Doing well by the younger generation benefits society as a whole. Because the youth are our future. Foundations and charitable organisations help young people kickstart their careers and support them as they transition into the world of work. Some even make this possible in the first place.
Like a month of Christmases. Benjamin Brungard still remembers that magical moment – the one he now says felt like a month of Christmases. Receiving that acceptance made him unspeakably happy. He had worked hard for it. His career path was not a smooth one. After finishing school, he began an apprenticeship as a chef. But the training wasn’t for him, and he dropped out. He then needed another way into the professional world.
A combined model: internship and coaching
Joining Jobfactory in Basel is designed to be as easy as possible. The majority of young people are referred by the authorities. No application is required. ‘The young people just have to turn up. We offer them a job, and they tell us whether it works for them or not,’ says Daniel Brändlin, chair of the supervisory board at Jobfactory. The offer is available to anyone aged 16 to 25 looking for direction: those who have dropped out of an apprenticeship, have a criminal record, suffer from mental health problems, or who find themselves on the last day of school with no idea what to do next. ‘Lots of young people find themselves in this position. Sometimes it’s due to a challenging home life, or a lack of support – there are lots of reasons,’ states Brändlin.
‘The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority … They contradict their parents … cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.’Socrates, 470–399 BCE
He wanted to get to the heart of things by asking questions: Socrates. He used this method to challenge the public in dialogue at the marketplace. But he was declared a troublemaker and eventually sentenced to death for allegedly corrupting the young. He refused the opportunity to escape out of respect for democracy.
Those affected often have few prospects. They may have had rejections from between 50 and 100 job applications. ‘That’s really hard for young people at the start of their career. They are often at risk of finding themselves in difficult situations. We also meet a lot of great young people who just never had the support they needed,’ observes Brändlin. Jobfactory is divided into a joint stock company (AG) and a foundation. The joint stock company operates businesses in a variety of different industries, including a warehouse, a restaurant, a printing press and a joinery. Stiftung Job Training supports young people as they carry out their internships and apprenticeships. The instructors give the young people an introduction to working in the business. The foundation provides coaches who offer them support. The Jobfactory businesses are designed to offer junior roles for the young people. Three to six new interns start every Monday, and the business needs to be able to absorb them. There are currently 60 to 70 ‘juniors’ on the programme. Every year, 250 young people benefit from the Jobfactory service.
But this success is a challenge for the businesses, too. ‘Many of the young people don’t stay very long,’ says Paola Gallo, CEO of both the joint stock company and the foundation. That’s the catch. ‘Every Monday, the employees at the restaurant need to train new young people, for example.’ On average, they stay for six months. During this time, next steps are sought with the juniors; they find a place at an educational institution or look for an apprenticeship. Jobfactory itself offers 18 apprenticeships in different areas.
Good days and bad days
Before starting at Jobfactory, Benjamin Brungard thought that working was hard and had to be boring. After dropping out of his apprenticeship as a chef, he was looking for a fresh start. He heard about Jobfactory from his younger brother. ‘I thought, why not give it a try,’ recalls Brungard. He went to an information event. One week later, he started in facility management. It may not have been his dream job, but he liked the Jobfactory concept. After having dropped out of his apprenticeship, being able to start an internship at Jobfactory was a special moment for him. He did not take it for granted that he would find a job. As a junior, he had a coach to support him. ‘I didn’t see the point at the time,’ he now admits. Looking back, however, he acknowledges that it was invaluable. He had someone he could turn to when things went wrong. ‘That support was hugely important for me,’ says Brungard. ‘I could turn to my coach and tell him when something wasn’t working for me. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise.’ Talking to his coach allowed him to see himself reflected back in a respectful way, which, in turn, helped him to approach things differently. ‘Everyone has their good days and bad days,’ says Brungard. ‘I would often go to my coach in a bad mood. When he showed me that I hadn’t understood something the way it was meant, I could usually accept it coming from him. I learned a lot about myself.’
Lost in the dual vocational system
Andrea Sanchez’s journey was similar, but took a very different course. She came to Switzerland at the age of 13 when her parents took a job in Savognin. She started secondary school and learned German. But the transition period following her compulsory schooling wasn’t easy. It wasn’t that she lacked motivation – on the contrary. She was highly motivated. But she was unfamiliar with the dual system of vocational education and training, and with the idea of an apprenticeship. The charity Die Chance supported her during her final voluntary year of schooling. ‘I attended a Catholic girls’ school in Thusis,’ she recalls. ‘And I had to stay there overnight, because the journey back to Savognin was too far.’ It was a good but challenging time. Especially because until March, she had no idea what she wanted to do at the end of the school year. A careers adviser from Die Chance helped her.
