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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Vocational and professional education and training comprises vocational education and training (VET), tertiary level professional education and continuing professional development (CPD). The Swiss system, with its predominantly dual-track VET programmes at upper secondary level and broad non-university tertiary level professional education programmes, differs from most European systems of vocational and professional education and training.



Vocational education and training (VET) at upper secondary level is intended to ensure the transfer and acquisition of knowledge and skills needed to carry out the tasks associated with an occupation.

The following are taught, inter alia:

  • specific qualifications enabling learners to carry out an occupational activity in a capable and confident manner;
  • basic general education that learners need to gain access to the labour market, remain economically active and become part of society;
  • economic, environmental, social and cultural knowledge and skills to enable learners to contribute to sustainable development;
  • ability and willingness to pursue lifelong learning, exercise and independent critical judgement and reach decisions.

VET can be completed as:

  • a three or four-year VET programme leading to a Federal VET Diploma; or
  • a two-year VET programme leading to a Federal VET Certificate.

VET programmes leading to the Federal VET Diploma can be supplemented with an additional general education programme which leads to a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate.

Typical of VET is the close collaboration between the Confederation, cantons and the labour market. The labour market has direct input, with the professional organisations (SQUF: Arbeitgeber-Netzwerk für die Berufsbildung) defining contents and national qualifications procedures, making available internships which confer practical vocational qualifications, and defining new educational contents.

Around two thirds of young people complete a VET programme after compulsory education. There is a choice of over 230 training professions.

The Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA)] and the Verordnung über die Berufsbildung [Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance (VPETO)] form the key legal bases for VET.


Management of vocational education and training (VET)

Under the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA), VET is a joint responsibility of the Confederation, cantons and professional organisations:


The Confederation, represented by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), is in charge of the strategic management and development of vocational education and training (Article 63(1) of the Federal Constitution). Its responsibilities include, inter alia, legislation, enacting VET ordinances (Berufsbildungsverordnungen), recognising courses of education for those responsible for VET, promoting innovation, quality assurance and developing the overall system. Each occupation recognised by the SERI is regulated by a separate VET ordinance. These VET ordinances regulate the job title, duration, objectives and requirements of VET, number of places of learning and language of instruction, education plan, learning and performance documentation, qualification procedures and other parameters relating to the vocational training in question.


The cantons are involved in the development and management of VET. They are responsible for implementing federal legislation and supervise vocational education and training. The cantons are responsible for running cantonal career information and career advice centres and for marketing apprenticeships. The cantons (and also the private sector) run the VET educational institutions (VET schools and full-time vocational schools).

The various tasks are usually performed by the cantonal VET offices, which are subordinated to the cantonal education departments or directorates or, in some cases, the cantonal departments or directorates of economic affairs. At the intercantonal level, the heads of VET offices form the Swiss Conference of VET Offices (Schweizerische Berufsbildungsämter-Konferenz [SBBK]).

Professional organisations

The professional organisations include trade associations, industry organisations, social partners, other responsible organisations and VET providers. The professional organisations define the content and objectives of VET programmes, define the national qualification procedures and organise inter-company courses as part of VET. The existence of a national professional organisation is a prerequisite for the development or amendment of a VET in the corresponding occupational field. Businesses and private individuals provide VET apprenticeships as far as they are able. Their participation in VET programmes is voluntary.


Types of institution

Vocational education and training (VET) offers the following training programmes:

  • The two-year VET leading to a Federal VET Certificate offers a federally recognised professional qualification for low-achieving young people and guarantees connectivity in the education system. It prepares young people for work in an occupation with less demanding requirements.
  • The three or four-year VET programme leading to a Federal VET Diploma, also known as “Berufslehre” (apprenticeship), prepares learners for work in a particular occupation and offers access to tertiary level professional education. 

VET programmes leading to the Federal VET Diploma can be supplemented with an additional general education programme which leads to a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate.


