Three-quarters of the people employed by the Swiss watch industry work in a technical field, which gives some idea of the importance of training in these various specialisations. This is all the more true considering the contribution the sector makes to Switzerland’s economy; it is the country’s third biggest exporter, having exported CHF 22.2 billion worth of goods last year, equivalent to some CHF 50 billion at retail prices. Watch manufacturers as a whole currently employ close to 40,000 technicians, two-thirds of whom have a qualification. The proportion of qualified staff has increased steadily, keeping pace with developments over the past two decades in a sector that takes in technical specialisations, artistic crafts and cutting-edge technology. The number of people employed in watchmaking has increased by 87% over thirty years to 58,000; by way of comparison, the number of those that hold a qualification has increased by 140%.
The importance of training in the workplace
This trend shows no sign of abating, given the need for competencies and savoir-faire in a sector that is renowned for excellence. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the competent authorities, which have carried out a complete overhaul of training in the watchmaking professions under the stewardship of the Convention Patronale de l’Industrie Horlogère Suisse (CP), which represents employers in the Swiss watch industry. Speaking at the press conference to present the reform, CP Secretary-General François Matile described its three-fold objective: “The first aim was to ensure greater consistency across the various professions in the watch industry. Secondly, we had to adapt training to what companies are actually doing today. You can no longer train a micro-mechanic, for example, as you would have ten years ago. Our third objective was to encourage dual training, which combines classroom studies with learning in the workplace.” For historical reasons, the watch industry has offered very limited training opportunities. Of all those currently employed in the sector, only a tiny 2% – barely more than a thousand people – are apprentices, despite workplace training being an oft-cited characteristic of the Swiss education system. Furthermore, close to 70% of CP’s 400 members employ fewer than 50 staff, which further limits opportunities for hands-on Learning.
Much of the onus for training therefore falls on the industry’s larger companies, although a greater share of this responsibility should soon be taken up by conventional study paths, as François Matile explains. “Watchmaking schools in the widest sense have done their job and boosted their intake capacity to such an extent that they are now almost fully subscribed. This is one of the reasons we are promoting workplace training.” Latest statistics from the Convention Patronale show that these efforts have already been crowned with success. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of persons employed in the watch industry increased by 56%, whereas the number of apprentices grew by 75% and even 150% for apprentices in dual training. Of the 472 young people who signed a training contract for one of the professions covered by the Convention Patronale, the percentage of those in dual training came to 43%, the first time this figure has exceeded 40%.
Coherent and attractive
The reform took ten years to complete. Seven professions have been renamed covering 13 specialisations (see chart). New training has been introduced in polishing and adjusting that leads to a federally recognised vocational qualification. Content is now more focused on professional skills while academic aspects are better controlled. “Our priority was to meet companies’ needs,” declared Séverine Favre, Director of Training at the Convention Patronale. “We also wanted to make these professions more attractive to young people with opportunities to study at a higher education college or a university of applied science. It was also important that we develop coherency by creating synergies and standardising procedures.” The future success of Swiss watchmaking takes shape today.