“We need to do a rebranding of apprenticeships in the US to highlight the Swiss dual-track system' of combining on-the-job training with in-class learning, says Scott Miller, seen here speaking to students at gibb, a trade school in Bern. US embassy in Switzerland and Liechtenstein
The United States ambassador to Switzerland, Scott Miller, explains why he, like President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, would like nothing more than to see Swiss-style vocational training take off in his home country.
This content was published on November 24, 2022 - 09:00 November 24, 2022 - 09:00
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Miller has worn many hats in his career. After university he worked as a management consultant, an event planner and a wealth manager. By the time Biden nominated the Denver, Colorado native to become his country's top diplomat in Switzerland, he was a philanthropist and activist tied to the Gill Foundation, an organisation set up by his husband, Tim Gill, to support LGBTQ rights.
Sitting in a small meeting room at the embassy in the Swiss capital, Miller reflected on his trajectory.“There's this leap of faith in the United States that you go through high school and then you go to college and hope you figure out what you want to be the rest of your life,” he said. While this formula ultimately worked for him, he admits that it's not for everyone.
Since arriving in Bern nearly a year ago, Miller has been championing an alternative path to success for young people, modelled on the Swiss vocational education and training (VET) scheme. Amid a heavy schedule of visits to companies in the Alpine nation that hire apprentices, Miller sat down with SWI swissinfo.ch to talk about the appeal of the Swiss system for the US.
SWI swissinfo.ch: The US just celebrated the 8th Annual National Apprenticeship Week. Why is an entire week devoted to apprenticeships each year?
Scott Miller: In the United States only 0.3% of our workforce has completed an apprenticeship. So it's really an opportunity to highlight that [vocational training] is an amazing opportunity for companies, communities and industry to grow their talent pipeline. Every job – even what we used to consider to be basic manufacturing jobs – now requires technical training and expertise.
When you look at countries with the best apprenticeship models, Switzerland, Germany and Austria are at the very top. But I personally am biased and think that the Swiss model is the best. What we can do from our mission in Bern is highlight a model that works particularly well: 70% of students in Switzerland enter the VET programme. That is a model we should replicate.
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SWI: The Department of Labor reports external link a 64% growth in the number of apprentices since 2012. But that's only about 600,000 apprentices a year for all of the US. Is progress on par with the ambitions of the administration to, as President Biden says,“train workers who will rebuild America in the 21st century”?
S.M.: Absolutely. In the United States there is this stigma that apprenticeships are just blue-collar jobs and that you're stuck doing that particular job your entire life. We need to do a rebranding of apprenticeships in the US to highlight the swiss dual-track system . The permeability of the education component – of being able to go for further training or for an advanced degree – is where the United States needs to look and grow. And then we can see apprenticeships take off.