Training, the driver of Switzerland’s continued success in watchmaking

Every year since 2010, the Swiss watch industry has trained a record number of apprentices. In 2013, 385 of them obtained either a federal vocational education and training diploma (certificat fédéral de capacité/CFC), or a federal vocational education and training certificate (attestation fédérale de formation professionnelle/AFP).

Ten years earlier, this figure was just 206. These future specialists have three options open to them, beginning with Switzerland’s six watchmaking schools. The second possibility is training directly in the workplace. The third option, developed by the Convention Patronale de l’Industrie Horlogère Suisse (CP), which is the industry employers’ organisation, is continuing education. Devised as a series of modules, it targets adults who are already employed in the watch sector and want to develop their skills, or those wishing to retrain for a job in watchmaking. The general consensus is that the system works well and addresses the industry’s needs.

Nicolas Hayek, head of the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry wasn’t a teacher, but this champion of Swiss watchmaking had a fair idea of the qualities required to do the job well: “Watchmakers have to be able to balance the time-honoured traditions of watchmaking while embracing today’s cutting edge technology. The qualities of a horologist include vision, artistry, craftsmanship, engineering, micromechanics, and much more,” as the Swatch Group website reminds us.

Switzerland is a proud proponent of its apprenticeship system which, in watchmaking, is heir to a tradition that goes back almost two hundred years. Indeed, the first schools to teach this trade were established in the early to mid-1800s, at manufacturers’ request. Geneva set the ball rolling, in 1824.

The country now has six watchmaking schools, spread naturally enough throughout the Arc Jurassien. In addition to Geneva, they are located in the Cantons of Vaud (ETVJ, Ecole Technique de la Vallée de Joux), Neuchâtel (CIFOM Ecole Technique, which has its main campus in Le Locle), Berne (CFP/BBZ, in Bienne), Solothurn (ZeitZentrum Uhrmacherschule, in Granges) and Jura (EHMP, in Porrentruy). They comply with federal regulations which are reviewed every five years to ensure that teaching is adapted to changing technologies and educational standards. The latest revision will be implemented when new regulations come into effect in a few weeks’ time, on January 1st 2015. They will apply to students beginning courses in August that year.

Watchmaking, like other branches, offers two possibilities to young people after compulsory schooling: full-time classroom teaching or “dual training” which combines classroom study with work placement. Statistics show that the first option is currently the most popular, although the trend is beginning to even out. The Convention Patronale, for one, actively campaigns in favour of dual training, which immediately puts apprentices into real-life work situations.

In addition to these traditional curricula, a third, modular scheme is offered at seven locations: Delémont, Geneva, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Morges and Tramelan in Switzerland, plus Morteau in France. These courses, which are coordinated by the Convention Patronale, have been running for twenty years now. Mainly evening classes, they address adults with no or few qualifications wishing to improve their skills set, as well as adults who want to retrain in watchmaking from a different sector or are returning to the labour market. Since 1994, more than 1,900 people have benefited from modular training and more than 300 federal qualifications (CFC + AFP) have been awarded.

It would be an exaggeration to say that watchmaking is the new big thing. However, its various professions have become significantly more attractive over the past twenty years, a clear consequence of almost constant growth within the sector and brands’ excellent image. The two thousand or so apprentices currently in training should compensate for the number of people who will be leaving the workforce over the next few years. Despite this, the Convention Patronale and the unions alike are encouraging companies to step up their efforts to train apprentices, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

adapted from

Patek Phillippe manufacture