Teenagers desperately seek apprenticeships

Youngsters are having trouble finding their dream job after leaving school Keystone

Swiss teenagers are having a hard time finding apprenticeships, especially as office workers.

This content was published on June 4, 2004 - 13:59

swissinfo met up with one of these youngsters, who has been looking for that elusive job for over a year.

“In the past two years, I’ve sent off my curriculum vitae 270 times,” says Nadine, a 17-year-old from the Zurich area. “I’m looking for an apprenticeship as an office worker.”

So far, she’s had no luck, and she doesn’t understand why. At the end of her mandatory schooling, her reports were good and she comes across as an open and friendly person.

Her school careers adviser suggested she go on to college and study for a high school diploma, but she decided not to push on. His next suggestion, based on her good marks, was that she look for an apprenticeship as an office worker.

“He thought I would have no trouble finding a job,” Nadine told swissinfo.

Tight market

But in Switzerland, there are fewer jobs going than there are potential office workers. One in 19 teenagers who choose to do an apprenticeship become office workers.

Last year, 5,000 youngsters failed to secure an apprenticeship, according to official figures.

“The market is very tight,” said Jutta Röösli, head of canton St Gallen’s careers advise service. “There are often up to 50 teenagers applying for just one job.”

The situation is particularly bad in cities, affecting mainly students with bad marks, migrants or young women.

Nadine opted to spend an extra tenth year at school. “We learnt how to put together a good application and how to handle a job interview,” she said.

Her situation is not unusual. According to the Federal Statistics Office, nearly one quarter of teenagers cannot get a job immediately after finishing their mandatory schooling.

After finishing her extra year, Nadine went back to looking for that elusive job, but she still hasn’t had any luck.

“There are days when I feel as though I’m just staring off into the distance,” she told swissinfo. “Sometimes, I’m just depressed, especially in winter.”

Recurring problem

The lack of apprenticeships has been a recurring problem since the mid-1980s.

The Centre-Left has been calling for long-term solutions, but its people’s initiative calling for financial support for companies training apprentices was thrown out by voters last year.

The country’s newly implemented law on professional education is supposed to encourage companies to take on apprentices, but it does not force them to actually train anybody.

The economics minister, Joseph Deiss, has warned that youngsters must not expect to get their dream job anymore, but should take what they can find. “If somebody really wants to, they can get themselves an apprenticeship,” he said a year ago.

Nadine doesn’t want to even consider an apprenticeship in some other area.

“I don’t want to waste three years doing something I’m not interested in,” she said. “One of my friends did that and she’s totally frustrated.”

Other jobs

The Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET) is well aware of the quandary facing teenagers who can’t get their dream job, but it advises these youngsters to look at the bigger picture.

“There are over 250 different professions out there, with more appearing every day, and the job market is changing all the time,” said OPET spokeswoman Myriam Holzer.

“There are plenty of careers advisers out there to help these teenagers, and there is also a lot of information on the internet.”

Nadine says that companies don’t want just good school reports. Many of them also ask potential apprentices to supply them with the results of a so-called “Multicheck” test.

“I got good results in the test, which my parents paid SFr100 ($80) for, but it still wasn’t enough for employers,” adds the teenager.

Careers adviser Röösli is not happy about recent developments on the apprenticeship market.

“Companies even want to see these test results for internships,” she said. “They should look at the person first, then their marks.”

Or, as Nadine puts it, they should just give her a chance to present herself and say “hello.”

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf (translation: Scott Capper)

Key facts

There were 70,000 apprenticeship positions available in 2003.
Over 14,000 were for office worker positions.
There were 26,000 in the metalworking industry, 7,500 in construction and 3,000 in the hospitality business.
But there were 5,000 more potential recruits than there were available jobs.

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In brief

After finishing their mandatory schooling at age 15 or 16, around 70,000 teenagers become apprentices for the next three or four years.

The most sought-after positions are as office workers and computer-related jobs.

There are up to 50 applicants for one available position.

Around one quarter of school leavers cannot find a job, leaving many of them to consider an extra year at school.

Picture: 4965490 Getting an apprenticeship is a tough game for teenagers (SAH)

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