Apprenticeship – the hidden face of Swiss research

Apprentices play a little-known but essential role in science made in Switzerland. Here, we take a look at young people who are being trained in the institutions in the ETH Domain.
Apprentices trained at the Laboratory school of the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at EPFL spend a year and a half perfecting their laboratory techniques. (Image: EPFL/Alain Herzog)

From the laboratory to construction, from electronics to polymechanics: some twenty professions are taught in the institutions of the ETH Domain. These different professions play a key role in the scientific advances that have made Swiss research internationally renowned. "Our apprentices work on very specific research projects," explains Stefan Hösli, head of apprenticeships at Empa. "Some conduct experiments alongside our scientists, others manufacture complex parts for all kinds of devices and installations. They too are players in Swiss research, but they are scarcely visible."

Céline Henzelin-Nkubana, head of the apprentice laboratory school at EPFL's Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, points out that the Swiss dual training system is not well known to the many foreign scientists working in Switzerland: "They often underestimate the capabilities of the young people we train. Every year, I look for research groups to supervise the eight new apprentices who join us, and I sometimes observe some reluctance on the part of the professors. But next they are very surprised when they see the quality of the work done. Our apprentices spend a year and a half perfecting laboratory techniques and are often very fast, efficient and meticulous.