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Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?

In most countries, young people regard universities as the best way to further their education and earn good salaries afterwards. But this is not the case in Switzerland — here’s why.

Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?
Trades in construction are taught at VET schools. Photo by Pixabay

After having rebounded well from the Covid pandemic, the demand for skilled workers in Switzerland’s labour market far outweighs the supply.

As The Local reported on Monday, thousands of Swiss companies are advertising vacant positions in several sectors, including IT, healthcare, hospitality and catering, construction and sales, among others.

READ MORE: Which jobs are in demand in Switzerland right now – and how much can you earn?

Many of these jobs have one thing in common: they don’t require a university degree but rather a vocational training, also known in Switzerland as apprenticeship.

This is how it works.

Compulsory education ends in Switzerland at age 16, when students have a choice between going to a university or opting for a three-year vocational education and training (VET).

More than two-thirds opt for a VET pathway, a three-year, dual-track programme that includes two days in a vocational school and three days getting an on-the-job training in their chosen sector.

It includes a variety of fields such as business and commercial, administration, retail, tourism, construction, information technology, arts, wellness services, as well as various trades — in all, 230 professions, according to Educationsuisse platform.

In all, 212, 347 students were in vocational training in 2020, the last year for which official data is available.

The most frequently chosen fields were business and administration, wholesale and retail, and building and civil engineering.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), 30 percent of Swiss companies participate in the VET programme, preparing “a broad cross-section of students for careers in a range of occupations and sectors”. 

At the end of three years, during which apprentices are paid wages, they receive a VET diploma — the Federal Certificate of Proficiency (EFZ in German, CFC in French, and AFC in Italian) — which entitles them to work in their chosen field.

Those who want to continue their education at higher schools, such as Universities of Applied Sciences, can do so, after taking additional courses and passing exams.

VET “enjoys very strong support from Swiss employers, who credit it with being a major contributor to the continuing vitality and strength of the Swiss economy”, WEF said.

And there are advantages for all involved: “The country benefits from a pipeline of young-professional talent, it says, low youth unemployment in the single digits and the skilled workforce needed to produce high-quality goods and services”, WEF added.

How can a student apply for VET training?

Anyone attending a school in Switzerland, whether a Swiss national or foreigner, is eligible for the apprenticeship option once they complete their compulsory education.

Once you decide what field interests you, you can look for a position as an apprentice in a company.

This database lists all of the available registered apprenticeship positions in each canton, so is a good place to start the search.

How much can you expect to earn after VET?

This depends on many factors, including the field you are in as well as the region where you live. Typically, wages are higher in or near large urban centres than in rural areas.

But as a general indication, and as reported in this article, the average salary five years after completing VET training is 5,270 francs a month.

In the IT sector, the salary is 1,100 francs above this average.

The second-highest gross median income for full-time employment is that of nurses.

With an average of 6,060 francs / month after five years of employment, they are followed by apprentices with degrees in electricity and mechanical construction” (5,445 francs), architecture and construction” (5,425 francs), accounting, marketing and secretariat (5,367 francs) and “the social sector (5,349 francs).

Lowest wages — below 5,000 a month — are in the retail and “personal services” sector.

READ MORE:  Which jobs pay the most and least after a Swiss apprenticeship?

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Switzerland and France further extend tax benefits for cross-border workers

Switzerland has again extended a set of beneficial tax arrangements for cross-border workers living in France until November, although not everyone is happy.

Switzerland and France further extend tax benefits for cross-border workers

The rules were originally put in place during the Covid pandemic, when various laws and regulations in Switzerland and elsewhere encouraged people to work from home. 

Alongside these rules, the Swiss and French governments changed the underlying tax rules to encourage people to work from home. 

These rules were originally put in place in March 2020, but have been extended several times and will now expire on October 31st. 

What are the rules? 

Under normal circumstances, anyone living in France who works in Switzerland can spend no more than 25 percent of their time working from home. 

READ MORE: Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland

If they exceed this time limit, they would have to pay social security contributions and tax charges tin France rather than in Switzerland, which would be much higher.

The agreements between France and Switzerland – along with several other countries where people resident in France work like Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany – “provide that days worked at home because of the recommendations and health instructions related to the Covid-19 pandemic may … be considered as days worked in the state where [workers] usually carry out their activity and therefore remain taxable,” according to the statement from the French Employment Ministry.

In June, cross-border worker advocates called for the agreements to be extended. 

Companies in France’s Haute-Savoie region, where most of cross-border workers employed in Geneva come from, are upset, claiming that home-office agreement makes working in Switzerland even more attractive for French workers, at the detriment of local businesses.

According to Christophe Coriou, head of the Haute-Savoie section of French employers, “these agreements accentuate the competitive disadvantage” of French companies compared to Swiss jobs — in terms of salaries, but also lower taxes and other perks.

“By emptying them of their human resources, Geneva penalises companies in Haute-Savoie”,  Coriou  said, adding that “teleworking of cross-border workers, which is perceived as an additional attraction to the salary, accentuates the competitive disadvantage of companies in neighbouring France”.

What about other countries? 

Switzerland is heavily reliant on cross-border workers, with an estimated 340,000 crossing daily from France, Germany and Italy into Switzerland to work. 

About 90,000 workers from France are employed in Geneva, but there is no official data on how many still work from home.

Italy and Switzerland signed an agreement relating to cross-border workers in March.

Germany also has its own agreement with Switzerland. 

More information about the rules in place can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: What cross-border workers should know about taxation in Switzerland