Vocational education and training under the dual system

VET is predominantly carried out in a dual system: practical training on three to four days a week at a training company (practical professional training) is supplemented by theoretical teaching (vocational and general education subjects) on one or two days per week in the VET school. In addition learners attend inter-company courses, in which they learn basic skills which supplement in-company training and training in VET schools. The professional skills to be learned, the curricula and their distribution over the three places of learning (training company, VET school and inter-company courses) are laid down in the VET ordinances enacted by the Confederation for the individual occupations or in the relevant education plan.

As a special form of organisation of practical professional training, two or more companies with complementary fields of activities may join together to form a training company network (Lehrbetriebsverbund) and train learners together. This allows small or specialised companies to become involved in VET.

Vocational education and training at full-time vocational schools

VET can also be completed in a full-time vocational school programme without any practical professional training in a training company. In the French and Italian-speaking cantons of Switzerland the share of training at full-time vocational schools is higher than the corresponding share in the German-speaking cantons. Full-time vocational schools include trade or business specialised schools, upper secondary schools specialised in information technology, and training workshops.

Federal Vocational Baccalaureate

The Federal Vocational Baccalaureate is an advanced, in-depth general education programme which supplements the three or four-year VET programme for high-achieving young people.

The Federal Vocational Baccalaureate can be obtained in a number of ways:

  • Federal Vocational Baccalaureate 1: through vocational education and training (VET) in a company or full-time VET school, by completing the relevant training programmes. Admission is usually dependent on additional conditions, such as specific grades in the school report card, entrance examinations, etc. The employer’s consent is also needed. This option normally entails an additional half day of classes. These generally begin in the first year of apprenticeship.

  • Federal Vocational Baccalaureate 2: after completing basic vocational education and training (VET), by attending courses for skilled professionals. Full-time training takes two semesters, while part-time variants take three to five semesters. Some institutes offer preliminary courses for admission to Federal Vocational Baccalaureate programmes. The qualification can also be obtained by taking the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate examinations (eidgenössische Berufsmaturitätsprüfungen) directly, after preparing through self-learning. These examinations are held once a year (July/August). A Federal VET Diploma is required for admission to the examinations.

The Federal Vocational Baccalaureate can be obtained in five fields:

  • technology, architecture, life sciences
  • nature, landscape and food
  • economy and services
  • art and design
  • health and social affairs.

Holders of a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate may enrol in a related field of study at a university of applied sciences without the need for any further examinations. Besides the formal admission requirement, additional admission conditions may apply, such as internships, aptitude tests, etc. If the VET is not in the desired field of study, a one-year qualifying internship may be completed in order to be admitted.

Those who pass the supplementary examination (“Passerelle” aptitude test) in addition to the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate can enrol at a Swiss university or university of teacher education. The supplementary examination can be prepared for either through self-learning or by attending a special preparatory course.

The corresponding training programmes prepare learners for the subject areas at the universities of applied sciences that are related to their vocational education and training.

In 2016 the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate rate was 15.4% (measured by Switzerland’s 21-year-old permanent resident population).


Bridge-year courses

Bridge-year courses represent an interim level between lower secondary level and upper secondary level. For young people who do not enrol immediately in a school offering upper secondary education, after completing lower secondary education, bridge-year courses are offered as interim solutions. They serve to compensate for academic, language or other deficiencies. They provide guidance and help young people make decisions on post-compulsory education, and also act as a transitional solution where there is an imbalance between training place supply and demand. Various models are offered:  alongside purely school-based courses there are courses combined with internships and courses geared to young people who are native speakers of foreign languages. The courses offered vary depending on the canton (Brückenangebote in den Kantonen). As a rule, courses last one year. 

Bridge-year courses are voluntary, some entail fees and they have specific admission procedures.


