IT Training in Switzerland with Serge Frech, Director of the Swiss National Association of ICT Training

Topics covered

  • Basic IT training in Switzerland
  • Continued IT education
  • How expats can take part
  • The IT worker shortage and what is being done about it

Who We're Speaking With

Serge Frech has been Managing Director of ICT-Berufsbildung Schweiz since June 2018. The national association represents the rapidly growing professional field of information and communication technology (ICT) and is championing the subject of ICT skills in vocational training.

From 2014 to 2018, Serge Frech was Head of Education and a member of the Executive Board of suissetec, the Swiss-Liechtenstein Building Technicians Association. Previously, he was Head of Training at the Swiss Military Intelligence Service for many years and still holds the rank of Colonel. Serge Frech is also a visiting lecturer at the Institute for Applied Psychology at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).

He holds a Master's degree in Education Management and an Executive Master of Business Administration from the University of Zurich (UZH). He is married and father of three children.

About the Episode

According to a government article by Serge Frech, there will be a shortage of 40,000 IT workers in Switzerland by 2030. ICT-Berufsbildung is working on recruiting more international specialists, increasing the proportion of women in IT, and increasing the number of available apprenticeship positions.

There are various pathways to an ICT job in Switzerland, but the most common one is through the apprenticeship system:

  • Apprenticeship: Most Swiss IT professionals don’t go to university. Instead, they leave the traditional school setting around age 15 or 16 and start a four-year apprenticeship. This involves working in a company and going to school part-time.
  • Vocational baccalaureate: Some students complete a vocational baccalaureate while doing their apprenticeship. This gives them better chances in the job market and allows them to study at universities.
  • Continued education: There are two types of continued education degrees. The first is the federal diploma, which allows ICT professionals to specialise. It is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The second is the advanced federal diploma, which is suitable for professionals who want to take on a management position. It is equivalent to a master’s degree.
  • Options for expats: Expats who already have ICT experience can obtain one of these degrees. Due to the severe shortage of IT specialists, individuals with up-to-date skills are highly sought-after.


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Kathrin: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Living In Switzerland. The series is brought to you by Rigby. We are a staffing and project services company based in Zurich. If you or anyone you know of is looking for a new role in Switzerland, or if you're looking to hire, let us know. We'd be happy to help. The best way to do that is by going to and filling out the form. Then, if we have anything that might be of interest, we'll gladly let you know.

Today, we are joined by Serge Frech. Serge has been managing director of ICT Berufsbildung Schweiz since June 2018. The national association represents the rapidly growing professional field of information and communication technology and is championing the subject of ICT skills in vocational training.

From 2014 to 2018, Serge Frech was head of education and a member of the executive board of Swiss Tech. The Swiss Lichtenstein Building Technicians Association. Previously, he was head of training at the Swiss military intelligence service for many years and still holds the rank of colonel. Serge Frech is also a visiting lecturer at the Institute for Applied Psychology at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

He holds a master's degree in education management. And an executive master of business administration from the university of Zurich, he's married and father of three children. Serge, welcome to the podcast.

Serge: Hello. Hi.

Kathrin: All right. So maybe you can start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your role as managing director of ICT Berufsbildung.

Serge: Yes, with pleasure, Kathrin. My main tasks as managing director are the targeted allocation of human and financial resources to do various projects. Technology is advancing very quickly in ICT. So the pace is also important in education projects. This especially requires many agreements and negotiations with the federal government, the cantons and the industry.

Kathrin: Right. That's interesting. So what actually does the organisation do? So ICT Berufsbildung, who mainly uses your services?

Serge: So ICT Berufsbildung Schweiz is the national organisation for the rapidly growing occupational area of ICT. As a centre of competence, we also promote the subject of ICT skills in vocational education and training across industries and professions.

We are responsible for the federal diplomas of vocational education and training in informatics and mediamatics, which is a multimedia and technology. We are also the examining body for the federal diplomas of higher education in various ICT specializations, such as cybersecurity, application development, and many more.

Only associations can be members of our organisations. And however, we work very closely with the government, training companies, educational partners, and many others. Our mission is to shape Switzerland's ICT vocational training for competent professionals, today and tomorrow.

Kathrin: Right. So I think for our listeners, it's very interesting to know a little bit about how ICT training works in Switzerland. Because it's a bit different to other countries. So can you tell us what are the pathways to an ICT position in Switzerland if someone is doing basic training and isn't already trained?

Serge: Yeah, of course. So we have different aspects. Let's focus on the career starter firstly. There are numerous offers for pupils who are interested in ICT. These include for example, the ICT scouts on campus. ICT scouts on campus is a talent development program. That starts in primary schools, promotes skills in ICT and establishes contact with future training companies and institutions at a very early stage.

