In many countries outside Switzerland, a university education is still widely viewed as the only
legitimate path to the workforce. This might explain why many expat parents are wary about apprenticeships as an educational option for their children. By contrast, in Switzerland, senior high-school, or Gymnasium, is seen as a route to employment mainly in medicine, law and
education, whereas the apprenticeship system means highly trained people for particular jobs.
Where expats come from, ‘doing an apprenticeship’ is often associated with blue-collar professions and apprentices tend to be regarded as those kids who don’t have it in them to go for higher education
Furthermore, many expat parents might not realise that completing an apprenticeship in Switzerland can be one of the pathways into university. A bright and motivated student can complete her vocational training and higher secondary studies either alongside or after the 3 year vocational training scheme. This so-called Berufsmatura (professional high school degree) leads into a university of applied sciences (UAS) and in combination with a one year ‘passarelle’ course (university prep. year) opens the door to any Swiss university just like the Gymnasium does. Additionally, unlike his peers in Gymnasium, this student has acquired valuable professional skills.
As more companies start to question the value of stand-alone university degrees and voice their concerns about the increasing graduate skills-gap, more industrialised countries are expressing an interest in the Swiss model. The UK has just recently introduced what is called a ‘higher and degree apprenticeship’, offering the same combination of vocational training and higher education as the scheme described above.
So, if you have a bright and motivated student at home who is more practically than academically minded, do not dismiss an apprenticeship out of hand!
The below account by an American student attending a Swiss gymnase (Gymnasium) illustrates this point:
‘I was 12 when I came to Lausanne from Dubai, having known no French whatsoever, I became fluent in under 2 years. I got into VP with moderate grades and am now in a “Gymnase” or high school, if you will, in a Math & Physics orientation. I’m a year away from graduating and receiving my “Maturite”, the highest possible high school diploma and you know what? I regret it. Looking back, and consequently forward, I wish I had chosen an apprenticeship. I would have gained professional experience, a great salary (for a 17 year old) and a good education that could equally easily lead me to university studies, if I wish to do them, which i now don’t, possibly after experiencing the surflux of pointless work you get in Swiss high schools. I know a lot of successful adults, both in the corporate field, or the scientific field, who started with an apprenticeship. I believe you underestimate the value and advantage of an apprenticeship, and, especially if your child isn’t doing way above average, should consider this arguably better option for them for their future. Don’t think American here, think Swiss’