(SFIVET, Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training)

Two-year apprenticeships – fostering learning opportunities and employability of low achieving youth

Preparing young people for the labour market and facilitating their successful transition from school to work is becoming more and more important in modern society. Apprenticeships have been seen as a form of vocational education and training (VET), which fosters young peoples’ employability and ensures smooth school-to-work pathways in general, and a good means to integrate learners with lower school achievements in the labour market in specific (cf. Raffe 2008). This paper studies the introduction of a new form of two-year apprenticeships in comparison with the long existing traditional apprenticeships in Switzerland (Kammermann, Stalder, and Hättich in press).

Since 2004, there are two types of apprenticeships in Switzerland: three- to four-year apprenticeships for the better achieving youth, that lead to a Federal VET Diploma (CFC, certificat fédéral de capacité); and the new two-year apprenticeships for the lower achieving youth that lead to a Federal VET Certificate (AFP, attestation fédérale de formation professionnelle), which focus on practical activities and include support measures if needed (Swiss Confederation 2002; OPET 2005; 2007).
Both types of apprenticeship programmes are standardised at national level. Both are regulated by ordinances that are individually set up for every occupation.
Swiss educational policy aims to ensure that by 2015 95 per cent of all youths accomplish a post-obligatory education qualification at upper secondary level (Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education 2006). The introduction of a new two-year apprenticeship can be seen as one measure to achieve this aim and to optimise the transition from school to work for all young people – including those with low academic achievements.

In our paper, we will discuss two assumptions related to the introduction of this two-year apprenticeship:

1) creating favourable learning opportunities for lower achieving youth,

2) fostering employability for young people with a Federal VET Certificate and providing possibilities for upward mobility to three-year-apprenticeships within the VET-system.


Three groups of apprentices are studied in a comparative perspective: 1) apprentices from two-year apprenticeships, who finished lower secondary education in a special needs school track, 2) apprentices from two-year apprenticeships with a regular school background, and 3) apprentices from three-year apprenticeships with a regular school background.
The data are taken from two Swiss longitudinal studies: The VET Certificate-Career Study studied the school-to-work pathways of apprentices of the first two-year apprenticeship with Federal VET Certificate in the retail sales and hotel sector in 2007. Apprentices (N=289) were surveyed at three points in time (just before graduation, 14 months after graduation, and 30 months after graduation).
The second data set (N=118) is based on the study TREE, that analysed post-compulsory pathways of over 6.000 young people in the years 2000 to 2010. Again, data from three measurement points were used.


1) Favourable learning opportunities
Our results attribute the two-year apprenticeship to be a suitable training, meeting the learners requirements.

2) Employability and upward mobility
Our results confirm medium-term employability for all three groups of apprentices and upward mobility for apprentices with regular school background.

In general, it can be concluded that the two-year apprenticeship seems to be a promising model of training. However, special attention has to be given to the least successful learners and the long-term occupational success of young people with VET Certificate.

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