Closing the Swiss talent gap: Looking abroad or enabling from the inside?

Closing the Swiss talent gap: Looking abroad or enabling from the inside?

According to the latest Adecco Group report, the job market in Switzerland remains resilient, and the future outlook is very positive. On top of that, the country has the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years – 2.2%. This speaks volumes about Switzerland expertly navigating a strong economy and solid labour market. But, the country’s changing demographics and growing talent gap signal challenges with finding workers.

Beatrice Kohler, European Midmarket Business Lead

The Swiss vacancies span various sectors, including manufacturing, health, commerce, hospitality, and IT, which makes finding a fit-for-all solution to the talent gap almost impossible. Some experts point to the foreign candidate market as a remedy, while others focus on enabling and upskilling local talent. Let’s explore.

Impact of language availability on the Swiss talent market

Adecco’s analysis of language demand in Swiss job ads reveals that most vacancies require knowledge of German (87%), followed by English (32%), French (23%), and Italian (4%). Notably, more than a third of adverts mention two or more language combinations as a preferred option, which makes finding an ideal candidate even more difficult.

While some may argue that this language coverage is a natural reflection of Swiss demographics and it shouldn’t be a challenge to find people speaking various languages in-country, it’s not as simple as that. Such candidates are there and up for grabs, but there’s not enough of them. The Swiss population is ageing and undergoing a big wave of baby-boomer retirement. The young worker pool of graduates currently entering the workforce is too scarce to cover the massive job demand.

So what can be done? There are a few options to consider.

Facilitating cross-border labour

The World Economic Forum recently released its 2023 unemployment forecast. While a few countries, Switzerland included, project the lowest unemployment figures in many years, others expect rates of close to 10%. While a challenge for people in struggling economies, this opens expanded pools of offshore candidates for countries experiencing labour gaps – one’s loss can be another’s gain. For example, French workers (facing a projected unemployment rate of 7.6%) or Italians (with unemployment of 9.4%) can be tapped to cover Swiss language requirements. Given that the share of jobs increased the most in Switzerland’s Latin-speaking regions (+11%), finding a reliable source of high-quality bilingual talent has become a pressing priority. Our team at Pontoon has recently turned to foreign talent to help one of our clients fill niche positions in a competitive location with specific language requirements.

Aligning education with skill demand

Switzerland has gained recognition for its dual education system, encompassing academic and vocational tracks. Over the past decade, this distribution reached almost a 50/50 ratio between students pursuing academia and apprenticeships. However, more and more young people choose humanities as their preferred academic field, resulting in a shortage of engineers and technical experts. Similarly, clerical roles are most popular within the vocational route, with not enough candidates attracted to industrial and blue-collar training programmes. With reports indicating significant growth in occupations such as construction and development personnel (+20% year-on-year), assembly and auxiliary workers (+15%), as well as trade and industry staff (+14%), the evident disparity between education and skill demand becomes all the more pronounced. To address this issue, private enterprises and public institutions must work together to actively engage in efforts that draw young individuals towards professions that will remain essential in the present and future. This should include schemes that showcase the short-skilled sectors and give young people early opportunities to get familiar with what working there entails, including development opportunities. Part of the issue is that younger workers are often unaware of the variety of professional routes available.

Boosting the potential of the resident workforce

Another strong front associated with solving the Swiss talent conundrum focuses on enabling underutilised in-country talent, including social welfare recipients. The Swiss authorities see a massive benefit in upskilling this cohort to help them reintegrate into the job market and stay there longer. Equipping the welfare beneficiaries with the metaphoric “fishing rod” is a systemic approach to adding them to the worker pool and consequently closing the talent gap.

Final thoughts

A comprehensive approach that embraces all solutions is essential, as it allows for holistically tackling the issue. Rather than focusing solely on sourcing talent when needed, this approach calls for reevaluating and recalibrating the fabric of our social ecosystem. By envisioning strategies that extend beyond the immediate, we catalyse a shift in focus – from finding and attracting candidates to strategically cultivating the skills required.

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