“The Swiss model of dual apprenticeship-based vocational education is an important reference in international development cooperation”

Initial vocational education and training
Vocational education and labour market integration of young people in developing countries and emerging economies have always been paramount to Swisscontact, representing core areas in the fight against youth unemployment and poverty. Since 2012, Swisscontact has been working with FoBBIZ (Swiss forum for vocational education and international cooperation) as a co-founder and serving on the board to support mutual exchange and learning between stakeholders in the Swiss vocational education system, as well as in international vocational education development projects, helping in their further development. 

Thanks to numerous projects, Swisscontact has accumulated over 60 years of comprehensive knowledge and much experience in this field. Two Swisscontact representatives were closely involved in drafting the recently published whitepaper Switzerland in the Global Apprenticeship Debate”.


Sandra Rothboeck (SR) (Head of Skills Development) and Sibylle Schmutz (SSch) (Head of DC dVET Secretariat) share their insights:

  • Why did FoBBIZ decide to publish a paper on the topic of “Apprenticeship”?

SSch: Switzerland has a longstanding tradition of vocational education in international development cooperation. We understand vocational education as an important engine of economic growth in a country. Vocational education helps businesses become more competitive, enabling men and women to participate actively in the economy and social development. The dual apprenticeship-based model, which closely links theory with experience, is an important reference in this regard.  For a few years now there has been increasing interest at the international level in vocational education, specifically in the topic of “apprenticeships”. However, internationally the term “apprenticeship” is understood differently, and its social importance and appreciation vary widely depending on where you go. For Switzerland, these developments simultaneously constitute an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity, because interest in the advantages and possibilities of dual vocational education has increased (once again). A challenge, because in international discourse it is about explaining the most important elements of dual vocational education and making these useful to other actors.

  • How did the publication come about and what did it entail?

SSch: Already in 2018 we at FoBBIZ decided to take on this subject. Another reason is that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with its 193 member states has been developing international standards for apprenticeships. We made it our goal to clarify the various concepts to the public and discuss the options for how Swiss actors can position themselves in the international debate, both together as a group and individually. It should be noted that the Swiss vocational education system is seen as the gold standard of vocational education because, among other things, it shares responsibility for our very low youth unemployment. The success of our vocational education system attracted great interest internationally among various entities wishing to take on the subject of apprenticeships in international development cooperation. For this reason, we organised a series of events during which various Swiss and international participants shed light on the topic and discussed it. The white paper now consolidates this exchange of ideas and illustrates the importance that dual vocational education has in discussions about apprenticeships in the context of global trends such as globalisation, digitalisation, and climate change. Furthermore, the paper explains how various Swiss players in the international context can actively engage and position themselves, and where we see further potential for working together.

  • Who are the key players in the debate about vocational education and international cooperation, and what are they doing, i.e., what are their roles?

SR: In Switzerland, the playing field for actors is heterogeneous and has been growing steadily over the past few years. Among state actors are the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in the field of international development cooperation. They see the dual apprenticeship-based vocational education model as an inspiration for local approaches in our partner countries and support corresponding projects accordingly. The State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation (SERI) is active in various committees, in particular within the EU and OECD, for the purpose of positioning and gaining recognition for the dual vocational education model. Specific projects and technical support are mostly implemented by specialised non-governmental organisations such as Swisscontact or consulting firms. Increasingly, universities are becoming active in international cooperation and contributing experts and strategic partners to projects. This also includes various Swisscontact projects. We firmly believe that through more intensive cooperation, we can better help our partner countries to implement reforms with attractive solutions.

Sibylle Schmutz, Head of DC dVET Secretariat

“We made it our objective to create clarity and highlight ways in which Swiss players can position themselves in the international discussion together and individually.”

  • Which actors, up to now, have not been involved enough? Why not?

SR: With few exceptions, the Swiss private sector is only marginally involved in international cooperation and in the exchange of ideas on this subject. There are various reasons for this: although many businesses may be internationally active, they are only interested in building or supporting the development of a local vocational education system. However, in international development cooperation, there is a growing desire for partnership with the private sector, with the goal that both businesses and the development of local vocational education structures will benefit. Swisscontact is also increasing its public-private partnerships with professional associations and businesses, for example in Kenya, through a project with the Hilti Foundation together with Geberit and Schneider Electric. 

Sandra Rothboeck, Head Skills Development 

“We firmly believe that through more intensive cooperation we can better help our partner countries to implement reforms with attractive solutions.”

  • How can Swisscontact contribute to FoBBIZ and how will the organisation benefit from this?

SSch: As a co-founder and member of the board, Swisscontact is actively shaping FoBBIZ’s activities and areas of focus. Based on many years of experience in vocational education projects, Swisscontact is bringing broad technical knowledge to the table as well as a good perspective on international trends and developments in vocational education and international cooperation to FoBBIZ. Swisscontact is implementing many projects across the globe that successfully incorporate elements of dual vocational education and adapting these approaches to local contexts. We could present these experiences through FoBBIZ to an even broader public and have critical discussions with other experts. 10 years after its founding, FoBBIZ has established itself as an important technical and discourse partner. It is valued by Swisscontact and many other actors, including Swiss federal agencies, as an “independent voice” and used increasingly as a resource and platform for exchange.

Vocational Education and Training
Swisscontact builds capacities of stakeholders like the government, training providers, private sector associations and enterprises. Together, we design and implement relevant and tailored schemes for vocational education, including apprenticeships or dualised vocational education and training, and open opportunities for sustainable and relevant training offers.