What Singapore Can Learn From Switzerland

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By Li Yen,

Switzerland has topped the Global Innovation Index (GII) for the fifth year in a row. In 2015, Switzerland had exceptional results in the areas of creative outputs, knowledge and technology outputs as well as business sophistication.

A knowledge-based economy of only 8.1 million people, this small country often tops the European innovation index.

Home to the world’s largest particle physics laboratory (CERN) and the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Switzerland has established its key strengths in information and communications technology (ICT), clean technology and financial technology (FinTech).

Switzerland is also a fertile land for new ideas, as newly developed technologies and inventions are better safeguarded in Switzerland than in any other countries.

Both Switzerland and Singapore are small multicultural and multilingual countries that do not possess much natural resources, relying on brains and ideas to develop their economies. To stay competitive, both economies must be adaptive, innovation and productive. Thus, the propensity for innovation is the foundation for the economic success and wealth of both countries.


Education is the basis of Switzerland’s innovative strength, and Switzerland is one of the world’s leading investors in education, with a high-quality education system that has produced 27 Nobel Laureates.

Switzerland’s dual education system of combining practical training and theoretical education is something that Singapore can adopt as well.

The team behind Singapore’s SkillsFuture, an initiative focusing on lifelong learning and skills-based education, made trips to visit Switzerland to learn about Swiss education models and the Swiss apprenticeship scheme.

The Swiss have a deep appreciation of hands-on, practical experience, seeing it as an integral part of their culture and economy. Switzerland’s dual education system directly drives her economy, as young people are trained to have a high professional knowhow that can be efficiently utilised in the workforce.

With a strong emphasis on practical learning and its concomitant relevance to the labour market, the Swiss education system is successful in nurturing a more innovative workforce.

“The permeable education system, with a vast variety of different career options for all needs and capabilities, is very helpful to create a value-added chain with highly trained workers that have a large experience in practical and theoretical matters,” said Mr Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, at the Switzerland-Slovakia “Growing Through Innovations” forum.

In addition, Switzerland’s vocational pathway has allowed Switzerland’s universities to develop maximal  links with the economy.

Universities and companies have opportunities to network via platforms, allowing companies to further their research activities and partnerships with universities and higher education institutions.

The close proximity and intensive links between universities, institutions and companies facilitate exchange and accelerate the development processes of all parties, allowing ideas to be developed further. This has led to the creation of products and services that can be marketed successfully, leading to successful innovation.

In the Swiss system, third party organisations are hired to act as intermediaries between companies, apprentices and education institutions to facilitate industry-relevant training.

Lifelong Learning Programmes

Another aspect to learn from is Switzerland’s lifelong learning programmes. Switzerland has fostered a system for training working adults that has strengthened the quality of adult education.

A highly trained workforce is the key for Switzerland to stay innovative. Switzerland is leading the world in on-the-job staff training, government-provided training and in developing and retaining talents.

Swiss companies are willing to invest in training their workers for continuous innovation. There have been joint efforts among companies in this area. For example, to upgrade their workers’ skills, it is typical for companies to establish shared training facilities and co-develop training programmes.

In Singapore, employing older workers is often deterred by prejudices. However, there is no relationship between innovation success and youth.

“When students of informatics leave university after graduation, 50% of their acquired knowledge is already outdated. Thus lifelong learning is a must to keep up with the accelerating speed of change. This holds true for all generations, younger and older,” said Günter Pfeiffer, managing partner of yane GmbH, at the Switzerland-Slovakia “Growing Through Innovations” forum.

Pfeiffer added that one of the major drivers of innovation is communication and collaboration across generations. “Many empirical studies show that creativity and innovation are on average higher in age diverse teams,” he said.

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