Swiss apprenticeship model makes inroads in India

Around 65% of Swiss youth choose an apprenticeship over university Keystone

Switzerland’s ambassador to India, Linus von Castelmur, is flying the flag for the Swiss apprenticeship model in India. By highlighting the link between vocational education and innovation, he hopes to make apprenticeships an important component of India-Swiss bilateral cooperation. 

This content was published on July 5, 2015 - 11:00

Following on from a pilot project that saw several thousand people trained using the Swiss vocational education training (VET) model, Swiss companies in India also plan to offer an apprenticeship programme to recruit specialised staff. One in three Indian graduates between the ages of 15 to 24 is unemployed. Is it time for Indians to give up this obsession with university degrees? 

Linus von Castelmur: In India it is easy to find highly qualified engineers and good committed workers. The difficulty is to find skilled technicians and medium lever workers. An economy needs skilled electricians, carpenters, plumbers, etc. Skills which can be more important than certificates. 

Switzerland's ambassador to India, Linus von Castelmur DSFA What are the key benefits of the Swiss vocational education training (VET) model? 

L.V.C.: The Swiss VET model enables young people to enter the labour market with exploitable skills and ensures that Switzerland has enough qualified workers and managers in the future. It ensures that the skills being taught are those that are needed by Swiss industry by closely involving industry in the system. Around 65% of Swiss youth enroll in an apprenticeship programme but in India vocational education is only seen as a low-paying option for those who couldn’t get a place in a university. How can VET overcome this image problem? 

L.V.C.: Indian society is evolving at a rapid pace today and access to education and increasingly, higher education, for their children is an aspirational goal for all parents, as a university degree is equated with better prospects in life. The target in India is to increase the percentage of youth studying in universities to 30% by the year 2020, which would mean having 40 million students in the university system. 

All skill development programmes should try and inculcate two principal values in the apprentices that are trained - values that are immaterial, such as the desire to improve one’s competences and self-worth and values that are material, such as the desire to be able to command a higher salary, which leads to a better quality of life. The Indian government is promoting its ‘Make in IndiaExternal link’ initiative to attract foreign companies to manufacture in India. Shouldn’t it also be promoting vocational education to ensure these companies have access to skilled labour? 

L.V.C.: India has an ambitious programme to train 500 million people by the year 2022. A ministry dedicated to skills development and entrepreneurship has been created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the federal level to coordinate these efforts. 

An incentive system to encourage people to get relevant training in their areas of occupation has been put in place. Elements of vocational education have already been introduced in school curricula. An outcome-based national skills qualification framework has been adopted by the Indian Government. These are some of the steps that are being taken to make VET more attractive in India. A four-year pilot project called the Swiss VET Initiative India was launched in 2008 to test if the Swiss model could work for Swiss companies in India. Was the experiment a success? 

L.V.C.: The experiment has been successful. It showed that that the transfer of elements of the Swiss dual-track approach to VET to other countries without a corresponding VET tradition is indeed possible. Some 4,000 people have been trained through the project to date. Swiss companies based in India have recently announced plans to offer a four-year apprentice programme in manufacturing to meet their workforce needs. Why is it so difficult for them to find qualified employees in India? 

L.V.C.: Some 220 Swiss companies employ approximately 100,000 people in India, so finding the right talent is really not an issue. The Centre of Excellence in Pune is really to train young people who would benefit from highly specialised training and who could be potential future employees of Swiss companies. When we think of innovation we imagine scientists, entrepreneurs, IT experts and government leaders. How important are apprentices for Swiss innovation? 

L.V.C.: Switzerland has topped the Global Innovation Index for the last four years and this has been possible due to the efforts of everybody, including the apprentices. You have designated 2015-16 as the ‘Year of Swiss Innovation in India’. Is the Swiss embassy highlighting the links between innovation and vocational education in the country? 

L.V.C.: The Swiss VET system is an innovative model in itself and many foreign countries have shown a keen interest in learning and perhaps implementing elements of it in their own skill development systems. 

In June 2015 we organised a Swiss vocational education and training day at the Swiss embassy, which was, after the passage of the Swiss experimental airplane Solar Impulse, the first major event of the Swiss Year of Innovation in India. The objective was to showcase the Swiss VET model and Switzerland’s expertise in this field and to present specific initiatives of Swiss skill development in India. 

Amongst the speakers were the three personalities who drive the skills development effort in India: Rajiv Pratap Rudy, minister of state for skills development and entrepreneurship, Subramaniam Ramadorai, chair of the national skills development agency and Dilip Chenoy, CEO of the national skills development corporation. Has the Indian government shown any signs that it is interested in scaling up the Swiss apprenticeship model? 

L.V.C.: The Swiss apprentice model has been discussed by Swiss Economics Minister [Johann] Schneider-Amman and Indian Minister of State for Skills Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy during the former’s visit to India in May this year. Both sides appreciate the excellent results of the Swiss VET Initiative India and have agreed to initiate a dialogue to put in place an Indo-Swiss joint working group on skill development. How does the Swiss apprenticeship system help Swiss diplomacy abroad? 

L.V.C.: VET is of great importance for Switzerland and also in its international cooperation efforts. Switzerland is interested in strengthening the visibility and reputation of its education system in general and VET in particular in the international context. 

Countries like India that set relevant education standards or are important economic partners are particularly in focus. One measure in the field of international cooperation is the transfer of expertise, if there is an interest on both sides for contacts, consulting and services or cooperation projects. Switzerland’s contribution to skills development in India is rapidly becoming an important part of our bilateral cooperation.

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