Basic vocational education and training

The Swiss VET (vocational education and training) system provides young people with an initial foothold in the job market. The dual system of vocational education and training (apprenticeship), which combines learning in the workplace and in a vocational school, provides a direct link to the world of work. The types of education and training offered are geared to actual demand for vocational qualifications and to the jobs that are available.

Watchmaking apprentices at work
Apprentices acquire practical skills in the competitive business environment of an apprenticeship with a firm. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

In Switzerland, around two-thirds of young people learn a trade after compulsory schooling. This basic VET at upper-secondary level – an apprenticeship – begins at the age of 15 and is usually completed at 18 or 19. With this practice-oriented basic education, Switzerland differs from education systems abroad, which typically provide a general academic route.

The dual system: an apprenticeship with a firm

The predominant form of VET in Switzerland is the dual system: the apprentices work three to four days a week in a firm, learning the trade in practice; the rest of the time they attend a vocational school where they acquire the theoretical knowledge. Inter-company training is also provided. Throughout their training, the apprentices receive a salary from the firm where they are employed.

Courses for around 230 officially recognised professions are available. The most popular apprenticeships in 2017 were:

  • commercial employee
  • healthcare worker
  • retail employee
  • social care worker
  • IT worker
  • electrician
  • logistician
  • cook

The courses last for two, three or four years, depending on the profession. After passing their final examination, apprentices receive a Federal VET Diploma or a Federal VET Certificate, both of which are recognised throughout Switzerland.

The federal vocational baccalaureate: paving the way to a university of applied sciences

The federal vocational baccalaureate (FVB) supplements basic vocational education and training with a broader academic education. The extra lessons typically last an additional half day per week and start in the first year of the apprenticeship. Admission is subject to a number of conditions, such as school grades, entrance examinations and the consent of the employer. The course is completed by passing the FVB examination, a qualification which entitles students to access a related field of study at a university of applied sciences.

Low youth unemployment thanks to close links with the job market

A major feature of Swiss VET is its close links with the job market. Education and training is geared to the actual demand for vocational qualifications and to the jobs available. These direct links mean that Switzerland has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates compared to other countries.

Switzerland's VET/PET system is characterised by a high degree of permeability: students may decide to pursue different directions during their basic and advanced training and even change career with relative ease.