Switzerland Higher Education: VET

Vocational Education and Training (VET) schools serve as an alternative upper-secondary route, with about two-thirds of children choosing this route after compulsory school. The philosophy behind VET schools differs from that of gymnasiums by focusing on “making the theory important with applied practice,” as described by Dr. Ursula Scharnhorst of the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET). The aim of VET schools is to directly prepare students for entry-level positions in fields like engineering, health, and retail [2]. Due to this different aim, VET studies are very different from typical upper secondary studies.

VET studies typically include a significant apprenticeship as part of the curriculum. This apprenticeship often takes the form of a split week system, where roughly two days each week are spent working for a company in their field of study and the rest of the week is spent in class learning the personal and professional skills necessary to be a competent employee. The classes and internship are designed to mutually reinforce skills and concepts. To accomplish this, the classes consist of both general education and practical, domain-specific technical courses. Teachers for the two class types are trained separately, with general education teachers trained at SFIVET facilities.

Tools are constantly in development to aid in the practical classroom training of VET students. One such example undergoing development at SFIVET is the Tinker Light (U. Scharnhorst, personal communication, 22 March 2012). This machine projects a virtual warehouse layout onto a table below. Students can manipulate the projection to test different warehouse configurations. Students training for a warehouse personnel job, such as a forklift driver, benefit from a general understanding of the principles of warehouse organization. However, this theoretical topic is ill-suited to the textbook method of instruction for VET students. The tinker light allows students to gain a hands-on understanding through group collaboration, which is more suited to the type of practical learning that forms the basis of VET studies.

The more practical nature of VET programs leads to favorable outcomes in the job market. From 2000-2007, students who completed a VET program received incomes of 1.27-1.32 times the incomes of those who did not complete post-compulsory education, while students who graduated from a gymnasium averaged incomes of 1.21-1.25 times those without post-compulsory education [3]. The length of compulsory education depends upon the laws of each individual canton, but the laws generally end the mandate after lower secondary school. This comparison is made between gymnasium graduates and vocational baccalaureate holders, which each take 4 years to complete, so it does generally indicate that VET graduates are more highly valued in the job market. While takeover rates, or the frequency that apprentices become full-time employees, vary depending on the profitability of apprentice, VET graduates have high employment rates within a year of graduation. Paradoxically, professions with profitable apprentices have lower takeover rates. This may be a result of companies trying to recover their higher investment costs in unprofitable apprentices.

VET training programs can take 2-4 years, depending on the type of certificate achieved. Vocational training lasts 2-3 years during which the student participates in the apprenticeship and learns basic theoretical classes. In the last year, students can choose to earn a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate (FVB). The FVB allows direct access into the UAS system, and by passing a university aptitude test, the FVB holder can also enter the university system [2]. This baccalaureate degree fills in the theoretical knowledge that necessary for continuing to the tertiary A-level.

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