Vocational education and training internationally and in Switzerland

The fifth trend report by the Swiss Observatory for Vocational Education and Training OBS SFUVET considers the latest developments in vocational education and training (VET) from an international perspective. It shows that developments in Switzerland differ significantly from those in other European countries. Switzerland is currently the country with the highest share of dual-track VET students on the upper secondary level. What are the advantages and challenges associated with this special pathway?

The picture shows two young people standing in front of a signpost. On the signpost are the words "general education" and "vocational training".
Image montage SFUVET

The continued importance of the dual-track approach places Switzerland in a unique position compared to other European countries whose VET systems developed differently. On the one hand, many countries that used to have strong VET systems now place more emphasis on academic pathways – to the detriment of vocational pathways. On the other hand, some of the countries where academic pathways have dominated historically are now reforming their VET system. Regardless of the specific design, however, all European VET systems face similar challenges. To fulfil their core function, they must continuously adapt to technological, economic, and social change. This is the only way to ensure that young people acquire the knowledge and skills needed to become active members of society and the workforce.

Contents and key findings

OBS SFUVET's fifth trend report 'Vocational education and training (VET) internationally and in Switzerland – tensions, challenges, developments and potential' is comprised of five chapters:

Chapter 1: The Swiss VET system compared to those of other European countries
The first chapter reveals that only Switzerland and Norway have maintained a strong VET sector with high enrolment rates in dual-track VET.

Chapter 2: The Swiss and German VET systems in comparison
Unlike Switzerland, Germany has expanded school-based VET programmes as well as its baccalaureate schools (which prepare young people for admission to university), thus strengthening academic pathways at upper-secondary level. At tertiary level, the system has become more pluralised as indicated by the increasing popularity of dual study programmes. In contrast, Switzerland maintains a clear distinction between professional and higher education at tertiary level.

Chapter 3: Cantonal differences within the Swiss VET system 
There are significant differences in the status and structure of VET, even within Switzerland. Key factors in cantonal differences are the roles played by cantonal policymakers and government officials as well as by cantonal trade associations and vocational schools. The roles of the various stakeholders may differ. At the same time, each canton may pursue different socio-political objectives.

Chapter 4: Pluralisation and academisation within dual-track VET programmes
The fourth chapter analyses the relationship between general and occupation-specific training as well as the relationship between workplace based and school-based training in different VET programmes. Programmes with a relatively high proportion of school-based training have become even more school-based over the last 20 years. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of learners are graduating from such VET programmes.

Chapter 5: Conclusions: challenges and potential
The last chapter summarises the findings and discusses the challenges for the future development of the Swiss VET system.

OBS SFUVET trend reports prepare current VET-related topics for a readership comprised of practitioners, researchers and policymakers. These reports are usually presented at national conferences.