Looking for the Right Education
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Looking for the Right Education

In the Canton of Aargau, new jobs are being created – mainly in sectors requiring a high degree of qualification. Education is not keeping pace with economic trends. Immigration is making up for some of the shortfall.

The strong franc and weak economy are accelerating the paradigm shift in the industrial landscape of Aargau. The NAB's new regional study on education and the labor market in Aargau shows that employment is growing fastest in the business service sector, high-tech industry, government, and health care. At the same time, those are the industries with the highest standards of qualification. Nearly half of all employees in those fields possess either a college degree or advanced specialist or professional education. That means the demand for highly skilled workers is certain to increase.

Density of highly skilled workers

Density of highly skilled workers

Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office (2013), Credit Suisse

Aargau's Educational System Dominated by Vocational Apprenticeships

Aargau is a distinctly industrial canton. Roughly one in four people works in industry. By contrast, on a nationwide scale, the number is approximately one in six. At 14 percent, the share of workers in high-tech industry is particularly high (8 percent nationwide), though there are large regional differences. The strong focus on industry is reflected in the educational system: Aargau is predominantly a land of individuals who have learned a trade. At 43 percent, the share of the population with basic professional training (including two-part apprenticeships combining on-the-job training with classroom instruction) as their highest level of education is a full six percentage points higher than the nationwide average. In contrast, there is a shortage of highly skilled workers in Aargau. The share of the population with university degrees or advanced specialized or professional education (tertiary level) is 30 percent, putting it below the nationwide average of 33 percent. The six economic regions in Aargau differ starkly in the levels of education their people have. While Baden and Mutschellen have above-average numbers of skilled workers, those individuals are significantly underrepresented in Aarau, Brugg/Zurzach, Freiamt, and Fricktal. However, these levels are merely a snapshot. The younger the share of the population being examined, the higher is the level of education. That means the education level rises both in the Canton of Aargau and Switzerland as a whole. Yet, the region clearly lags behind the nationwide average.

Migrants Raising Educational Level

Migrants Raising Educational Level

Share of workers by education (in percent) in Aargau (ages 25–65), 2013
Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Credit Suisse

Labor market demand for higher education can also be seen in the profiles of foreign migrants. Between 2007 (completely free movement of persons introduced in the European Union) and 2013, roughly 30,000 workers immigrated to the Canton of Aargau. Nearly half of those immigrants were highly skilled, and over one-third of them even held a university degree. Moreover, the migrants found jobs in precisely those growth sectors that have tough requirements but offer the greatest opportunities: high-tech industry, business services, government, and government-related businesses. When compared to the working population in the Canton of Aargau, those facts reveal overall that local workers possess a significantly lower level of qualification. By contrast, the share of locals with a vocational apprenticeship as their highest level of education completed is nearly twice as high – one effect of the two-way educational system. Overall, the immigrants raise the population's level of education.

Daily Brain Drain in Aargau as a Place to Live and Work

Thanks to its central location, Aargau is a canton of commuters. The extreme mobility of individuals who commute elsewhere to work lowers the actual supply of skilled workers in Aargau. The canton is a "net exporter" of highly educated workers: 40,000 of the roughly 100,000 people who commute to jobs elsewhere are highly skilled. Part of the reason is that the canton is an attractive place to live. Aargau is a preferred residence for highly skilled workers who travel outside the canton to work. The reverse is true for Aargau's high-tech industry, which includes companies in the fields of mechanical engineering, electronics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. It is a magnet for highly skilled workers from other cantons and is the only sector that records a net influx of commuters.

Aargau Is Improving as a Place to Get an Education

Aargau continues to focus on vocational education and training. With 70 percent of students attending secondary school, a far larger share of them is graduating from basic professional training than the national average (60 percent). The above-average number of apprentices in training, at about 6.3 percent, underscores the significance of vocational apprenticeships. The number of individuals graduating from institutions of higher learning, however, is well below the national average. Can Aargau satisfy the demand for workers with graduate degrees and professional training in the future? The number of students attending college preparatory schools is lower than average for Switzerland, but a different method of access to tertiary education is gaining popularity. In Aargau, the "vocational matriculation examination certificate" as a means of entering a university of applied sciences – generally those in the fields of technology and natural sciences – has increased in significance and is now above the nationwide average for Switzerland. Furthermore, over the past few years Aargau has managed to position itself as a good place to attend university. The canton is both a co-funder of and home base to the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) and, thanks to its partnership with the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute, it has laid important foundations in training its workforce for the growth sectors.

Three Job Qualification Groups Characteristic for the Aargau Labor Market

Three Job Qualification Groups Characteristic for the Aargau Labor Market

Workers (aged 25–65) with jobs in the Canton of Aargau by level of education and sector, 2013.
Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Credit Suisse

The knowledge-based paradigm shift is being clearly felt in the educational profiles of workers in companies located in Aargau. High-tech industries and business services (Group 1) have extremely high demand for highly skilled workers. In commerce, traditional industries, and construction, the dominant means of job qualification is vocational education and training. Vocational education and training are also important in entertainment, as well as the hotel and catering industries, and also logistics (Group 3). However, nearly a quarter of all workers have no more than a compulsory school education.