The foundation is active in Eastern Switzerland, and provides support for young people who have difficulty finding a job or an apprenticeship due to their academic performance, their social environment or migrant background. Die Chance is one of the associations and foundations belonging to the Swiss-wide network of the umbrella association Check Your Chance (you can find an interview with the chair of the board of Check Your Chance, Valentin Vogt, at the end of this article).
The careers adviser suggested that Sanchez undertake an apprenticeship in industrial laundry services. ‘He immediately recognised that I like being physically active,’ she says. She agreed to a trial apprenticeship. She was new to the professional environment, and she was nervous.
The idea of a trial apprenticeship was also foreign to her, which is why she had never completed one while at school. But she was immediately won over. ‘I liked it from the first moment,’ recalls Sanchez. ‘The people, the work itself and, of course, the fact that I was always moving – it all suited me perfectly.’ The transition was far less dramatic than she had feared. She went on to complete an internship and start an apprenticeship.
Succession not dissolution
Daniel Heiz is also aware of just how much the right support at the right moment can achieve. ‘Our advantage is that we train young people in advance,’ says Heiz, founder and chair of the board of trustees of the Schweizer Stiftung für berufliche Jugendförderung (Swiss foundation for youth careers support). ‘We find out what their strengths are, what they’re good at, and together we find a profession that suits them. Then we look for an appropriate training programme.’ The foundation is particularly active in helping young people who are still at school and struggling to find an apprenticeship. It also provides support for apprentices to help prevent people dropping out of apprenticeships. ‘There is limited public funding available,’ says Heiz. ‘And there is a lot of individual support required, especially in more challenging cases.’ This is why he created the foundation in 2005. He was committed to making a positive difference for disadvantaged people by providing youth careers support. At the time, there were too few apprenticeships available. But as the years went on, the situation changed, and as a wealth of apprenticeships became available, Heiz considered the goal of his foundation to have been achieved. In 2018, the board of trustees planned the dissolution of the foundation in 2021. But then coronavirus happened. The whole situation changed within a short space of time. The implications for the apprenticeship market, and in particular for apprentices and those looking for apprenticeships, remains unknown. So the foundation is now working on a succession plan in order to keep their support for young people going. Their efforts have paid off, as the figures show: 92 percent of the young people they support successfully complete their apprenticeship. ‘We are particularly delighted every time a young person with a disability completes their apprenticeship,’ says Heiz.
Jobfactory was also founded in 2000 following the experiences of the ’90s and the dearth of apprenticeships. It was inspired by the demand expressed by teachers. Jobfactory aims to give guidance to school graduates without an apprenticeship, or those who have dropped out of school. Initial attempts to support young people in existing SMEs failed. Without a coach, it was difficult to overcome the young people’s challenges. ‘That’s how we arrived at the idea of running our own businesses,’ explains Paola Gallo. ‘What’s particularly appealing about the concept is that the businesses are part of the mainstream labour market.’ And the concept works: 80 percent of the juniors complete the programme. Of these, 90 percent are able to find a job at another company. ‘We’d ideally like to know what the situation looks like after a year,’ says Gallo. But they don’t have data on this. The young people are in a normal working environment by then. ‘To promote the long-term sustainability of the programme, we would prefer to provide a coach to support the young people during the first year,’ she continues. But there is not enough funding. ‘We maintain informal contact with many of them, however,’ adds Daniel Brändlin.
‘Pupils have in low esteem their teachers as well as their overseers; and, overall, the young copy the elders and contend hotly with them in words and in deeds.’Plato, 427–347 BCE
A student of Socrates, Plato founded the first Greek school of philosophy in the form of the Platonic Academy. As a thinker, his theory of forms was influential, proposing that timeless, non-material ideas are the ultimate reality.