Kathrin: Right. That's maybe a very interesting program for people, expats who are moving to Switzerland with children.

Serge: Yes, absolutely.

Kathrin: Yeah. And then, so the next step, as I understand it would be an apprenticeship. You do an apprenticeship as an ICT.

Serge: Yeah. The apprenticeship is generally the most common path in Switzerland, in education matters. And also it is for ICT and in the apprenticeship, which takes three or four years, you start from day one with practical skills in a company. And you attend the vocational school for one to two days a week. Depending on the profession, the apprenticeship takes three or four years. Currently in ICT, we count almost 11,000 ICT apprentices in Switzerland.

Kathrin: Wow. Okay. Every year?

Serge: So this is over the four years. And every year we count another two and a half thousand.

Kathrin: Right. and do all apprentices go straight to a company or can they do a basic apprenticeship year outside of a company?

Serge: For the most of them, they go straight into a company, but there is also another kind of apprenticeship, which starts with the basic apprenticeship year.

So in the basic apprenticeship year, it's called in German Basis Lehrjahr. Basis Lehrjahr, the apprentices complete the first year at a training centre. They learn the basic skills there and get prepared for practical work in the company where they spend the rest of their apprenticeship.

The gradual introduction to business facilitates the transition from school to working life. Apprenticeship companies, on the other hand, they benefit from the fact that the apprentices already acquired the basic skills.

Kathrin: Right. So that sounds very useful for certain types of students maybe who are not quite ready for working in a company.

Serge: Yeah, absolutely. And it's also a very good start into an apprenticeship when the first year is in a training centre.

Kathrin: Right. And what's a vocational baccalaureate? Can you tell us about that?

Serge: Yeah, the vocational baccalaureate is, a baccalaureate, which you do during or after the apprenticeship. So it's, it's combined. That's why it's called vocational baccalaureate. And in ICT, we have an above average percentage of apprentices who complete a vocational baccalaureate. And especially this baccalaureate opens many opportunities for further training. On the one hand side and on the other hand side, you completed an apprenticeship, which makes you fit for the labour market also.

Kathrin: Right. So can you go afterwards? Can you go to university with a vocational baccalaureate?

Serge: Yes, you can go to university or a university of applied science, but you can also continue a training in vocational education or professional education.

Kathrin: And then the last option is for people, if I understand correctly, for people who have done the gymnasium, so have already got a baccalaureate and it's called Way-Up, isn't it?

Serge: Yeah, exactly. Way-Up is a special program which is aimed at people who have completed the secondary school, they have a baccalaureate, and they can do an additional vocational apprenticeship, but that takes only two years instead of four years.

Kathrin: Right. So for students who have finished, completely finished school, who didn't go the apprenticeship route initially, but maybe who then decide they don't want to go to university anyway.

Serge: Yeah, absolutely. So they still can go to the university afterwards, but, because we have a high demand on specialists in ICTs, we have many hands full of students or, candidates which go to this way of program because they are highly demanded on the labour market.

Kathrin: Right. So a quicker way to, to a job instead of going through full university. So, yeah, this is interesting because in a lot of other countries. ICT professionals go to university, but it's not really the case in Switzerland, is it? Most of them don't?

Serge: Yeah, exactly. Most of them don't because they go to a dual apprenticeship, and we count 80% of all specialists entering the market that go through the apprenticeship.

Kathrin: Right. Yeah. That's really different.

Okay, so now let's talk a little bit more about people who maybe already have a degree or have a basic university degree from another country and would like to come to Switzerland and work as an ICT professional. What are the options for continued education if they want to upskill and maybe get ready for the Swiss labour market?

Serge: Yeah, with pleasure, because this is an extremely important matter in Switzerland, the continued education towards a federal diploma or an advanced federal diploma. So we from ICT Berufsbildung Schweiz, we are the examination authority for professional qualifications in five areas in ICT, it's Application and platform development, it's Business informatics, Cybersecurity, and Digital collaboration.

A federal certificate, which you can reach, qualifies you for positions that require in-depth specialist knowledge and leadership qualities.

In order to take a professional examination, you must first and foremost provide evidence of professional experience. And the duration usually two to six years depends on the previous education, such as the apprenticeship or other qualifications.

Kathrin: Right. And then they're really specialists. It's a specialised type of education, isn't it?

Serge: Yeah. The biggest part of the education and also the biggest part of what's going to be examined is the specialisation in one of those areas I told you. But there is also some leadership training and project management during this education, which, because it's extremely important on every level.

Kathrin: Right. But the Advanced Federal Diploma is the one that really targets people who want a leadership position, isn't it?

Serge: Exactly. This is the next step, the Advanced Federal Diploma.

