Fighting the lack of skilled labour
In 2008, the Swiss coatings federation (VSLF) created an apprenticeship for EFZ (certified) lab technicians specialising in paints and coatings. Each year since then, the industry has produced ten to fifteen qualified technicians for the coatings sector. No wonder that these young technicians are very much in demand.
Advertising the paints and coatings industry
Despite the program there are still more vacancies than actual apprentices. Therefore, there is a case for pointing out to school pupils the attractive opportunities offered by this industry before they decide on their future careers. One opportunity to do so was presented by the national careers fair held once every four years in Bern, Switzerland. The VSLF was not going to let this rare opportunity pass them by, even though it does not actually have sufficient staff members to run a stand at a trade fair. However, with a great deal of dedication and energy the association succeeded in presenting itself to the more than 150,000 people attending the fair.
For many young people choosing an apprenticeship, the distance from where they live is an especially important factor. Youngsters should be pointed towards paint lab technician apprenticeships at regional or local events. This is why the VSLF is coming up with creative ideas at the sites of its member companies, such as the “Stand Up Paddle Competition” on Lake Constance, aimed at bringing the apprenticeship to people's attention.
Strengthening dual education
But what can be done when professional apprenticeships are losing ground relative to academic courses, when student numbers continue to increase and there is a shortage of young professionals in industry? The VSLF has been arguing for years in favour of strengthening the dual education system. It is well aware that the regard in which society holds professional apprenticeships must be raised higher. The VSLF has already stressed this in its publication “Manifesto for Medium-Sized Industrial Companies”. Studies conducted by IW Köln (Cologne Institute for Economic Research) and critical interviews with managers of industrial plants underpin this need. The public took this appeal from the coatings industry seriously, as illustrated by the fact that the subject was covered in numerous newspapers and other media. Yet this involvement does not stop there. This spring, the VSLF held its first “Forum for Medium-Sized Industrial Companies”. This forum was composed of representatives from the fields of politics, science and economics in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Here the subject of dual education policy was discussed with representatives from sciences, politics and economy from the three countries. The aim of the VSLF is to eradicate the gap between the number of skilled workers who are fully trained and the number of such workers required. It will continue to argue vehemently on this issue.
Academics in demand
Despite rising student numbers, the industry is hard-pressed to find sufficient skilled workers with Bachelor's or Master's degrees because there are still too few students opting for technical or scientific careers as Matthias Baumberger has determined in the Manifesto for Medium-Sized Industrial Companies. The coatings industry is also dependent on qualified technicians with specialist training; for this reason it is aiming to establish close co-operations with suitable training institutions. Various companies in the paint and coatings sector therefore offer students opportunities for internships as well as Bachelor's and Master's theses. Every year the VSLF itself organises a presentation on the industry for students with a particular interest in that field. In addition, a grant is awarded each year to one student.
Challenges remain ongoing
A range of approaches is required in order to deal with the shortage of qualified technicians. The VSLF is rising to the challenge with a multi-faceted approach and has succeeded in recent years in making a small contribution to relieving this problem in the employment market. However, the challenge remains ongoing, and one that the association will continue to engage with in the future.
By Gian Nauli, VSLF