On the 18-21 June I’m taking a four day break from being Policy Officer for IfL, and will be in Switzerland for a ‘study and media trip’, reporting exclusively for FE Week

Each day I will be posting snippets from the trip on this web page, so stay tuned.

Also follow the #FEweekontour hash-tag


Tuesday 19th June, 11.00pm (10.00pm GMT)

What a day!

What’s clear from day 1 is that you can’t help but be impressed with the Swiss set-up for apprenticeships. In fact, as a write this I’m actually slightly jealous and not for the reasons you might think. Today I’ve learned about the infrastructure which enables the apprenticeship system to work effectively. All of this I’m looking forward to going in to more detail on my return, but it’s not the impressive participation figures – both of learners and of employers, that’s got me thinking. It’s not the smooth and apparantly bias-free progression routes in to higher and professional education or even the country’s below-OECD-average youth unemployment rate.

The most staggering difference between the UK and Swiss apprenticeship system that I’ve come across is how embedded vocational education and training is in Swiss society. Forgetting for a moment the technicalities and thinking specifically about policy and culture, today’s Swiss vocational education and training system is the result of over 100 years of development and is now seems an almost effortless part of life. The country’s political system is such that a new administration can not simply overhaul and reform every four years. The system is not littered with for-profit organisations and layer upon layer of administration. Power and funding is not centralised but the qualifications framework is. Even one of the country’s seven Ministers (the majority of whom are women for the first time by the way) is a former apprentice.

Switzerland is the perfect example of where success can be achieved by politicians staying well away and letting the system evolve.

I want to save most of the detail for my full FE Week write up but I want to leave you with this. This morning at the Federal Office for Professional Education and Training, the Swiss equivalent of BIS, I saw the jaws of 10 UK FE representatives hit the floor. Four years ago, demand for apprenticeships exceeded supply – there wasn’t enough to go around. There weren’t enough jobs for young people (sound familiar?) In 2011 though, there were 90,000 apprentices for 93,500 available jobs. In such a short space of time, the Swiss vocational education and training system had clicked in to gear and delivered for its young people. Just hearing the words, “plenty of jobs to go around” sounded odd to me, like seeing people smoking indoors.

Tomorrow is all about seeing the system where the power is – at the cantons (local authority equivalent). One of the major differences between the UK and Swiss system is the power that cantons have over their local economy, very much including the vocational, higher and professional education and training landscape.

Until tomorrow – and don’t forget to follow what I’m up to on #FEweekontour on twitter.


Tuesday 19th June, 7.15am (6.15am GMT)

Arriving in Switzerland yesterday afteroon was a shock for a couple of reasons. Firstly on landing, when the pilot announced that the ground temperature in Zurich was a toasty 30 degrees celcius my thoughts turned immediately to what is easily the most unprepared packed suitcase possible.

The second, and more serious, concern of mine is this. This trip has been funded entirely through the Swiss Government, their foreign office to be precise. “Nation branding” is a big deal for Switzerland and flying over 10 of us can’t have been cheap. So my job now is to try to do the Swiss tax payer justice.

My colleagues on the trip come from quite an arrray of backgrounds and specialities ranging from a social entrepreneur, a couple of UKCES commissioners, a sector skills council representative, a journalist, an SME expert and none other than the Chief Exec of the National Apprenticeship Service. Anyone would think this was the new series of Skins. (#FEparty)

So this is what day 1 looks like for me. In about an hour we’re heading to the Swiss Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology, which is a bit like the Swiss BIS, for an overview of the Swiss Skills system. Expect lots of #facts later on today.

Already I’ve learned that 2/3 of young people in this country do an apprenticeship.

What I’m really looking forward to today is our visit to the Swiss Co-ordination Centre for Research in Education where we find out about cost / benefit for companies in taking on apprentices -figures used with gusto by UK Ministers. With such a higher proportion of young people taking on apprenticeships here, I’d imagine economic benefits for employers are probably better articulated.

Anyway I’m off now to try and figure out I can salvage from my suitcase which will prepare me for a) the heat and b) an apparant thunder storm later today. Any advice please tweet me at @shanechowen.

PS: The picture attached is my view from my hotel in Bern this morning.


By Shane Chowen

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  1. Paul Eeles

    To be fiar it is the best photo of Shane FE week have published! they have taken of really naff ones of him, so either it is air brushed big time or the phtographer has uped his game…..I’m thinking the latter!