Corporate Learning & Development in Switzerland – Outlook 2023

The Economist Intelligence Unit paints a significant shift in the Swiss workforce in the coming years, with accompanying challenges:

  • Labour force growth is declining and comes to a halt in 2023
  • Employment growth is slowing down significantly from 2020 onwards
  • Unemployment is rising slightly and then staying relatively steady in the next three years
  • Labour costs are steadily rising
  • Population and working-age growth is slowing

What does that concretely mean for the Corporate Learning & Development function in Switzerland? What areas could we already start addressing today to enable our organisations to have the right skills at the right place at the right time?

The Situation

Switzerland’s labour workforce occupation consists out of 76.9% professional services, 19.8% industry and 3.3% agriculture, with 28% of the working population being immigrants (OECD 2017). The share of foreign workers is highest in natural sciences, medicine and pharmacy, and engineering. In the past 15 years, middle-skilled jobs became less, and vacancy rates in high-skilled sectors such as IT, finance, insurance and engineering have persistently elevated. Half of all current jobs in Switzerland are at risk due to digitalisation, with a further 25% of jobs changing significantly. 36% of all jobs in Switzerland are depending on exported services and goods.

The Complication

Swiss public funding of continuous education and training is limited: personal spending is tax-deductible, but this benefits higher-income households primarily. Due to the fragmented federal system of Switzerland, lifelong learning on a national level is hampered. Corporate Learning often finds itself having discussion with management about how to produce content more efficiently, rather than having the discussion on which business problem they need to be solving through skill development.

The Economist Intelligence Unit – Country Forecast indicated the following outlook (relating to skills/ employment) with factors that make it more challenging to finding the right skills and putting them in the right place over the coming years:

  • 2020-21: Business climate will favour foreign investment as tax system is overhauled and new tax incentives for research and development (R&D) are introduced.
  • 2022-24: Reform of “harmful” cantonal corporate tax regimes in response to international pressure. Abolition of some rules to attract multinationals and holding companies, with focus on patent-related tax incentives.
  • 2020-21: Pressure on major banks to strengthen capital bases amid negative policy interest rates, tighter financial regulation and gradual abolition of banking secrecy, all of which will weigh on banks’ revenue.
  • 2020-21: Subdued wage growth, particularly among low-skilled foreign workers.
  • 2022-24: Continued reliance on skilled foreign labour. Possible sectoral labour shortages if quotas implemented.
  • 2020-21: Ultra-high-speed broadband becomes available across the country.
  • 2020-21: Developments in blockchain technology and fintech expansion likely. Large cryptocurrency market should attract investors.
  • 2022-24: Country-wide expansion of digital administration, upgrade of e-government platform and overhaul of federal strategy for Switzerland’s digital future.

The Solution

Clear is that only recruiting or only developing skills internally is not a future proof option anymore. The silo approaches of recruitment, talent development/ mobility, corporate learning, knowledge management and internal communication need to fundamentally rethink how to source, develop and retain the skills (and knowledge) required to enable organisations to execute on digital strategies of the coming five years.

There are some immediate improvement focus areas that corporate learning can start with today to initiate the transformative journey and inspire other departments to join.

A measurable approach for internal skill development

Probably still one of the hardest challenges that L&D is facing is offering a quantifiable method for developing skills. Of course, we can give people a 10 question test and state how much information is retained. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that professional behaviour has been improved or that business performance has developed because of it. Transferring knowledge into business performance and measuring the performance increase will be a crucial enabler for the C-Suite in deciding what skills and people to invest in.

Reskilling of employees with middle-skilled jobs

A tremendous potential of human resources can be found with employees who have middle-skilled jobs that will be gradually phased out due to e.g. digitalisation. The informal network they have, as well as unique insights in your companies operational challenges/ strengths, make them substantial assets to retain for the future. Dedicated learning paths enabling job transitions, together with a matching talent mobility framework, can assist your organisation to get ready for the future.

Offboarding to retain knowledge

As the ageing workforce will enter retirement age ove the next years, as well as changing management models and skill requirements, a structured approach to offboarding employees becomes a strategic consideration. How can you ensure that offboarding, which can be emotionally challenging for those effected, still be an overall positive memory for both departing employee and the company? Addressing this challenge in a formalised, structured way will help you to develop potential ambassadors of your company that indirectly help you recruit future employees. On the other hand, it enables your organisation to minimise operational business impact.

Onboarding of new employees coming from abroad

An induction of your company, its goals and employees is not going to be enough for employees that are coming from abroad. An onboarding program for local hires should enable new joiners to become effective within the first three months. When looking at onboarding new hires that are new to Switzerland, they will need support in setting up their private and social life. They have left their home and need support in establishing a new home in a foreign place. It’s a tough challenge and the easier your organisation can make it for them, the better the chances are that new hires integrate well within your organisation.

Talent Development

Switzerland is strengthening its position as an innovation hub in Europe by creating tax benefits for corporations to host R&D departments and their patents here. That means that more high-skilled, talented workers are coming to Switzerland who need to be given substantial career growth opportunity to remain with their employers. Talent development and mobility, corporate learning and mentor programs can enable personalised development paths that create employee loyalty.

New ways of working/ learning

Gigabit connections at home and on mobile devices are enabling real-time, video-based / VR-type interactions. This technology evolution enables new ways of working and also new ways of learning. Corporate L&D can start today to identify what use cases these new technologies could support in, for addressing future challenges and potentially identify a pilot project that solves a concrete business challenge today.

What is your experience?

  • What is the workforce development situation like in your company? 
  • What challenges or advantages do you see with your current L&D setup?

Do share your thoughts, opinions and ideas on how to tackle this issue with me in the comments section below. I look forward to the discussion.