There’s a lot we as Americans can learn from other countries and how they set their students up for successful lives and careers. That’s why as part of my first trip abroad as Secretary I chose to visit Switzerland and witness their innovative approach to apprenticeships. There this sort of educational opportunity is not only the norm, it is highly coveted by students!
In Switzerland, the education sector partners closely with businesses to provide apprenticeships for students in a variety of professions. Two-thirds of current Swiss students pursue their education through one of the 250 types of government-recognized apprenticeships. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of U.S. students have worked in an internship or apprenticeship related to their career goals.
Swiss apprenticeships include programs for welders and carpenters, like they do in the U.S., but Swiss students can also apprentice in the healthcare, finance and law fields as well. In fact, CEOs of multiple major Swiss companies began their careers as apprentices. That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be!
Such a robust culture of technical education demonstrates three key things. First, that young people can be productive members of the workforce. Second, that businesses should take an active role in cultivating the next generation of talent. And third, that hands-on learning should not be seen as a last resort for those who struggle in a traditional classroom setting. All students benefit when they have the chance to apply what they are learning in school to solve problems and accomplish practical applications in the workplace.
There are a multitude of paths a student can pursue in higher education, and each should be seen as valid. If a path is the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education. No stigma should stand in the way of a student’s journey to success.
That’s why President Trump directed his Administration to find ways to expand apprenticeships back here at home. We joined with leaders from business, labor and education with the charge to expand the number of options to “earn and learn”, and to encourage the private sector and higher education to advance this important opportunity for our nation’s economic future. We made a number of concrete, common-sense recommendations, which you can learn more about here.
It’s true that education in the United States isn’t exactly the same as it is in Switzerland, and that U.S. companies don’t have the same experience in delivering apprenticeships as Swiss companies. But there’s still much that we can learn from the Swiss model. It’s our hope that Swiss companies operating in the U.S. will help lead the way by setting the best examples for other U.S. businesses to participate in apprenticeships. The many opportunities apprenticeships afford students are worth highlighting and expanding, and we’ll continue to do so.
Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.