impossible for the young person to cope with the demands of an apprenticeship. Gaps in the subject material can perhaps be made up to a certain degree – if the will is there. However, whether he is prepared to follow instructions, to accept failures, to keep on trying over and again, to take pleasure in constructive activity, to be proud when succeeding to complete an assignment reliably and on time – all this can be decisive for a successful apprenticeship.
The number of terminated apprenticeship contracts is also alarmingly high. In a report from 2017, the Federal Statistical Office states: “Of the 60,500 apprentices who began basic vocational training in the summer of 2012, almost 15,000 have had their apprenticeship contracts terminated prematurely. In relation to the total number of contracts, the dissolution rate is 25 %.” This affected 12,500 young people or 21 % (i.e. some of them had several contracts terminated).4
More than one fifth of young people failed during their apprenticeship! It is therefore of little help, if the yousty training place meeting point calls the termination of the apprenticeship a “new challenge” when the position or working environment does not correspond to an apprentice (https://www.yousty.ch/de-CH/lehrabbruch). Of course, there are always examples where the chosen apprenticeship does not correspond to the abilities and inclinations of a young person or where the “chemistry” between the teacher and the apprentice is not “working”. At this case, a change to another place or to another trade can be useful. However, these used to be individual cases. The fact, that today every fourth apprenticeship contract is terminated by the apprentice or the training company is a signal of alarm! Is the future 4.0 society tested here, where a large part of the working population is to be rejected as social benefit recipients at an early age?

Practical skills can not be attained on a PC

Most vacant apprenticeship places are in manual occupations. The first 15 vacancies in the yousty job search portal that could be filled immediately are hairdresser, electricial fitter, recycler, scaffolder, road builder, powerline technician, merchant, retailer, logistician, refrigeration system assembler, plumber, cook, baker/confectioner, automotive mechatronics technician, pharmaceutical assistant. All are three to four-year EFZ training courses, the successful completion of which is credited with a Federal Certificate of Proficiency.
According to the daily press, for example, the owner of a building services company who has trained over 100 apprentices in 30 years has been looking for a year in vain for an apprentice to study heating engineer. Like tens of thousands of other Swiss SMEs, this entrepreneur sees it as his responsibility to contribute to vocational training for young people. However, the search for suitable young talents is becoming increasingly difficult. This is not only a problem for the useful composition of the team in his company, but also for the future of the Swiss business location. The unfilled apprenticeship positions will have an effect later on because of the lack of trained specialists who are actually needed.5
The lack of interest in skilled trades also correlates to the increasing learning time at the computer, which according to Curriculum 21, starts already in kindergarten. The consequence of this is a fatal imbalance of education. Practical skills, drawing and writing by hand (cursive writing), working with tools and various materials are logically neglected. In the subject areas of “arts” and “nature and social sciences”, a vast number of learning goals with a practical context are listed, so that one’s head is already buzzing while reading. However, to drive in a nail correctly or to measure a distance exactly, one does not learn simply at the computer and not from a coach, but only from an inspired teacher. It is astonishing that these simple facts have so far received little attention from the economiesuisse trade association and other voices in the Swiss economy (especially in large companies). With their insistence on the full digitisation of schools, state administration and the world of work, they are basically skipping the entire craft trade.
A ray of hope: 39 young Swiss at the World Skills from 22 to 27 August
The full digitisation of school and working life will not do the trick. Because if the heating is not working or the bicycle gears are jammed, just as in care and in countless other professions it needs the male and female experts, the real person.
A ray of hope are the 39 young Swiss professionals who currently represent our country at the World Skills in the Russian city of Kazan and who strive for a top 3 ranking in the national ranking. In a field of 1,600 applicants from 63 nations, this is a high but perfectly achievable goal as the World Skills of recent years have shown.

The 39 young Swiss winners at the World Skills 2019 in Kazan from 22 to 27 August

The young Swiss professionals aged 17 to 22 who have represented our country at the World Skills in Kazan, Russia, in recent days, are a ray of hope. In the nation-weighted ranking, Switzerland, the best nation in Europe, occupies a good third place on the podium. Only the Chinese and Korean participants obtained a higher average score than the Swiss.
Through their performances, the young Swiss professionals have won 16 medals, including five world championship titles, and 13 diplomas in no less than 39 disciplines. The five gold medals were won in the professions of restaurant specialist, baker-pastry maker, tiler/paver, electronics and landscape gardener.    •

1     Hirschi, Caspar, Professor of General History at the University of St. Gallen. “The hype around the grammar school threatens our educational system”. NZZ on Sunday from 11 August 2019, guest column
2     “Wanted: Thousands of Apprentices.” “St. Galler Tagblatt” from 12 August 2019
3     Burri, Anja. “School according to the pleasure principle “. NZZ on Sunday from 18 August 2019
4     Federal Statistical Office. “Cancellation of apprenticeship contract, re-entry, certification status. Results on dual basic vocational training [...]”, 2017, p. 5
5     “Wanted: thousands of apprentices”. “St. Galler Tagblatt” from 12 August 2019