Zurich, December 9th 2023: Switzerland has again taken first place in INSEAD’s Global Talent Index. In the key life sciences sector, over 47,000 people are employed directly, with another 258,300 in allied roles. As the number of biologics and other complex products coming to market rises, a major priority has been to maintain a sufficient pool of qualified personnel at all levels. Two driving factors helping ensure this are the strength of Swiss Vocational Education Training (VET) and the attractiveness of Switzerland to foreign professionals.
Two thirds of young people opt for VET vocational training
According to the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report, the Swiss VET system performs best in an international comparison. Upon completing obligatory education, around two thirds of young people in Switzerland opt to undertake foundational vocational training – a proportion that has remained steady for many years. Courses last two to four years and focus on professional qualifications that are actually in demand and on jobs that are currently available. The courses can be supplemented by a vocational baccalaureate, which gives access to universities of applied sciences.
For example, life science courses are offered by a network of 9 Universities of Applied Sciences, including Freiburg where Dr. Christophe Allemann, Director of Chemtech says: “We aim to prepare our students based on our understanding of evolving industry needs. Just this year we have proactively sought to stay on top of evolving needs via industry expert interviews. While we are a university with a scale up research facility, we need to closely track requirements in relation to type of molecules for scale up, automation/digitalization, environmental sustainability, and last but speed of talent. Our ability to remain relevant and competitive depends on it.”
Closely linked to VET is Switzerland’s apprenticeship system. In the life sciences industry, apprenticeships are offered in a variety of fields, including many industry-specific technical functions. These apprenticeships provide individuals with hands-on experience and specialized knowledge that is directly applicable to their future careers. It also ensures that the workforce has the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the highly regulated life sciences sector. Well-trained workers not only minimize production errors but also boost productivity, making them particularly indispensable in the fields of biologics production and medtech.
The 2023 IMD World Talent Ranking
44% of life science workforce foreign, rising to 70% in R&D
Foreigners make an above-average contribution to Switzerland’s overall innovation performance, accounting for:
– 39% of all company founders,
– 50% of all start-up founders and 78% of all “unicorn” founders, and
– 37% of all inventors (based on patent applications)
Their impact is also clear in the life sciences – 44% of employees in general, 70% in R&D.
The reasons are manyfold. Firstly Switzerland works closely with the European Union within the framework of the Swiss-EU Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) and has adopted the EU’s system of mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Nationals from non-EU states are also entitled to apply for recognition of their foreign qualifications in Switzerland. Such freedom of movement also enables companies to tap talent from neighboring countries, with 1 in 5 crossing daily into Switzerland for work.
Next, with Times Higher Education World University Rankings showing that Switzerland boasts 5 of the top 100 universities in life sciences and medicine, and 2 in the top 100 for natural sciences, there is a continuously refreshed “in situ” pool of highly skilled professionals who have attained advanced qualifications in areas such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical sciences. Major international companies work in close partnership with these universities and recruit from this available talent pool.
Finally, due to the high quality of life and excellent working conditions, Switzerland is considered the most attractive destination for talented foreign professionals. Switzerland has no capital gains tax, which makes stock-based compensation particularly valuable to senior employees. The country is also known for its flexible work arrangements with the possibility to work part-time, and compensation packages that are in line with or above industry standards.
Leading Swiss life science sector experts agree that available talent is a major advantage for Switzerland.
Gabriela Güntherodt, Biotech Sector Leader, at EY Switzerland says: “You have a huge talent pool which is not just high in numbers, but also diversity for all therapeutic areas and stages of drug development whether commercial or clinical.”
“In life sciences, we have a dynamic Swiss workforce that is highly educated, experienced, internationally diverse, and multilingual,” agrees Patricia Gee, Life Sciences Partner at Deloitte.
Yuliya Olonetzky, Managing Consultant at swisslinx goes further: “Switzerland boasts one of the most highly educated workforces in the world. There is a structural and long term focus from the state on having the having relevant skills available for employers. Swiss universities rank among the top globally, consistently producing top talent within life sciences. Switzerland also offers a favorable business environment for life science companies. With its stable political and economic environment, strong intellectual property protection laws, and well-established regulatory frameworks, Switzerland is an attractive location for life science companies looking to establish a presence in Europe and lately the model has been CH becomes the hub for any business ex North American. Additionally, Switzerland has a high standard of living, which makes it a desirable location for candidates looking to relocate. It can be said that CH becomes a “Golden Cage”, once here it is very hard to leave!”
Announcing the Global Competitiveness Index, INSEAD made several predictions including that
talent competitiveness will gain even more importance as a critical element of competitiveness, innovation and geopolitical soft power for nations, cities and organisations and grow fiercer. Also that skills and education will remain vital tools to empower workers to make meaningful contributions to their economies and societies.
There are several indicators already that Switzerland will meet this challenge:
According to the Swiss Education 2023 report, half of all adults aged 25 to 34 in Switzerland now have a tertiary degree (university or higher vocational education). The rate of tertiary graduates continues to rise and exceeds the OECD average. In their initial assessment, the Swiss Economics and Education minister, Guy Parmelin, and the President of the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), Silvia Steiner said that the common political objectives for the Swiss education system are being achieved in the long term, including that 95% of young people will obtain a secondary school diploma.
On the research side, in July, 5 more Swiss higher education institutes joined the Erasmus+ “European Universities” network which provides a framework for participating institutions to engage in strategic cooperation across Europe in education, research, innovation and service to society.
Quantum computing is predicted to have a major impact on the life sciences and the Swiss Quantum Initiative(SQ), as well as focusing research funding and establishing infrastructure is also using part of its CHF 20 million funding to attract talent.
Typical of the growing highly skilled ATMP companies finding their talent requirements met in Switzerland is ten23 health. “We intentionally chose Switzerland as our primary location due to many factors, including the access to a very talented, dedicated and diverse workforce. Switzerland is a most attractive place of work and excels with its education in prime universities and job-related trainings and advanced education offerings,” confirms CEO Prof. Dr. Hanns-Christian Mahler.