Training vs hiring workforce. The influence of non-native workers on the development of the Vocational Education and Training system in Geneva and Basel-Stadt during the period 1950-1980

This thesis project consists of research and analysis of historical documents relating to two key areas of economic and social policy in the 1970s: Vocational Education and Training (VET) and non-native workers. The term 'non-native worker' refers to anyone who did not study in Switzerland and originates either from outside a Swiss national border (i.e. cross-border commuter) or from outside a cantonal border (i.e. confederate).

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Several studies (Piguet 2002, 2005; Engelage 2009; Wolf 2013; Eigenmann 2017) have focussed on how non-native workers are integrated into the education system or have examined issues surrounding equal opportunities or the recognition of qualifications. The present study, however, considers how the availability of non-native workers has influenced cantonal economic policies. The research premise is that all workers who did not undergo education and training in the given canton (i.e. cross-border commuters or confederates) form a kind of labour pool available to companies that are based in that canton. This labour pool offers the potential of compensating for certain market effects and creates imbalances on the apprenticeship market. The period chosen (1950-1980) is intended to be representative of the mass phenomena that transformed the Swiss economic and educational landscape: the economic boom of the Glorious Thirties, technological progress, employment of foreign workers, widespread access to secondary-level education, the democratisation of studies, etc. As for the locations chosen for comparison, the canton of Geneva and the half canton of Basel-Stadt share common geographical and economic characteristics and both have a significant proportion of non-native workers. A comparison of these two locations sheds light on how vocational education and training policies have been influenced by the presence of non-native workers. This becomes particularly apparent when comparing a French-speaking and German-speaking cantonal contexts. In line with the work of Imdorf, Berner and Gonon (2016) or Berner and Bonoli (2018), who study cantonal differences in VET, the comparison of two culturally different cantonal contexts, which nevertheless share similar characteristics (e.g. high proportion of baccalaureate school graduates, a low proportion of direct transitions to VET), enables new observations to be made.

The first part of the study describes the situation in Geneva and Basel-Stadt with regard to Vocational Education and Training in these prosperous years. It was during this period that major reforms took place at lower- and upper-secondary level (democratisation of education, extension of general education, streaming of pupils at lower-secondary level on the basis of scholastic potential, combined apprenticeships, vocational schools, etc.).

The second part of this study looks at the willingness of companies to train apprentices, how this was affected by the availability of non-native workers and ultimately led to the subsequent development of cantonal education policies. During a period of federal restrictions on foreign labour (from 1963), Geneva and Basel-Stadt were able to rely on the significant contribution of cross-border workers to occupy certain economic sectors neglected by native workers (construction, agriculture, hotel industry, domestic economy, etc.).

This historical reconstruction of the situation between 1950-1980 is carried out in the form of an analysis of the discourses of the time (Landwehr 2009, Keller 2011). The aim is to gain a clearer understanding of the arguments that justified the adoption of specific measures taken in these two cantonal contexts. Various official documents (including enacted and proposed legislation, cantonal government reports, education office reports) and newspaper articles are identified and analysed.

Finally, correlations are drawn between this historical background and current developments. This study considers the current issue of apprentices and cross-border professional and managerial staff, which is currently being discussed in relation to the topics of competition and familiarity with the VET system.

Thesis supervisors:

  • Discourse analysis
  • Economics of Convention

Non-native workers are perceived and analysed as exerting 'outside interference' (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012, 10) on cantonal education policies, which is mainly reflected in the substitutability of native apprentices by non-native workers. The analysis shows that the increasing use of less qualified foreign workers (but also their mass departure due to federal restrictions), the decreased willingness of companies to offer apprenticeships for VET programmes, the disinterest of young people in certain traditional occupations and the recruitment of apprentices from among the foreign population have all contributed to the adoption of compensatory measures aimed at ensuring the adequate availability of a skilled labour force: practical training (two-year non-formal apprenticeships), stronger support policies, improved protection of minors, development of professional training options, etc.