Vocational training comprising of apprenticeship in companies starts at 16 in Switzerland.

TODAY’s job market is highly competitive and feedback from employers tend to show that the potential workforce being produced by the higher education sector are incapable of totally filling up the available vacancies.

If this is true, why is it so and how can graduates be ensured of gaining employment after completing studies at the university or other types of institutions of higher education?

Technology and knowledge today develops at Internet speed so it is not uncommon for things that are learned during the course of a programme to become obsolete once students have graduated from the university, requiring them to be trained yet again by the employers upon joining the workforce.

Faced with this kind of situation, it is best that the education sector and the industry work together closely to produce the workforce required — starting from a pre-university stage, said Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) Board chairman Dr Philippe Gnaegi.

“We have a very long tradition in Switzerland where 70 per cent of students in the upper secondary education system follow vocational training. This starts at 16 where they spend 3.5 days of the week working at companies — large and small — from various industries and 1.5 days at school. The arrangement has worked well and we have a very low unemployment rate — less than three per cent,” he said.

He was facilitating a roundtable discussion on “Is it an institution’s responsibility to build industry relationships?” at the recent BETT Asia 2017 held in Kuala Lumpur.

SFIVET is Switzerland’s expert organisation for vocational education and training. It provides basic and continuous training to VET professionals, conducts VET research, contributes to the development and continuous updating of training plans for specific occupations and supports international cooperation in vocational education and training.

Elaborating further on the Swiss vocational education system, Gnaegi said the students undergoing apprenticeship are paid for the work done at the companies. Employers, on the other hand, have a talent pipeline of skilled professionals who will be potentially transitioned in to the labour market.

“The apprenticeship lasts for three to four years where students are assessed both by the state — for the education part — and also from the private sector. Students have to get two sets of assessment to continue their studies. However, they would move on to our professional universities, not academic-based ones,” he said.

“We think that not everybody has to go to academic universities as it depends on their inclination. In most countries, the very intelligent students go to academic universities. We don’t practice that and don’t believe in discrimination. Very intelligent children are also in the vocational stream,” he said.

Gnaegi remarked that both systems have a curricula and national qualification designed by the social partners comprising state associations, companies and training organisations, and the state invests substantially in research, evaluation and quality control.

“The industry and the state often meet to examine the effectiveness of the vocational education system and solve any problems should they arise. The challenge for SFIVET is to get more companies to buy-in into the programme and match the needs of the labour market, both in terms of professional qualifications and the number of jobs available,” he said.

Malaysia Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who attended the discussion, said that he was impressed with the Swiss vocational education system, how it works and intends to take a closer look.

“Of course, not everything is applicable here in our country. But the close ties and relationship between the industry and education system is commendable in terms of facilitating graduate employment. We are one in this aim — the public and private sectors — and therefore, must work together,” he said.

The roundtable facilitated by Gnaegi was one of three held, targeted at government and C-suite leaders of education institutions from around the region under the general topic of “Industry holds the key: A look into how greater collaboration between higher education and vocational institutions and companies could unlock the secret to graduate

employment.”

The session was co-chaired by Idris and Microsoft Malaysia managing director K. Raman.

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