“Strong will­ing­ness to al­low change to hap­pen”

Boris Zürcher, Head of the Labour Direc­torate of the State Sec­re­tariat for Eco­nomic Af­fairs, fore­casts a bright fu­ture for the Swiss: In­sti­tu­tions are ready for struc­tural change to take place, and the young gen­er­a­tion has a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

Bulletin - - Credit Suisse Youth Barometer - By SI­MON BRUN­NER

BORIS ZÜRCHER, 54, is the Head of the Labour Direc­torate of the State Sec­re­tariat for Eco­nomic Af­fairs (SECO). He was pre­vi­ously a chief economist at the BAK re­search in­sti­tute and the Avenir Suisse think tank and served as an ad­vi­sor to three mem­bers of the Fed­eral Coun­cil. Af­ter com­plet­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship as a tech­ni­cal drafts­man, he took the al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion route for his univer­sity en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion, where he stud­ied eco­nomics and so­ci­ol­ogy. He has been a lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Berne since 2003.

Mr. Zürcher, an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple out­side of Switzer­land worry “that my job will not be needed in the fu­ture.” Are they right?

No, I do not be­lieve that we will run out of work in the fu­ture. The fear that ro­bots will take away our jobs is not a new phe­nom­e­non. It has not proven to be true as of yet, at least.

Peo­ple are not as con­cerned in Switzer­land. Why is that?

Es­pe­cially here, the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments of the last two decades have al­ways con­trib­uted to con­tin­ued job growth and ris­ing pros­per­ity. This was pri­mar­ily pos­si­ble be­cause, time and time again, we al­lowed struc­tural changes to take place and our in­sti­tu­tions en­cour­aged those changes. Fur­ther­more – on so­ci­etal, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal lev­els – we have a strong will­ing­ness to al­low change to hap­pen. As a re­sult, we have low un­em­ploy­ment, jobs growth is sta­ble, la­bor par­tic­i­pa­tion is high and wage trends are quite bal­anced and broadly sup­ported.

You’ve said that the Swiss la­bor mar­ket has a “bright” fu­ture. What is your op­ti­mism based on?

Switzer­land is cur­rently ben­e­fit­ing from very fa­vor­able Euro­pean and global eco­nomic growth. The eco­nomic re­cov­ery con­tin­ued ear­lier this year as well, which trans­lates into a pos­i­tive im­pact on em­ploy­ment growth and a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in un­em­ploy­ment. And the re­cov­ery is likely to go on. The key in­di­ca­tors for the em­ploy­ment out­look and the jobs sit­u­a­tion are at a con­sis­tently high level. These are all good rea­sons to con­sider the fu­ture to be bright.

While the ma­jor­ity of those sur­veyed in the US, Brazil and Sin­ga­pore find the tech sec­tor to be at­trac­tive, fewer than half of young peo­ple in Switzer­land go into this field. Does this rep­re­sent a prob­lem for our fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity?

I don’t con­sider it to be a prob­lem. Not ev­ery­one can or would like to be­come a tech spe­cial­ist. True, for some time we have been see­ing stronger de­mand for tech­ni­cally skilled spe­cial­ists, for in­stance in the ar­eas of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy. How­ever,

that does not mean that the tech sec­tor is the only one with a de­mand for highly trained spe­cial­ists. Peo­ple with ar­ti­sanal and so­cial skills are also in de­mand. In par­tic­u­lar, many qual­i­fied spe­cial­ists are needed in health care and in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor.

In Switzer­land, only 39 per­cent want to start their own com­pany – sig­nif­i­cantly less than in the other three coun­tries – even though Switzer­land is known as the land of the SMES! Why is en­trepreneur­ship more pop­u­lar in other coun­tries?

Based on in­ter­na­tional com­par­isons, we know that young adults in Switzer­land are not as in­volved in start-up ac­tiv­ity on av­er­age. How­ever, more com­pa­nies are founded by peo­ple in the mid­dle years of their work­ing lives. This can be in­ter­preted as a pos­i­tive thing. Ed­u­ca­tion is ap­par­ently the fo­cus in the early years. Found­ing a com­pany be­comes rel­e­vant when the ex­pe­ri­ence and skills have been es­tab­lished to al­low that busi­ness to suc­ceed in the mar­ket­place.

For the first time, the youth have named the Fed­eral Old Age and Sur­vivors’ In­sur­ance (AHV) as Switzer­land’s big­gest prob­lem. Is that de­vel­op­ment due to the strong me­dia cov­er­age of this topic, or are young peo­ple ac­tu­ally wor­ried about their re­tire­ment?