Geographical accessibility

The cantons ensure there is a demand-oriented range of courses at VET schools. If there are insufficient learners, attendance of a VET school can take place in another canton; learners are usually allocated to the VET school which is closest to the training company. For rarely chosen training professions there may be only one VET school per language region. Inter-company courses are often held in industry learning centres. Furthermore, the five Federal Vocational Baccalaureate programmes are not offered in all cantons. A list of providers of the school part of VET (Anbieter) is published by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

The Confederation, cantons and professional organisations together strive to provide sufficient VET training places. The cantons are responsible for marketing apprenticeships.


Admission requirements and choice of school

Pupils who have completed the lower secondary level can apply for an apprenticeship with a training company. The training company chooses the selection procedure:  achievements at lower secondary level, application documents and an interview generally play an important part in the decision whether or not to award a training place. Various training companies also require applicants to sit an aptitude test. Admission to full-time vocational schools is generally based on an entrance examination.

Young people have a choice of over 230 training professions (SBFI Berufsverzeichnis). The ten most popular vocational education and training (VET) programmes in 2017 covered 50% of new apprenticeship contracts (Berufsbildung in der Schweiz : Fakten und Zahlen 2019). 

The apprenticeship contract is the essential foundation of each apprenticeship. It must be in writing and be approved by the cantonal authority. In the apprenticeship contract the employer undertakes to provide professional training for a particular occupation. The learner undertakes to perform work in the services of the employer to this end. The apprenticeship contract must specify at least the type and duration of the VET, the wage, the probationary period, the working hours and the holidays. There are no statutory provisions on the amount of remuneration, but guidelines have been laid down by professional associations for many occupations. A standard national form is available for apprenticeship contracts.

The rules on the apprenticeship contract also apply to the two-year VET leading to the Federal VET Certificate.

Admission to the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate programme is decided by an admission procedure or the academic performance at the end of the lower secondary level or at the end of the VET. The conditions for admission and the admission procedure are regulated by the canton.


Age levels and grouping of pupils

Anyone who has reached the age of 15 and completed compulsory education may start a VET programme. The responsible cantonal authority may grant a derogation from the minimum age requirement.

In the training companies, learners are accompanied by a vocational trainer. The VET ordinances for the different occupations regulate the number of learners who may be trained in a company at the same time.

At the VET schools various specialist teachers teach the general education and vocational subjects.

The school-based education is provided in classes for the same occupations where possible. The class sizes (Klassengrössen) in the VET schools are fixed by the cantons (benchmark generally between 20 to 25 pupils). Classes for the two-year VET are smaller than the classes for the three to four-year VET.

Inter-company courses supplement practical professional training and school-based education. They teach basic skills. The responsibility for the contents and implementation of the courses lies with the professional associations. The respective education ordinances and education plans lay down the performance targets and contents of the inter-company courses.

In the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate classes are generally taught by professional field.


Organisation of the school year

The cantons lay down the duration of the school year (usually 38 to 40 weeks). VET programmes usually commence with the start of the school year in the relevant VET school.

Learners up to the age of 20 are entitled to at least five weeks’ leave from their training company (Article 345a(3) of the Swiss Code of Obligations). 

The VET ordinances for the individual occupations regulate the amount of time devoted to each of the three places of learning:  depending on the duration and type of VET, learners generally attend the VET school one to two days per week and work in the training company three to four days per week. They also attend inter-company courses, which are generally organised as block courses. Besides this form of organisation (one to two days of school, three to four days in-company) other forms, such as full-time vocational schools, are possible.


Organisation of the school day and week

The VET ordinances for the individual occupations regulate the duration of vocational training in the training company and of inter-company courses and the number of lessons in the VET school. A school day at a VET school may not exceed nine lessons, including optional elective and remedial courses (Article 18(2) of the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance, VPETO). Learners up to the age of 20 may not work in excess of nine hours per day in the training company (Article 31(1) of the Swiss Federal Act on Employment in Trade and Industry).

Compared to pure VET programmes, the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate involves at least 1,440 lessons of additional teaching. As a rule, a full-time course after completing the VET usually lasts two semesters, or three to four semesters on a part-time basis while working.