Honoring the United States’ 1st National Apprenticeship Week

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.

3 November 2015

It is National Apprenticeship Week in the United States this week. Why? Because President Obama said so (in this Proclamation). Okay – that’s all well and good, but WHY?  Why make a big push on this now?

Because we have approximately 5.8 million jobs to fill with a need for skills ranging from software development to welding to insurance. President Obama sees Apprenticeship as one of the key ways to ensure that our economy continues to grow and to create the jobs of the future. To honor this week, I will share…

  1. An article I wrote that just came out on what we’ve been doing in collaboration with the Swiss to adapt the Swiss Model to the United States
  2. A recap of my recent experience at the Berufs-und Weiterbildungszentrum Uzwil (BZWU) in Uzwil – a school where apprentices do the academic portion of their apprenticeship – and where they’ve designed a unique method of online classes between multiple global locations.
  3. My thoughts on what the keys factors are to broad apprenticeship adoption in the US


1. My article in this Fall’s issue of Ambassador’s Review, Engaging the Swiss on Apprenticeships: Economic Diplomacy with Results Back Home, is targeted to current and former US Ambassadors.  It is designed to pique their interest in exploring the Swiss model for applicability to the countries to which they’re posted and/or to their businesses. I have tremendous respect for the Swiss model of apprenticeship and think that, by adapting it in key ways, it could have a profound effect on the US economy – and economies all over the world.   I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Let me know what you think.

2. To get apprenticeship off the ground anywhere in the world, I believe the companies are the key.  Here in Switzerland, Swiss companies recognize the value to their business and their talent pipeline.  They understand the return on investment that they get in their business as well as in society.

One of the companies who understands it the most and is applying their culture of innovation to attract and retain the best and the brightest for their apprenticeship programs in Switzerland AND the United States is Bühler Corporation.  This really shines through in their ClassroomUnlimited™ program – a virtual global classroom between their various locations.

Bühler has built successful apprenticeship programs in Switzerland, the United States, China, Brazil and South Africa. Their polymechanic apprentices do their work in the company 3 days a week and then attend school 2 days a week. What’s especially unique about their efforts is that their apprentices do exchanges between the different locations AND, even when they’re in one location, they also use video teleconferencing to do joint learning between their facilities.  They created this program in partnership with the canton of St. Gallen. You can see this video that shows how it works here.

And here are my other pictures from my visit to BZWU.

In my previous job, I visited schools all over the world – looking at their use of technology to instill 21st century skills (you can see a description of 21st century skills here). I’ll tell you – I was blown away by what I saw in Uzwil! It is not about tech for tech’s sake. It’s about tech as means to an end – and the ClassroomUnlimited system is exceptional. All in one classroom, I was speaking with apprentices in China, Switzerland, and Minnesota. (I really appreciated those in China tuning in late in their evening!). Is this the model of how apprenticeship will be taught in the future?  Well – maybe not for everyone, but certainly for some!

3. My recommendations for what will enable broad adoption in the US:

  • Ecosystems – Engage international companies to mentor domestic companies to create ecosystems
  • Permeability – Ensure that degrees and certifications are recognized  sector-wide, and establish a path not an end – whether an individual wants to continue with a company or go get a bachelors or advanced degree.
  • Triangulation/Collaboration – Enlist companies, states, and the federal government in this , because all are required to make it work
  • Prestige – Emphasize that modern apprenticeships expose people to the 21st century skills that all workers need
  • A focus on ALL students – Position apprenticeship for all students, not just disadvantaged or distressed students
  • Apprenticeship diversity – Incorporate and create registered apprenticeships in a wide range of fields