On March 12, 2017, 100 CTE professionals attending the ACTE National Policy Seminar visited the Swiss Embassy in Washington D.C. to learn about Swiss apprenticeship programs. This highly popular event illustrated the strong interest the CTE community nationwide has in learning about effective and innovative CTE programs, no matter their country of origin.
The event began by detailing how two Swiss companies, Buhler and Zurich Insurance, have established apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Simon Marti, the Head of Science, Technology, and Higher Education at the embassy, described how approximately 40 percent of Swiss companies offer apprenticeships, and how these apprenticeships typically span two or three years, with students entering at ages 15 or 16 after receiving career counseling. Apprentices often earn a two-year vocational certificate, which qualifies them for employment but also puts them on the road to a three- or four-year federal diploma or vocational baccalaureate if they wish to continue their education.
Presenter Daniel Roth, an instructor at Buhler’s Apprenticeship Academy in Minnesota, explained how Buhler began their American apprenticeship program due to an inability to find employees with the necessary skills to fill open positions. Apprentices in this program work full time, receive a salary and benefits, and participate in a retirement program. Upon completion, many apprentices choose to work for Buhler, but receive a certificate that qualifies them to work elsewhere as well.
Current apprentice Isa Brady stressed the many opportunities the program offers to learn both hard and soft skills. She also alluded to the variety of paths that will be open to her within Buhler when she completes her apprenticeship, which is advantageous for her and others who are learning specific technical skills but have not yet decided on their exact career paths. She then expressed how her experiences as a female student interested in welding have demonstrated to her how important it is for educators and counselors not to stereotype their students. Brady noted that the courses she will take during her apprenticeship will position her to obtain a robotics degree if she wishes.
The final speakers were Jill Lutz from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, who described how her institution collaborated with businesses and the organization Apprenticeship 2000 to connect students with apprenticeship opportunities, Meghan Wills of the National Governors Association, who provided an overview of the programs that fund apprenticeship in the U.S., and Caroline King of Washington STEM, who highlighted the work related to apprenticeships that is taking place in her home state.
Following the program, attendees visited the nearby residence of Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden. The Ambassador expressed his appreciation for the dedication of the CTE community. ACTE president Lorri Carlile shared remarks about the importance of learning from the Swiss model and presented the Ambassador with several gifts. Attendees enjoyed drinks and dinner compliments of the embassy. The Swiss experience and early efforts to replicate that model in the U.S. demonstrate that establishment of such educational pathways is possible, and that there are many opportunities for those seeking to strengthen career and technical education programs through similar means.