Swiss firms feel heat in "war for talent"

2,000 more watchmakers are needed Keystone

A major shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland is frustrating many businesses as they look to cash in on the expanding global economy.

This content was published on January 10, 2007 - 08:07

Employment specialists Manpower Switzerland say more than half of Swiss companies are struggling to recruit suitable candidates to fill vacancies.

"We are now seeing a big shortage of qualified personnel in certain areas," country director Charles Bélaz told swissinfo. "This started last year in the technical and finance sectors."

The Swiss engineering industry announced in October that it was facing a shortfall of at least 1,500 skilled workers and perhaps as many as 5,000.

Bélaz warned that as long as the economy continued to grow, the situation would only get worse owing to demographic changes. Lower birth rates mean the talent pool in Switzerland is likely to remain small.

"This will become a serious problem within the next five years," said Bélaz.

The situation is not being helped by the country's traditionally low unemployment rate. On Monday the economics ministry announced that this fell for the second year in a row, dropping half a point to 3.3 per cent in 2006.

Manpower said the falling jobless figure was exacerbating the "acute" situation in Switzerland. Bélaz said last year the recruitment agency had already been forced to go looking for qualified staff in France, Germany and Italy.

But he predicted that this resource would dry up in the near future as neighbouring countries became caught up in their own "war for talent".

Talent contest

Michael Agoras, managing director of Adecco Switzerland, said it too was having to cast its net ever wider. He pointed out that the recruitment firm was increasingly using the internet and targeting jobs fairs across Europe to corner talent.

Agoras said the main demand at present was for highly qualified finance personnel, research and development specialists, and watchmakers.

"I expect this situation to continue throughout the year. But it is not only down to the economic situation; the marketplace in Switzerland has changed," he said. "The past five years have seen greater demand for white-collar workers than blue-collar workers."

At its annual press conference in October last year, Geneva's banking and financing sector warned that it was already finding it hard to recruit sufficient qualified personnel.

Steve Bernard, managing director of the Geneva Financial Center, said on Tuesday that the rapid expansion of the city's banking sector over the past two years had raised demand for talent, both in the trade finance and the asset management business.

He singled out the commodity sector as one area where managers increasingly had to shop abroad for staff.

"The search for talent is now a global business," he said. "Banks in Switzerland and Geneva are in competition with places like London, New York and Singapore."

According to Le Temps newspaper, Switzerland's leading banks Credit Suisse and UBS are looking for up to 600 and 700 staff respectively.


Engineering giant ABB has also been feeling the pinch. Last year it turned to China and India for skilled workers to fill 100 vacancies.

Other engineering companies such as Sulzer and Georg Fischer are also experiencing problems recruiting the right staff.

The Swiss watchmaking industry is after an additional 2,000 workers to cope with the rise in demand for luxury goods.

Fully trained watchmakers, technicians and other specialists are in short supply and employers are looking abroad, creating special training programmes and asking employees to stay on beyond retirement age.

Manpower's Bélaz said firms needed to face up to the changes in the labour market by persuading people to keep working longer, taking on more women and offering retraining courses.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

During the economic recession of the 1990s, the number of jobless rose dramatically in Switzerland, reaching 5.7% in February 1997.

A gradual upturn in the economy at the end of the 1990s caused the unemployment rate to fall to 1.7% in 2001.

Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 3.3% last year.

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