Help for apprentices hit by corona crisis

Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin has pledged extra support for apprentices Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Apprentices are to be better protected from losing their jobs during the coronavirus crisis, Economics Minister Guy Parmelin has announced.

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Around two-thirds of young people take the vocational route in Switzerland and spring/summer is a critical time.  School leavers are looking for and signing contracts to start apprenticeships in late summer. At the same time, a batch of trainees will be finishing their 2-4 year-long apprenticeships and moving into the work market.

But the Swiss economy has been impacted severely by the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, leading to fears of fewer apprenticeships - and follow-on jobs - being available.

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The new government regulation, which comes into force in June, will offer apprentices more security should their companies get into financial difficulties, Parmelin said in an interview published in Tamedia newspapers on Saturday.

Companies on short-term work - a measure introduced to avoid redundancies that involves temporarily reducing staff working hours - are normally not allowed to hire extra staff, Parmelin said. But the government has made an exception for those about to finish their training, who will be allowed to stay on an extra year in their training companies.

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Concerns over places

It’s currently very quiet on the apprenticeship market, Parmelin said. In German-speaking Switzerland, almost the same number of training contracts had been signed by the end of April as last year. But in the French-speaking part of the country, the situation is more worrying. Only 40% of apprenticeship contracts have been signed so far compared with last year.

These differences are partly down to the fact that contracts are generally signed earlier in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, so many were already finalised before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

There will be extra funds available for young people who have not been able to find an apprenticeship, Parmelin said.

“So we won’t be subsidising apprenticeships in a direct way, but we will support cantonal and business organisations’ projects, for things like coaching and mentoring. These are things that work,” Parmelin said.

Importance of apprenticeships

The announcement is the latest in a series of measures taken by the government: it created a task force on apprenticeships in early May to expressly deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two studies published in May have also pointed to the longer-term effects of the crisis on apprenticeships, with one expecting a larger rise in youth unemployment this summer.

The country’s much admired dual-track apprenticeship system sees young people combine on-the-job training with lessons in a vocational school, producing a well-qualified workforce. It is considered one of Switzerland’s economic success factors.

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