UZWIL, SWITZERLAND — Andreas Bischof, head of apprenticeship at Bühler Group, was elected by the Swiss Federal Council to the extra-parliamentary Federal Vocational Training Commission (EBBK) at the end of November.

He is the representative for vocational training matters of the Swiss association of mechanical and electrical engineering industries (MEM industries) at the federal level — a premiere for the industry.

The EBBK advises the State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation (SBFI) on matters related to the development and coordination of vocational training and its alignment with general education and development policies. It assesses projects for the development of vocational training as well as applications for funding of special services provided in the public interest.

As head of apprenticeship at Bühler Group, Bischof leads 600 apprentices at 25 locations in four continents. The Federal Council has elected him to the 15-member extra-parliamentary Federal Vocational Training Commission for the term of office 2020-23. As the delegate of the MEM industries, he is now the representative of a high-technology industry that trains almost 20,000 apprentices in Switzerland. At the same time, he is the first representative to become a member of the Commission for the MEM industries.

“I look forward to addressing the industry’s requirements at the federal level,” Bischof said, adding that vocational training is currently experiencing rapid changes. “In addition to expert knowledge and hands-on abilities, increasing importance is being placed on digital skills, project management, professional mobility, lifelong learning, and pronounced social competencies — and this not only for the companies, but especially for the apprentices’ later careers.”

He said that in order to take such insights into account in the vocational training activities of an organization, they must be given the significance they deserve. He added that Christof Oswald, as head of human resources, gives special attention to the latest developments in training early on.

“In agreement with the executive board, he gives us the leeway we need to develop ideas and then to put them into practice once we have carefully thought out all the implications right to the end,” Bischof said.

 Oswald said Bühler’s expertise benefits all vocational training in Switzerland.

“It is important that we ensure the attractiveness of vocational training throughout Switzerland, in particular in our education-intensive industry,” he said. “We closely track our apprentices’ and employees’ requirements and needs and then address them.”

He added that Bischof can bring Bühler Group’s vast experience in vocational training to EBBK, and also show how companies can retain their employees. A total of 29% of all Swiss Bühler employees have completed their vocational training at Bühler. The company has been training apprentices since 1915. At present, the 8,000th apprentice has started his first apprenticeship year as a polymechanic.

Following his apprenticeship as a machinery draftsman, Bischof became a vocational training teacher at a school in Arbon, Switzerland. At the same time, he was a part-time instructor for almost 20 years in the development departments of various companies. In 2009, Bischof took charge of vocational training at Bühler Group. Since then, the team around Oswald and Bischof has further developed innovative approaches into the apprenticeship training, for instance integrating periods that young people can spend abroad.

Qualified apprentices interested in training stints abroad may spend several months of their training outside Switzerland, for example in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, South Africa, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, or the United States.

Since the introduction of this program, some 200 apprentices have spent several months of their vocational training at a Bühler location outside Switzerland. This offers young people a chance to directly experience different cultures and languages. It enhances their professional and social skills, broadens their minds, and makes them fit for their jobs in the international environment that Bühler offers.

The learners abroad follow the vocational school instructions in Switzerland without interruption. While abroad, they have access to the lessons being taught in Switzerland live with a camera in a learning environment with state-of-the-art technology. This distance-learning concept is called Class Unlimited. Bühler has developed it together with the Wil-Uzwil Vocational and Continuing Education Center (BZWU).

This form of teaching was a novelty in vocational training and was awarded the Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award in 2014. In its new CUBIC innovation campus, the Bühler Group has further developed this concept, offering it to employees as well. Class Unlimited 3.0 primarily trains Bühler teams. For example, automation experts can train live on systems across continents, while Bühler saves CO2 emissions, travel expenses, and travel time.