Apprenticeship terminations remain a taboo

Hairdressing is an apprenticeship with a high early drop out rate Keystone

Even though two-thirds of young people in Switzerland go into vocational training – a highly-praised system – the drop-out rate has, until now, been rarely publicised.

This content was published on September 29, 2016 - 11:00

Between 20- 25% of apprenticeships are currently terminated prematurely in Switzerland. This happened to Luca Catani (see related), who endured bullying and tough working conditions in his catering apprenticeship.

A change in company hands gave him the chance to move on. “I could draw a line under it and say it was very hard, sometimes horrible. I had to change companies but at the end I made the best of it and I am now very happy,” he told

Catani was one of the former apprentices speaking about their experiences at a conferenceExternal link held in Bern earlier this month to mark the launch of the first ever national trend report into early apprenticeship drop outs.

The reportExternal link, conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET), found that most terminations took place in the first year of training.

The good news was that 50-77% of learners resumed their training within two to three years of dropping out. 

But around 10% of young people never gained a qualification, leading to an estimated loss of CHF300,000 ($308,000) in income over their lifetimes, according to figures cited by the report. These people are also more likely to be on welfare and thus incur costs to the state (estimated at CHF150,000 per person during their lifetime).

Interestingly the costs to the companies for early contract terminations was found to be relatively low at on average CHF1,000 per apprentice.

Who and why?

Young men tend to drop out more than young women, says Irene KriesiExternal link, a sociologist and lead author of the study.

People with a migration background were also more affected in some types of apprenticeships.

“One reason may be the language problem. Young people in VET programmes also have to spend one to two days at a vocational school, so you also have to perform academically. Language and academic performance certainly play a role in succeeding at school,” Kriesi explained.

She cites another studyExternal link which found that young people with a migration background were on average less satisfied with their training conditions, which applied to young people from ex-Yugoslavia, Turkey and southern Europe in particular. Kriesi thinks there may be cases of discrimination based on country of origin.

Occupations in the catering industry – like in Catani’s case - and hairdressing, also showed higher dropout rates. Irregular working hours, and pressured environments are contributing factors in gastronomy. For hairdressing, people may often not realise that it can be quite physically demanding (a lot of standing) and that you  have to handle chemicals. 

Employers’ responsibility

Dropping out is not always due to the apprentice, or social conflicts at the workplace, the report concluded. Employers, particularly smaller firms, may not always offer very good training conditions.

External Content

“We know from Germany that large companies have professionalised training and education and they offer on average better training conditions,” Kriesi said.

The study recommends a better matching between young people and companies through giving apprentices more information about the company and occupation they want to train in.

Companies with high dropout rates should also be targeted for improvement, as should the professions with higher contract termination rates, the authors state.

Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss employers’ associationExternal link, who gave a key note speech at the conference, said it was good to talk about early apprenticeship terminations, which remained a taboo issue.

Too early to say?

Conclusions were still being drawn from the report’s data, he said. “At this point to say there are regions or professions where you have a problem is too early,” Vogt told, referring to the fact that the French-speaking part of Switzerland was found to have a higher dropout rate than the German-speaking part.

Schools must help pupils chose the right careers, he suggested, but parents, training companies and the authorities must also play their part in supporting young people.

In addition, trainees must not be made to feel like failures if they drop out. There are often many factors behind such a decision, said Vogt, who has himself trained many young people in his careerExternal link. A contract termination can be hard personally for employers as well, he said.

Kriesi said that some drop outs are inevitable, especially as young people have to make up their minds, aged just 14 to 16, about their careers. “To a certain extent, trial and error is also simply necessary, because if a young person only realises once they are in the job that it is not for them, it may sometimes make more sense to terminate early and look for something else instead.” 

The studies

The trend reportExternal link on the frequency, causes and consequences of early apprenticeship contract terminations was carried out by the Swiss Observatory for Vocational Education and Training (OBS SFIVET), a new competence centre that analysis trends in the VET field.

As part of the report, the authors looked at training outcomes for a cohort of young people who began a two-year VET programme for a Federal VET Certificate in 2012. The VET statistics were compiled by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). The stand-alone report External linkinto these statistics was published on August 29, 2016. 

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Have you had a change of apprenticeship? Let us know your experiences.

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