A flexible system
Die Chance was present throughout Andrea Sanchez’s apprenticeship, though it did not provide regular or intensive support. ‘My adviser always checked in with me to ask how I was doing and whether everything was ok,’ says Sanchez. She completed the first year of the apprenticeship and was very happy. ‘Everything was new, and I was travelling into Zurich by train to attend the school,’ she recalls. But the second year was more difficult. Things were no longer new and exciting, and she got bored. She did not feel she was being challenged. And this is where the careers adviser came in. ‘When I wasn’t doing so well, having good support really paid off,’ says Sanchez. ‘When my motivation was at rock bottom, I needed it.’ She began questioning whether she had chosen the right apprenticeship. ‘The training was fairly easy,’ says Sanchez. She wanted more. But rather than dropping out of the apprenticeship, she spoke to her instructor and her careers adviser, who persuaded her that a completed apprenticeship was a good place from which to take her next steps. ‘They showed me how flexible the Swiss education system was,’ she says. Her positive relationship with her instructor was key. ‘He convinced me that I was good at my specialism and that I could go far.’ A close friend also helped her regain her motivation. Finally, everything fell into place: ‘School, the apprenticeship and my relationship with other people – I learned a lot of personal life lessons.’ She improved her performance again and completed her three-year apprenticeship as a textiles specialist with outstanding results. It was the start of a brilliant year. She took her final exam in August, and in September, she took part in the SwissSkills Championships. ‘It was like finishing another apprenticeship, but a bit more complicated,’ says Sanchez. And she won. Passing her driving test was just another achievement under her belt. At the same time, she was promoted to head of department. ‘2018 was my year,’ she says.
My own apprenticeship
Benjamin Brungard also had his own success story. He realised that a job could be more fun than it was hard work. He particularly enjoys the social, interpersonal aspect. As delighted as he was to start as a junior, things got even better. ‘Jobfactory created the media technician apprenticeship just for me. Probably because when I came to apply, there were a grand total of three media technician apprenticeships available in Basel.’ ‘You’re being very modest,’ responds Paola Gallo. ‘You were set on becoming a media technician. You applied for the other positions, but what you really wanted was to stay at Jobfactory.’ But there was no media technician apprenticeship at the time. So Brungard asked the department head directly if they would be able to set one up. He was absolutely determined and persistent. And in the end, they created the apprenticeship. ‘He succeeded in creating his own apprenticeship,’ says Gallo. ‘It was really cool,’ adds Brungard. Just like Christmas. ‘And I’m still doing it now.’ He’s found his vocation. ‘It was the best professional decision I could have made, and that’s a fact.’ In five years’ time, he sees himself as a user experience designer, either working for a company or running his own business. ‘It’s not a goal, it’s a plan – and I’ve already basically got a timeline,’ he says, and laughs.
‘I have no hope whatsoever for the future of our country if the young people of today are to become the men of tomorrow.Aristotle, 384–322 BCE
Our youth are unbearable, irresponsible and appalling to behold.’
As an investigator of all things, he was one of the fathers of western science: Aristotle. A student of Plato, he explored a wide range of topics, from epistemological to ethical questions.
Don’t give up
Andrea Sanchez also knows where she’s heading. She wants to combine her textiles experience and expertise with commercial services. Her aim is to study at the Schweizer Textilfachschule STF in Zurich, and she would like to start her bachelor’s degree next year. She wants to learn everything there is to know about textiles, retail, purchasing and sales. ‘These topics were touched on in the apprenticeship. A bachelor’s degree will go into much more depth and be much more specific,’ asserts Sanchez. She has already proven herself as head of department. ‘My colleagues completely respect me,’ she says. ‘I must come across as trustworthy.’ Her educational performance has helped – not just the excellent result she achieved in her qualification, but in particular the knowledge she has gained on the job. ‘They respect me completely. If they have questions, I’m always able to help, and it’s worked out very well.’ She is also keen to share the experience she gained through her apprenticeship. ‘I’m responsible for supporting the apprentices within the company,’ she explains. One key lesson she learned for herself and which she wants to pass on: ‘You need to be able to accept help. There will always be times when you struggle.’ In these moments, knowing there are people to support you and help you regain your motivation is vital. ‘You always need someone who is there for you. It’s very difficult if you’re completely on your own. But there are lots of options that you won’t even be aware of. There’s always a way forward. It’s important not to give up.’
Learn more about the Swiss Foundation for Professional Youth Development, Die Chance, the Foundation for Professional Practice in Eastern Switzerland and the Job Factories Foundation, on stiftungschweiz.ch