Jobless time bomb ticks in western Switzerland

Learning woodwork skills at motivation classes

The well-preserved façades of the town of Vevey exude an air of gentility and prosperity, which masks a crisis facing many of the town’s younger citizens.

This content was published on November 30, 2004 - 13:53

The picturesque lakeside resort in the western canton of Vaud is an unemployment black spot.

Teenagers with poor school grades and little or no work experience are finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs or even apprenticeship places.

At the end of November, just over five per cent of those aged between 15 and 24 were out of work, compared with a national jobless rate of 3.9 per cent.

The depressing picture in Vevey is representative of the country as a whole, with young people paying a heavier price for the country’s sluggish economy.

Valentine Lagger, head of employment measures at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), says school leavers always seem to suffer most when opportunities are scarce.

Seco is predicting an economic upturn for 2005, but the labour market is unlikely to feel any positive effects until some time afterwards.

Shrinking labour market

Another problem facing school leavers is that, as the labour market shrinks, employers are asking for better qualifications, even for the most mundane jobs.

Many apprenticeship places are going to those leaving grammar school, when they were originally intended for less academic students.

The Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology Training set up a task force in 2003 to investigate ways of addressing the traineeship deficit.

This resulted in cantons undertaking new measures, such as the hiring of apprenticeship promoters, whose job is to visit businesses and argue for the creation of training places.

In canton Vaud, a special committee has been set up to address the problem of youth unemployment.

It has its own website, helping teenagers to make career choices. It also holds regular meetings to discuss the situation with representatives from schools and colleges, the employment service, motivation-class directors and professional associations.

Many cantons, including Vaud, are now allowing pupils to stay on at school for a tenth year in order to concentrate on preparing for work.

Help for job seekers

Since 1997 the government has also been funding “motivation classes” for young people looking for work.

Teenagers are not entitled to claim unemployment benefit for six months after leaving school, but they can attend the lessons if they register as jobless.

Canton Vaud has six of these centres – the highest concentration in Switzerland – where young people can get help with plugging the gaps in their education and improving their chances of finding work.

At the centre in Vevey, students can take courses in French and Maths, as well as receiving lessons in carpentry and engineering.

This year teenagers helped to renovate a dinghy and convert it into a sailing boat. They also turned a gypsy caravan into a travelling theatre with a drop-down side acting as a stage. They use this to put on their own shows in summer.

Success stories

The hunt for jobs takes place in a room with internet access and a telephone booth. It is here that youth adviser Christine Silvestre tries to build up the students’ self-confidence.

“We want to show them that they all have qualities, and that this is what makes them unique,” she told swissinfo.

Sandrine Marmet from Vauderens says she would never have found a job without the support of the centre.

“When I came here, I was introspective and felt like an outsider. They supported me and restored my self-esteem.”

Sandrine was unemployed for a year after leaving school, and applied for 70 different apprenticeships before she finally received an acceptance letter.

She recently started a three-year traineeship as a sales assistant in Vevey, and eventually wants to travel to Paris to set up her own line of cosmetics.

Finding a job

Christine Silvestre explains that it is no longer enough to send a letter to employers, who receive dozens of them every week.

“It’s important to phone the people in charge of hiring,” she says. “The personal touch means a lot.”

Across the room, 17-year-old Dean Perevia is making his second call this week.

He emerges from the phone booth with a large grin on his face. He has been promised a week’s work experience as a sales assistant at a store in Lausanne.

It’s only a small window of opportunity, but one that has the potential to open up new horizons for the young man without a job.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Vevey

Key facts

Around 30,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed in Switzerland.
That’s about 10% more than at the same time last year.
70% of students who attend motivation classes find work in canton Vaud.
Young unemployed people receive SFr450 ($393) in benefits per month.

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In brief

Canton Vaud in western Switzerland has the second-highest unemployment rate in Switzerland, and school leavers seem to be especially hard hit.

swissinfo attended state-funded motivation classes in Vevey to see what kind of help young people are getting in their search for work.

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