Be more like Switzerland

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (right) observes a student health care demonstration at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences with Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann (left of DeVos). (Photo: International Congress on Vocational and Professional Training)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday reiterated her praise for how Switzerland uses apprenticeships to help prepare its workforce for myriad jobs, from welders and carpenters to CEOs.

Speaking in Zurich before the International Congress on Vocational and Professional Training, DeVos noted that more than two-thirds of students in Switzerland pursue their education through apprenticeships, and they tap into careers such as health care, finance and law. She was intrigued to learn that both the CEO and board chair of UBS, a Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services, started their careers as apprentices.

“That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be,” she said in prepared remarks.

DeVos emphasized President Donald Trump’s desire to expand apprenticeships in the U.S. because they allow business and industry to mold the type of employees they need while providing students with another option for education and training in their chosen fields.

In the U.S., there is often a disconnect between what employers seek in workers and what skills students develop through their education, DeVos said.

“Students seek out a credential — a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, an advanced degree — because they think it will send a signal to employers that they are employable,” she said. “But too often what they learn while earning that credential isn’t what they need to do the work they are hired to do.”

The Swiss approach addresses that, DeVos continued, as employers and educators work together to “line up” the skills required with those that students learn.

“It’s a bottom-up, self-defined solution, and it’s a solution we must better emulate in my country,” she said.

According to the U.S. Education Department, 65 percent of students in upper secondary education in Switzerland are enrolled in pre-vocational or vocational programs. Among those in vocational programs, 93 percent are enrolled in programs that combine school and work-based elements.

DeVos on Wednesday kicked off a 10-day tour of Western Europe that also includes the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to learn about their apprenticeships and vocational education and training.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.