Hoch Hinaus: Aim High Together…

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

6 April 2015

Over the past 10 months, I’ve made a concerted effort to visit those Swiss companies with or considering a meaningful US footprint.  A few weeks ago, I visited a legendary Swiss company – one that is established around the world and that provides a phenomenal best practice around apprenticeship.  I bet you have been in or on one of their products. In fact, Schindler makes 3 out of every 10 elevators sold in most of the world and 7 out of 10 in certain booming markets like Hong Kong and Mumbai).  In the United States, Schindler has approximately 6,000 employees. In fact, they just recently built a major manufacturing facility in North Carolina.

For the first part of my visit, I was hosted by several of their executives – including their chairman, Dr. Alfred Schindler and their former CEO and current Board Member, Jürgen Tinggren.  We had a fascinating conversation about business growth, and doing business in the United States.

After getting the big picture, I experienced a real highlight of my time here in Switzerland by touring their apprenticeship facility with Bruno Wicki, director of the program, and Jürgen Kästle, President of the organization.  (Here’s their account of my visit.) We met some of their apprentices and I learned even more about the Swiss model for apprenticeship.  In fact, they’ve set up their apprenticeship program as a separate organization called Schindler Berufsbildung!  Their very robust program trains approximately 300 apprentices at any one time across 12 different professions ranging from informatics to technical to customer service/sales positions.  Here’s the website with a deep dive into the opportunities.

In an impressive demonstration of “all boats rise” and the value of an ecosystem – Schindler also trains apprentices from other companies in their program for the first 2 years.  Those companies fund those slots, and then all of the companies benefit from the economies of scale of having a centralized training facility.

To help students decide whether or not to apply to their program, they start inviting students in the 7th grade to tour and experience what it might be like to be there.  The pipeline is critical for Schindler’s success and something on which they are constantly focused.  That focus is especially understanding when you consider that those coming through the apprenticeship program have a retention rate with Schindler of 50% – a rate that mirrors what I’ve heard from other companies regarding the loyalty of employees coming through their apprenticeship programs.

To help the apprentices get experience with real product delivery, Schindler Berufsbildung also provides smaller batch production services. For example, we saw metal shower inserts designed to provide a small manufacturer with a recessed shelf for their showers.

On the tour, as you can see from the pictures below, I was able to see how students in their first years, learn the core physics concepts on both the mechanical and electrical side, do hands-on work creating models, and then take pride in delivering real products.  I saw a balance of students who had chosen this instead of Gymnasium as well as students who had finished Gymnasium and then decided to shift to this using a program called “The Way Up” that allows people to do the apprenticeship in fewer years.

I could probably go on and on about what I saw and experienced, but for now – I’ll let the pictures share the rest of the story.  What I will share with you as a final thought is that now, every time I go up an escalator or elevator here in Schweiz, I smile because I know where it was probably made and can visualize the people who made it.