And with this degree, you will be able to manage complex ICT projects. You will further develop processes and lead teams or entire departments. To this end, The examination also focuses on strategy, innovation, and leadership. Currently, we offer two advanced federal diplomas, one for ICT managers and one for information security managers. And also here, you have to provide evidence of the professional experience. Of course, it's even more than with the federal diploma.

And the training duration is about one to two years.

Kathrin: Right. So it's quite a time commitment, isn't it? The one thing that I think a lot of expats wonder is if they do this training and spend the time on it, are these diplomas then going to be mainly relevant for Swiss jobs or can they then also be used if they later decide to move to a different country?

Serge: Interesting question. First of all, I have to say every further education is time consuming, and this kind of education, because it's a professional education and training, you can do this parallelly, when you work.

Kathrin: Okay. Right.

Serge: All of our students, they do this parallelly. And in Switzerland, you can ask for a Diploma supplement after you, you received the degree. And this Diploma supplement contains information that potential employers in Switzerland and also abroad may use to assess the technical competencies of, the qualification. The diploma supplements also indicate the reference level assigned to the given professional qualification within the European qualifications frame. And in this categorizations, it shows that the federal diplomas and the advanced federal diplomas of higher education, in ICT, they correspond to the level of a bachelors or masters degree in other countries and also in Switzerland, but it's, it's a very high level of degree.

Kathrin: Yes. Okay. So it can also be transferred and used then in other countries. It's quite transferable, especially in Europe, isn't it?

Serge: You can transfer this in every country worldwide because it relates to an international degree and it's handed out by the Swiss government, by the state secretariat for education.

Kathrin: Right. And so obviously for people who have already done their education in Switzerland, maybe it's easier, but how can international applicants maybe with a basic degree from their home country participate, where would they even start if they would like to do one of these degrees?

Serge: So we have many international students. And it's of course easier for Swiss students, but it's not very difficult for international students. So they have to submit a preliminary inquiry in which the professional experience and relevant qualifications are documented. And then we as an examination organisation will determine whether a potential student meets the necessary requirements and are eligible to take the examination.

So if someone is admitted, he or she hopefully can theoretically take the exams right away or it goes to a preliminary course, but it's possible to go to the examination straight away. But usually they attend the preliminary course to fill in any gaps. And then we co-operate very closely with the educational partners for this matter. They are also listed on our website, it's not so difficult, but you have to write us and we check everything for you.

Kathrin: Okay, and what's very good, I think also for international applicants is that this preliminary course is also available in English, isn't it?

Serge: They are available in English, yes

Kathrin: Right, so if someone comes to Switzerland and maybe is still learning German or French, in the meantime, they can still do this course in English.

Serge: They can do the course in English, they can do the course in French or Italian, and of course, German also.

Kathrin: Great. And so in terms of the different branches of ICT, is there anything that is particularly relevant at the moment, maybe in Switzerland or in general, that if someone is thinking about their continued education, what specialties are really in demand at the moment?

Serge: Every specialty is very highly demanded at the moment and also in future. But of course we are witnessing an increasing demand for cybersecurity specialists. Since 2010, the number of specialists in IT security has tripled. And despite this growth, we need another 60% more ICT security specialists by 2030. So they are highly demanded and there is a big lack of IT security specialists.

Kathrin: Okay. So it's really worth pursuing this and doing a degree because you'll be in demand for many years.

Serge: It's worth, and we have a degree on the federal diploma and advanced federal diploma level, which is a masters equivalent. And yeah, it's worth, but it's extremely tough. It's a very tough education.

Kathrin: Yes. And that's probably why there's a shortage.

Serge: No, no, no, no, no. No, the shortage is, is due to the growth of the digitalisation market and the economy itself. And of course due to the threat in the cyberspace.

Kathrin: Right. So the growth do you mean it's just been very rapid very quick and that's why?

Serge: Yeah The growth growed rapidly, the threat growed rapidly, the digitalisation grows exponentially. Training still requires one to two years. So we, we cannot catch up with the speed of growth..

Kathrin: Okay. So the way we found you initially is through an article you wrote for the government website, in which you forecast that there might be something crazy, like 40,000 more vacancies than qualified applicants in the IT sector in Switzerland in the next 10 years. So I'd be interested in just talking about this article a little bit. What is the study that you used for this?

Serge: So already 2010, we started this research and published those results, and for this we commissioned the Institute for Economic Studies from Basel to conduct a study. It's based on federal statistics and the forecast model predicts the demand for ICT specialists eight years ahead into the future.

The study considers four main factors, the expected retirements and immigration, which results in a replacement demand, as well as the structural change and economic development. This results in the additional demand.

Then we look at how many specialists we can expect from immigration and new graduates. The gap between the lost and newly gained specialists, it's 40,000. And this is what you mentioned before. 40,000 is the gap we call this Bildungsbedarf educational demand. In other words (and this is how they explained it to me) so I also understand it. We can train now 40,000 additional ICT specialists until 2030, and they would have very good future prospects on the labour market. So it's a huge gap we have.

