People and Culture

How Zühlke is using apprenticeships to encourage the next generation into the Swiss job market

Explore how Désirée Lüscher got her idea off the ground for apprenticeships at Zühlke Switzerland and gained buy-in from the executive committee. Learn how she turned a creative concept into 12 apprenticeships within 4 years and discover the benefits young people are bringing to the office – and the labour market in Switzerland

Désirée Lüscher, People Operations Specialist
5 minutes to read

Désirée Lüscher knows first-hand how valuable an apprenticeship can be. As a teenager, completing her own apprenticeship gave her structure and career skills outside of her home life and college. During a previous role at Microsoft, she was responsible for the entire HR administration for 500 people – thanks to the help of an apprentice.

It’s therefore no surprise that she was compelled to bring the idea of apprenticeships to the CEO and executive committee of Zühlke Switzerland. “I missed working with young people,” she says, “and I knew at Zühlke we had everything we needed to make it happen, and we had a lot of work that could be performed perfectly by young people.”

It sounds like a win-win, but getting the idea off the ground wasn’t easy. Over the course of a year, she pitched the concept again and again. She knew the initiative fitted with Zühlke’s responsibility to make a positive contribution to society, but she also knew it could have an impact on a big challenge that Zühlke faces in Switzerland: a lack of young people interested in the industry.

Four years on, thanks to Désirée, Zühlke has 12 apprentices, numerous vocational trainers, and a whole new generation of ready-made, up-skilled young people. Here’s how she did it.

Désirée Lüscher and her apprentices at our office in Schlieren

Persistence and process

Désirée’s critical ingredient for getting her idea at Zühlke off the ground was telling a story with passion. “When you’re able to inspire other employees and you have a good argument,” she underlines, “the chances that you’ll get your project going are good.”

That doesn’t mean it was an easy sell. While the CEO of Zühlke was immediately positive, the executive committee was split down the middle. This prompted several discussions to convince them of the positive effects apprentices can have. Désirée honed her pitch over several months, figuring out the challenges and the solutions. “You just need the right argument and courage,” she says.

The main objections internally were cost-related, because a lot of time is needed to train apprentices. Désirée therefore had to present a concept that showed the benefits apprentices could have in the long term. Apprentices typically start when they’re around 15 or 16 years old and work for three to four years, alongside studying one to two days a week at school. Désirée knew her goal was also to keep the apprentices at the company afterwards.

“By then, they already know the business so well, they’re well connected,” she explains. “They probably stay longer than people who join after their studies who are older.” They can also take great career leaps by working in this way, which is a big motivating factor for them to stick around.

She lobbied for apprenticeships by presenting this argument again and again. “Switzerland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in young people,” she says, “and it was essential to take on our responsibility to support the unique Swiss dual education system. I felt we had to do it.”

Within a year, her persistence paid off. She had the green light and her first apprentices lined up.

New apprentices means new leaders

As soon as the first apprentices started, the benefits became obvious – and Désirée’s theory was proved correct. It might seem like altruism to train the younger generation, but it’s had benefits for the business too.

“Young people contribute to a good working atmosphere,” Désirée says. “They bring new perspectives and ideas and you get a feeling for what makes the next generation tick.” Their presence has also had a knock-on effect throughout the company. It’s been a huge opportunity for existing employees to take on new leadership roles as vocational trainers. They’ve gained new skills working with young people, understanding what motivates and influences them and how to coach them in the right way.

Working with people who may never have been in an office environment before, or even used software such as Outlook, let alone learnt programming languages, is a big challenge. “You need a lot of patience and understanding. If you can handle apprentices, it’s easier to handle more experienced people afterwards,” she explains.

The role is in fact so important, it can make or break the apprenticeship program, Désirée underlines. “One of the main factors for success is the quality of the vocational trainer.” She is constantly overseeing this and communicating with them to ensure everything is working as it should be.

Désirée Lüscher and her apprentices at our office in Schlieren

The next generation of talent in Switzerland

In return for their work, the apprentices gain experience in a professional, friendly place to work that gives them structure. Désirée explains that the culture at Zühlke has a positive impact on them as they are treated and coached like peers.

It prepares them for fully-fledged careers, and encourages young people to enter into an industry centred on tech and innovation. “It’s a great route for employment for them,” Désirée says, “and we often find it hard to recruit young people into our industry.” It was this knowledge of a mutually beneficial relationship that inspired Désirée to repeatedly push to make the apprenticeship program happen at Zühlke.

Alex Bögli, Managing Director, Member of the Executive Board and Partner at Zühlke Switzerland, is glad she did. “I’m proud of the fact that Zühlke is contributing to the development of skilled professionals in Switzerland with our apprenticeship programme,” he says. “It is important to convince young, talented people to enter our industry, and this is a perfect entry-point for them. Not only are we strengthening the Swiss job market by supporting our dual education system, but we get so much out of it, thanks to the valuable input from all our apprentices.”

This input has had an impact on Désirée, too. “It’s changed me and my daily work,” she explains. “Digitisation and the outsourcing of tasks has changed our labour market and we have to adapt and change with it. Vocational training is something we need to constantly reassess and improve, because what works today might not work tomorrow.”

One thing is clear: what Désirée has implemented is working now, for both Zühlke Switzerland and the next generation that thrive within it.

Apprentices at our office in Schlieren
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Employees in this article

  • Désirée Lüscher works as HR operations specialist at Zühlke Engineering

    Désirée Lüscher

    HR Operations Specialist