The public dis­cus­sion lead­ing up to the Re­tire­ment Pro­vi­sion 2020 ref­er­en­dum cer­tainly con­trib­uted to the fact that the mat­ter of re­tire­ment pro­vi­sion is re­ceiv­ing more at­ten­tion even from young peo­ple. And yet this is not a case of an is­sue be­ing tem­po­rar­ily hyped up. As a mat­ter of fact, there is a press­ing need to re­form the AHV, as well as oc­cu­pa­tional pen­sion pro­vi­sion. Ex­clud­ing in­vest­ment yields, AHV ex­penses have ex­ceeded re­ceipts for sev­eral years al­ready. In light of this, it is cer­tainly wel­come news that the aware­ness of this prob­lem is grow­ing among the pop­u­la­tion and even more so among young peo­ple.

And how do we get them to be­gin sav­ing right now?

We are well po­si­tioned with the three­p­il­lar sys­tem for re­tire­ment pro­vi­sion com­posed of AHV, oc­cu­pa­tional pen­sion pro­vi­sion and in­di­vid­ual sav­ings. Those af­fil­i­ated with a pen­sion fund au­to­mat­i­cally build up re­tire­ment sav­ings start­ing at 25 years of age, and that cap­i­tal will later sup­ple­ment the AHV pen­sion. When the mat­ter is con­sid­ered from this per­spec­tive, the suc­cess­ful in­te­gra­tion of young peo­ple into the la­bor mar­ket is ex­tremely im­por­tant. There are other rea­sons why this is a high pri­or­ity, of course. De­spite the tax in­cen­tives, in­di­vid­ual re­tire­ment sav­ings in the third pil­lar may not yet be quite on the radar for many young peo­ple. The im­por­tant thing is that they be­have re­spon­si­bly over­all. De­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, one Swiss franc spent on a per­son’s own ed­u­ca­tion or fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion is ac­tu­ally a bet­ter in­vest- ment in the long term than if it sim­ply sat in a bank ac­count.

For years, ques­tions about for­eign­ers have dom­i­nated the rank­ing in the Worry Barom­e­ter, and now these have lost sig­nif­i­cance, as has the refugee is­sue. Has the sit­u­a­tion re­ally im­proved?

In my in­ter­pre­ta­tion, the ap­proval of the mass im­mi­gra­tion ini­tia­tive shows that large parts of the pop­u­la­tion now have a sense of be­ing heard. This is be­cause the Fed­eral Assem­bly also adopted mea­sures aimed at slow­ing im­mi­gra­tion. In ad­di­tion, the mi­gra­tion bal­ance has also re­cently trended down­ward, as has the num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers. All of these de­vel­op­ments have al­lowed the re­sent­ment sur­round­ing this is­sue to dis­si­pate some­what. I as­sume that the topic would again be­come more rel­e­vant if im­mi­gra­tion were to in­crease again.

Ar­ti­sanal and so­cial skills are also in de­mand.

Ac­cord­ing to those sur­veyed, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween young for­eign­ers and young Swiss peo­ple has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly since 2010. How do you ex­plain this?

When they come to Switzer­land, young for­eign­ers of­ten en­counter a so­cial, cul­tural and so­ci­etal en­vi­ron­ment that is com­pletely new to them. Adapt­ing to this new en­vi­ron­ment does not hap­pen overnight. It is a process that takes time. The govern­ment takes a car­rot and stick ap­proach, sup­port­ing in­te­gra­tion – through vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion, for in­stance – and yet plac­ing the bur­den of in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity on for­eign­ers. But in­te­gra­tion is also a re­cip­ro­cal process. The re­sults of the sur­vey seem to in­di­cate that the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity is be­ing borne by all par­ties in­volved.

You com­pleted an ap­pren­tice­ship as a tech­ni­cal drafts­man. How do you ex­plain to a for­eign la­bor min­is­ter that it is not nec­es­sar­ily ben­e­fi­cial for a coun­try to have as many young peo­ple as pos­si­ble at­tend a univer­sity?

Two-thirds of the young peo­ple in Switzer­land choose a ba­sic vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion. The dual-track vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has a di­rect re­la­tion­ship to the work­ing world. It is aligned with the ac­tual pro­fes­sional skills that are in de­mand on the la­bor mar­ket. For this rea­son, Switzer­land has one of the low­est youth un­em­ploy­ment rates com­pared to the other Euro­pean na­tions.

Is Switzer­land a model for the rest of the world?

I’m not so sure that our sys­tem can be sim­ply copied whole­sale over to an­other coun­try. But other coun­tries can cer­tainly learn from the suc­cess­ful model in Switzer­land and repli­cate in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments of it.

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