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Reader feedback Your reactions: Do Swiss students choose a career too early?

young people at jobs fair

Which way? Young people at a jobs and training fair in Geneva, November 2018

(© Keystone / Martial Trezzini)

Is age 14 too early for Swiss students to decide about their professional futures? We put the question to our readers, who had numerous perspectives on the issue but generally felt the decision is premature. 

+ An in-depth look at choosing a career at 14 

The choice 

In Switzerland, young people have to choose at around age 14 what they want to do once compulsory school ends. It’s normally a choice between going to a school that prepares you for university and an apprenticeship (some two-thirds of pupils opt for this). Pupils generally receive career advice to aid their decision as well do short periods of work experience to try jobs out.  

Apprenticeships are considered a well-established career pathway in Switzerland (unlike the US and UK for example). They are geared to labour market needs and are integrated into the education system. Famously, the CEO of the biggest Swiss bank, Sergio Ermotti, started off as a banking apprentice. The system is often held up as a model for other countries

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Some readers voted on the question in (unscientific) polls on Facebook and Twitterexternal link, using options yes or no. (As one person mentioned, a “depends” button might have been useful). 

fb poll

poll

The result was a resounding “yes, too early” of around 80% in both polls. 

Maturity 

“Of course it is too early! They are going through hormonal changes and so on at this point, they have not had any life experience yet to make this type of decision,” said Anastassiya on Facebook. 

“How can one make a career decision when on doesn’t know what’s out there?” wondered Mandy, also on Facebook. “Not even sure how college grads can make a career choice. It should be a system of trying one thing after another.” 

Fabio, who has remained in the career of computer programming which he chose as a teen, commented that unless you enter a very specialised field, it makes no sense in the current economy “to bind oneself with a career for the rest of one’s life” especially if it was chosen by “a not-so-convinced teenager”.  

Some readers pointed out that the occupations chosen now might not even exist in the future, due to automation. 

In 2018, a study by consultancy firm McKinsey found that growing digitisation would cost up to one million Swiss jobs over the next 12 years and that automation would mainly take the place of manual labour, office and retail workers. It did also note, however, that some jobs would be created as a result of digital technology.

What do the numbers say? 

Reader Mark wondered if there were any statistics to back up the assertion that choosing a profession at age 14 worked out fine. 

For this, we went back to Jürg Schweriexternal link, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute for Federal Education and Trainingexternal link. He said one example would be the Swiss Education Report 2018external link, which found that 80% of young people said that they had found an apprenticeship exactly in the occupation they wanted,

Of course, young people might be overly positive about their experiences, but there are hard facts as well, like Switzerland’s good labour market outcomes, Schweri said. From these, there is no indication that apprenticeship graduates suffer any disadvantage on the labour market due to their early choice.  

And even if you do change course later on, a recent studyexternal link by Schweri and his colleagues found that there was no wage penalty for working in an occupation for which you were not originally trained. 

Changing course 

Reader Tru believes that Switzerland offers a lot of help if you change your mind, especially as you can attend university after doing an apprenticeshipexternal link

“This is what is great about Switzerland. Unlike in the United States, where one is doomed if they cannot enter an ivy league university,” Tru wrote. 

Swiss education system: how it works 

This graphicexternal link shows the options available in the Swiss education system, including how to move to university after doing an apprenticeship.

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The Swiss system is known for its permeability. But commenter Texswiss thought that moving sideways to another apprenticeship could be made a bit easier. 

This aspect was also mentioned by careers guidance counsellor Daniel Reumillerexternal link in our original article. He said there were moves underway to improve the situation, by making training more modular.

Three jobs in three professions

Reumiller also noted that changing professions is not uncommon.

“We generally say that people nowadays will have three different jobs in three different areas during their working lives”.

As is the case in other countries, most career changes in Switzerland occur after working for a few years. For example, someone with a technical apprenticeship may move on to project management and seek a diploma in this field.

Pupils receive lots of career guidance before they make up their minds at 14. The possibility of changing careers aspect is also addressed, Reumiller said, in terms of explaining how the education system works and the need to adapt to the changing requirements of the labour market.

Students are not told in detail how they might change careers later, because “it’s difficult enough to choose what to do” at that age, Reumiller explained. But “it’s important they know it’s possible and also that their parents know,” he said.

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