Social status of vocational education and training
KOF Swiss Economic Institute / ETH Zürich
2014 - 2021
Vocational education and training is by far the preferred educational path for young people in Switzerland. As a result, the majority of employees have completed vocational education and training as part of their qualification profile in Swiss companies.
However, Swiss newspapers increasingly report of the low social status of the vocational education and training system in comparison to college and academic education. On the one hand, this is a result of the large number of students attending colleges and on the other hand, it is a result of the difficulties companies face when they try to recruit vocational learners with a high level of academic ability.
From a scientific point of view, only little is currently known about the social status of the vocational education and training system, i.e., its relative ranking compared to other educational options.
The research method
In this context, the research area of educational systems at the Swiss Economic Institute (KOF) at the ETH Zurich analysed the development of the social status of the vocational and professional education and training in Switzerland over time as well as its determining factors based on a new measure.
This parameter is based on the assumption that young people with a higher social status in the vocational education and training system are more likely to select an apprenticeship - provided that the other parameters are unchanged.
As a result, the relative academic competencies of future vocational learners, as assessed by the PISA competencies, increased when compared to the competencies of future college students.
The analyses demonstrate that there was no change in the social status of the vocational education and training system in Switzerland between 2000 and 2012.
This is surprising considering the newspaper discussions mentioned above and suggests that the reform efforts and information campaigns for vocational education and training have managed to counteract a devaluation of the social status of the vocational education and training. On the other hand, the social status of vocational education and training is not the same in all regions.
For instance, young people in rural areas clearly rate the social status of vocational education and training higher than those in urban areas. As far as the language regions are concerned, the social status of vocational education and training is surprisingly at its lowest in German-speaking Switzerland with the parameter used in this study.
As a result, the relative competences of prospective vocational learners compared to secondary school students are generally lower in the German-speaking part of Switzerland than in the Latin-speaking part of Switzerland.
The competences of future vocational learners are about the same across Switzerland, while the competences of future secondary school students in German-speaking Switzerland are considerably higher than in the other language regions.
In addition, the cultural origin has an influence on how the social status of vocational education and training is assessed. As a result, it is considered to be more important for young people who were born in Switzerland than for young people who were born abroad. However, the perception of young people who are immigrants becomes more comparable with the others as they spend longer living in Switzerland.
The assumption can therefore be made that the differing levels of knowledge about the educational system and consequently also about the advantages of the Swiss vocational and professional education and training are a possible reason for the different social status of vocational and professional education and training.
In April 2018 the KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zürich, published an information brochure for professionals in vocational and professional education and training entitled "Der soziale Status der Berufsbildung in der Schweiz" (The social status of vocational and professional education and training in Switzerland) as one of the results of the research project.
The focus is on the appreciation of the vocational education and training system and its influencing factors. The authors, Dr. Thomas Bolli, Ladina Rageth, and Dr. Ursula Renold developed a strategy to assess the social status of the vocational and professional education and training system.
The analyses are based on the data from the International School Assessment Survey (PISA). They used data from around 63000 Year 9 students who took part in the PISA testing in 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and in 2012.
The students specified whether they wanted to attend a grammar school, a secondary vocational school, a vocational training programme or a full-time vocational school after their compulsory years of education.
In June 2016, an interim report on the research project was published entitled "Leistungsstarke Jugendliche stärken das Ansehen der Berufsbildung" ("High-performing young people strengthen the reputation of the vocational education and training system") in the journal "Die Volkswirtschaft" ("The National Economy") published by the Staatssekretariat für Wirtschaft SECO ("State Secretariat for Economic Affairs").
An infographic also clearly summarises the main findings on a single page.
Follow-up project: The perspective of businesses in Switzerland
The social status of the vocational education and training system as perceived by companies has a two-fold significance in Switzerland: First of all, it does not just influence the career opportunities for people with a vocational education and training qualification, but also the number of apprenticeship places offered by training companies. As a result, this subsequent research project from 2018 - 2022 investigated the social status of VET from the perspective of companies in Switzerland. The social status of VET is defined as the appreciation of VET qualifications in comparison to academic qualifications by companies, their staff and training managers.
As part of this research project, the social status of the vocational and professional education and training system (i.e., VET and PET) was surveyed from the point of view of companies. On the other hand, the extent to which there are differences depending on the characteristics of the companies (e.g., number of employees) and the staff involved in the recruitment of new employees (e.g., their origin and their educational background) was analysed.
In summary, companies in Switzerland are more likely to offer vocational education and training (VET) and professional education and training (PET) qualifications when recruiting new employees.
The final report outlines the methodology, the results, and the publications of the research.