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Foreigners wanted to fill Swiss apprenticeship gap

The Swiss Economic Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, has called on young foreigners to come to Switzerland to fill a surplus in apprenticeship posts. He denied this would violate a 2014 vote to restrict foreign workers from the EU coming to Switzerland.

Around 8,500 apprenticeship places are expected to remain unfilled in Switzerland this year as the number of posts available outstrips demand. This phenomenon is a reversal of the situation of a few years ago when there were not enough places available.

Demands on industry to increase the number of trainees they take on have been met. This autumn companies will offer 94,000 apprenticeships, but the supply of Swiss school leavers is already set to leave a surplus of nearly 10% of unfilled placements.

In an interview with the Blick newspaper on Tuesday, Schneider-Ammann said foreigners should be encouraged to take up these positions despite intense political and social pressure to limit the tide of workers coming to Switzerland from other countries.

“If we give an opportunity to motivated young people from neighbouring countries we can fill these open apprenticeships,” he said. “At the same time we could gain a few new specialists after their apprenticeships. We have too few domestic professionals in Switzerland.”

And if foreigners go back to their home countries on completing their apprenticeships, “they will strengthen the economies of neighbouring countries, our major trading partners,” Schneider-Ammann added. “We would benefit indirectly.”

Swiss model copied

Switzerland is proud of its long running apprenticeship system that has drawn interest from other countries, such as the United States and India, which hope to replicate parts of the Swiss model.

Offering Swiss places to foreigners, however, could prove to be a controversial policy. Two year ago Swiss voters accepted an initiative that called on limits to the numbers of foreigners from the EU crossing borders to work in Switzerland.

“I don’t think this would undermine the initiative,” Schneider-Ammann said. “I think even some supporters of the initiative would understand if in border regions we find some young people from abroad to fill apprenticeships that have been turned down by Swiss people.”

The Economics Minister hinted that this might be a temporary solution as there are measures being taken to better match more school leavers with available apprenticeship places. “But this will take time,” he said.