Trump Administration to Get Apprentice Advice in Swiss Talks

  • Economists say vocational training keeps youth joblessness low
  • Schneider-Ammann scheduled to visit Washington July 17-18

Donald Trump’s administration is about to get some Swiss tuition on how to run an apprentice program.

Switzerland’s economy minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, who is due to visit Washington this week, will tout his country’s advanced system of vocational training as he meets officials including Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka.

The earn-while-you learn approach is gaining traction in the U.S., where post secondary-school education is typically financed by debt. President Trump issued an executive order last month to promote apprenticeships with an average starting wage of roughly $15 per hour. His predecessor, Barack Obama, signed a declaration of intent on vocational training with Switzerland in 2015 in a bid to get familiar with the country’s system.

“As I talk with businesses around the country -- small businesses, large businesses -- they say ‘we want to hire but the individuals that are applying don’t have and haven’t had an opportunity to obtain the skills we’re looking for’,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s David Westin on July 7. “Industry is eager to help individuals develop the skills that they need because industry understands that to grow, they need to hire.”

The following three charts shed light on how Switzerland’s apprenticeship strategy.

Upon completion of compulsory schooling, two thirds of young people in Switzerland choose vocational training, for which they typically spend three days a week learning the ropes at a company and one or two days at a school. They can choose from about 230 professions, with economics and administration, sales and construction among the most popular. Following three to four years of training they receive a formal degree and may continue on to higher education. Companies say the system helps them recruit up-and-coming employees with appropriate skills.

According to the the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries with vocational education programs have succeeded in keeping youth unemployment low. The data back this up: While the rate for people aged 25 and over was almost identical in Switzerland and the U.S. in 2016, the former had a 2.4 percentage point better reading in the 15-24 year-old bracket.

In addition to discussing vocational education with Ivanka Trump, the topic will also be on the agenda when Schneider-Ammann meets with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Acosta, according to the Swiss government.

Like their counterparts in Germany and Austria, trainees in Switzerland get paid for their work. The OECD says that the system pays for itself, “in the sense that benefits to most employers outweigh the costs.”

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