Assisting troubled youth enter the workforce

Will young men like these have a place in the workforce? Ex-press

Switzerland’s revised unemployment insurance law that comes into force on April 1 is cause for concern for young jobless adults.

This content was published on March 28, 2011 - 08:06
Luca Beti,

They fear losing the insurance benefits and having to depend on social security. But how can they be better integrated into the working world?

In Switzerland, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 students who complete obligatory schooling each year and have neither a job to go to nor a further education opportunity.

And there are 15,000 young people – about ten per cent of the total – who do not have any professional qualifications.

Not surprisingly, having a diploma in your pocket in Switzerland is key to getting your foot in the door of the working world as is the case in most industrialised countries. Anyone without one runs the risk of remaining without work for long periods and being dependent on social security.

According to Elisabeth Allemann Theilkäs from the job counselling office of canton Bern’s education department, the young adults at risk are “youth with a plethora of problems: difficulties at school, children of immigrants, irresponsible behaviour, dependent”. She said there was not one single type.


“These youths do not meet the current high expectations of vocational training. The working world is not very kind to them and does not even give them the opportunity to begin apprenticeships,” Allemann Theilkäs added.

“But it’s important to offer such opportunities, for example by creating apprenticeships that are not too demanding.”

The precariousness of their professional situation is reflected in their high representation among recipients of social security.

Young adults between 18 and 25 are among those age groups most dependent on such assistance. In 2009, 4.5 per cent of this age group was unemployed, a third higher than the Swiss average. And three out of four of the jobless youth did not have any professional qualifications.

While the transition from mandatory schooling to vocational training goes smoothly for 90 per cent of Swiss youth, various programmes have been developed to integrate the remaining ten per cent into the working world.

Case Management

Among them is “Case Management” (CM) professional training, a service created especially for youth at risk, designed to accompany them from the sixth grade until they are 24.

A person is assigned to help young people plan and coordinate their activities within the various educational and vocational institutions as they choose their career path and are trained.

“The aim is to grant them access to basic training with the goal that 95 per cent of them will receive diplomas by 2015,” Allemann Theilkäs said.

Canton Bern has already achieved such high results. “In our canton, of the 10,000 adolescents finishing school, only 500 – or five per cent – leave without a post-secondary diploma,” she said. In 2008, 5.8 per cent of young people between 15 and 24 claimed social security benefits, a figure much higher than the Swiss average (3.9 per cent) in this age group.

Revised law

However there is a risk that the revised unemployment insurance law, which was approved by Swiss voters last September and will enter into force on April 1, will accentuate the problem of youth claiming assistance.

It’s feared that young adults without work – there were more than 21,000 in February – will simply shift from being beneficiaries of unemployment insurance to recipients of social security payments since the reform reduces the number of days that one can claim money from the unemployment scheme from 260 to 200 days.

The law will also introduce a waiting period of 120 days for anyone who has left school or an apprenticeship without having made contributions to the unemployment insurance plan.

“It’s difficult to estimate the impact that the reform will have on the number of beneficiaries of social security,” said Dorothee Guggisberg, director of the Swiss Conference for Social Assistance.

“Nevertheless, we think there will be a 30 per cent increase in the coming years. Young adults and people nearing retirement age will be particularly affected.”

“The reform will mean that youth will be asked to enter the job market first and that will be to their advantage,” countered Allemann Theilkäs.

“Apprentices who complete their vocational training in August will receive sufficient unemployment payments, since experience shows that most have found work within six to eight months.”

She added that other measures introduced over the past few years had made access to the working world easier.

Unemployment insurance

From April 1, people aged between 25 and 55 must make contributions to the scheme for at least 1.5 years to receive 400 days of benefits. Until now, only one year of contributions was required.

In future, people making contributions for only one year will be eligible for benefits for a maximum 260 days. 

The insured above 55 years of age can receive benefits up to 520 days if they have paid into the plan for at least two years – up from the current 1.5 years.

People under 25 who make at least one year of contributions can claim 200 days of benefits – down from the current 260 days. Young adults who have made no contributions can only receive benefits for 90 days.

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Social Security

There were 230,019 people, or 3% of the Swiss population, receiving social security payments in 2009.

A third of all people dependent on such payments belong to the working poor, a third are not in the Swiss workforce (housewives, students) and a third are without work.

Social security is mainly a problem in urban areas. A quarter of all beneficiaries live in five towns with populations greater than 100,000. In these towns, the percentage is twice as great as the Swiss average. In communities with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, only 1.4% of the population draws benefits.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, the number of beneficiaries increased in 2009 in all age groups with the highest percentages among children, adolescents and young adults under 25. The growth was attributed to the economic crisis.

There was also a significant rise in 2009 in the number of people nearing retirement (56-64) who received social security benefits (2.2%) due to difficulties for members of this age group to re-enter the workforce.

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