Kathrin: Yes, it's, it's really a massive number. So maybe someone listening who is in IT, they might wonder if this increases their chances, if this is good news for expats and increases their chances of getting an IT job in Switzerland. Do you think that's true?

Serge: It's absolutely true. And this is also the reason why we have a big percentage of immigration from ICT specialists. Because they have good chances on the Swiss labour market. So it's definitely easier to find a job if you have a lot of vacancies and our economy or every economy is highly dependent on ICT professionals in almost every sector.

So, however, you will find a job, but it also requires up to date skills because the technology is changing very rapidly.

Kathrin: Right. And so this massive gap between the number of workers and the number of jobs, I mean, one solution, as we just discussed, is getting expats into Switzerland and into an IT position.

And what are some other possible solutions? Are you working on any solutions or is there anything on the horizon?

Serge: We are focusing on two solutions. One, it's the most sustainable measure. It is to create more apprenticeship positions.

Kathrin: Okay.

Serge: Apprenticeships have a very long and very important tradition in Switzerland. And our study shows that around 80 percent of all ICT specialists, they originally come from vocational education and training. So to close the gap, which we mentioned before, we have to raise the number of apprenticeship positions and we need in an enterprise that every 12th, I see the employee should be an apprentice.

So this is one solution we are focusing on. And the other solution is that we absolutely need more women in the field of ICT. We have an extremely low proportion of women, which is about 17%. Diversity is important for creativity, for growth, for security. And yeah, ICT offers many, many interesting and great prospects for women also. So we have to attract more women.

Kathrin: Right. Yes, I agree. Absolutely.

Serge: I’m happy that you agree

Kathrin: Yes! And are there any programs or events for women or how do you want to do that?

Serge: That's quite difficult because it's kind of a problem of the society and it has a lot to do with prejudices and stereotypes. But we launched a huge campaign in May this year, together with other associations, together with enterprises, together with the administration, and we really hope to attract more women. You will see the results in May. We did already a lot. We have raised the number of women, but we still need more. We are absolutely sure that we will gain more and that we need more.

Kathrin: Absolutely. And yeah, I'm looking forward to that in May to see. And so if there's anyone listening who would like to find out more about ICT education, where should they go to find out about basic training?

Serge: Yeah, they can do a Google research or they can go straight to our website. You will find every information there. You can, you can also search for apprenticeship concerning all sectors, all professions in Switzerland. It's extremely interesting to find out more about the dual apprenticeship in Switzerland.

Kathrin: Right, but is it regulated by cantons?

Serge: So it's federally and Cantonly regulated. So there are three regulation authorities, it's the association as we are, there are associations for all the professions. There are the cantons, which control on a lower level or on the cantonal level that the apprenticeship is working well, that the quality is high. And there is the government, of course, like in every other country, which is also regulating.

And it's most of the youth, most of the teenagers, they visit an apprenticeship. It's the most favourite track of education in Switzerland.

Kathrin: That's right, yes. Most people at least start with an apprenticeship and then as we said, they might do continued education later.

Serge: I couldn’t say it better, yeah.

Kathrin: Yeah. And so you would suggest that they start at ICT Berufsbildung just to find out some more information. That's the easiest place to find all the links maybe to local options.

Serge: You will find everything on our website. Absolutely.

Kathrin: Perfect. And is it the same for continued education?

Serge: You will also find a link on the top of the website to the continuing education.

Kathrin: Okay. So just visit the website and we'll put that, of course, in the show notes as usual.

Serge: Great, yeah. I would be happy.

Kathrin: And is there any other way people can contact you if they have a follow-up question or anything?

Serge: They can write us on a info at and we will answer their questions.

Kathrin: Okay. And as I understand it, you also have a newsletter.

Serge: Yes, we do have a great newsletter and you can subscribe to this newsletter also on our webpage.

Kathrin: Okay, perfect. Yes, definitely, if you're interested in ICT training.

All right. Well, that's it for today. Thank you so much, Serge, for joining us.

Serge: Thank you. And I hope many expats will join the apprenticeship or the professional education.

Kathrin: Absolutely. Me too. Okay.

Serge: Thank you very much.

Kathrin: And thanks to you for listening. We'll include links in the show notes to our guests and to further materials about some of the topics that we've spoken about today. If you enjoyed the episode, please leave a review on your favourite podcast platform.

Once again, this podcast was brought to you by Rigby. We're a staffing and project services company here in Zurich. If you would like our help either to hire or to be hired, let us know. Best way to do that is by going to and filling out the form. You can also sign up for our newsletter at to receive our Living In Switzerland guide. We'll send you one email per month about expat focused news and jobs in Switzerland. So, thanks and until the next time!