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Apprenticeships vs. high school: both lead to employment, but salaries are higher with the matura

Does Switzerland allow too many young people to take a high school diploma, at the risk of confronting them with skill mismatches on the job market? Or, on the contrary, are they encouraged to focus too much on vocational training, which limits young adults to specific occupations, making them vulnerable to technological progress? The new issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland answers these two questions by analysing the perspectives for employment and salary that each type of education provide along the career path.

Based on data of the Swiss Labour Force Survey and the Swiss Household Panel, Maïlys Korber and Daniel Oesch, researchers at the University of Lausanne, show that having a Matura with no further university studies does not condemn people to live on the fringes of the job market. The rate of employment for secondary school graduates is very high in Switzerland, and their rate of unemployment is modest. Likewise, contrary to a preconceived idea, workers with vocational training are not at a loss when faced with the structural changes caused by the evolution of professions. Their employment rate remains high even after the age of 50.

Following an apprenticeship is, however, less advantageous with regard to salary evolution. From 30 years of age, workers who have got a high school diploma without higher education receive higher annual salaries than those who have got a certificate of vocational education. A Matura is also a contributing factor to better salary progression throughout the life course. This advantage for those with the Matura is particularly pronounced amongst women.

Results regarding employment for vocational training are thus excellent, but they are therefore less positive when it comes to salary evolution. Employees who only have a Matura are better paid in Switzerland, once they have gained some years of working experience. Consequently, in the Swiss job market there is no indication that there are too many high school graduates. If the aim is to make apprenticeships more attractive, it is necessary to increase salaries, rather than increasingly limit access to the Matura.

>> Korber, Maïlys & Oesch, Daniel (2016). Quelle perspectives d’emploi et de salaires après un apprentissage ? / Beschäftigungs- und Lohnperspektiven nach einer Matura. [What are the perspectives for employment and salary after an apprenticeship?] Social Change in Switzerland No 6, retrieved from

Contact: Daniel Oesch +41 (0)78 641 50 56 /

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.