The Highest Skilled Workers Reside in Switzerland – Why?

A recent Article on education reveals that Switzerland has the most highly skilled workers in the world. In an era where job growth is likely to tilt towards high skilled jobs, Switzerland is doing something right. At the heart of our skilling challenges lies an education paradigm and system that were built in and for a different era. I have spent considerable time on the need for a shift in the Learning Paradigm. Has Switzerland made the shift?

From age 16, most young people in Switzerland stop full-time education, instead rotating between school, inter-company courses and hands-on experience in a workplace setting for three-to-four years, receiving both a wage and a crucial introduction to the world of work. Thirty percent of of Swiss companies participate in a system that prepares a broad cross-section of students for careers in a range of occupations and sectors. These same Swiss employers credit its contributions to the continuing vitality and strength of the Swiss economy.

From an outcome perspective, the country benefits from a pipeline of young-professional talent, low youth unemployment in the single digits, and the skilled workforce needed to produce high-quality goods and services. The shift in what and why we learn has profound implications to education. If information and knowledge are readily available to anyone, what aspects of learning should we focus on? Rethinking the FutureFinland, which led the skills category in last year’s Global Competitiveness Report, dropped to second place this year – but is still judged to be the best country for teaching critical thinking and digital skills. Two very important places to focus.

In Switzerland, the focus on vocational training has placed less emphasis on getting a degree. Less than a third of young people under 25 went into tertiary education in 2012, compared to more than half of those in Australia and Norway, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The article states that many apprentices who have gone down the vocational training route end up with better job prospects than graduates – including Sergio Ermotti, the chief executive of Swiss bank UBS, who started his career as an apprentice at a local bank.

These shifts challenge our intuitions and belief systems – making unlearning the biggest challenge facing all of us.