According to recent studies, the population of Switzerland is set to increase by 148,000 in 2023. This would be the highest rise ever, in one year. And with the proportion in the number of foreigners in the workforce also growing, there are several important trends to observe in the Swiss market place.
Foreign nationals have been immigrating to Switzerland since the early 1900’s when railway network expansion led to the first wave of migrants from Italy and other neighbouring countries.
- More recently, a change in EU regulations in 2002, made the free movement of persons within the EU and Switzerland possible. This has led to a new wave of foreign workers now entering Switzerland.
- Technical advancements and the need for highly skilled specialist workers, means that key demographic trends are already emerging, which could have longer term effects on the employment market in Switzerland.
- This could include specialisations in areas such as robotics and blockchain to name just two, in addition to the already established financial services sector, biotech & biopharma. All of which require highly-skilled and experienced specialised workers – not always available to recruit in Switzerland.
Five key changes to the Swiss work force
- The workforce in Switzerland is becoming more foreign
- In 2002 Switzerland granted enhanced access to EU workers by adopting the “Free Movement of Persons” principle.
- Since that date, the proportion of foreign nationals working in Switzerland has increased to 1.7 million, which represented around 30% of the total workforce in 2022.
- Foreign workers have highest employment rates in Switzerland
- This is due in part to the fact that many are granted the right to work for a specific employer and job role.
- The percentage proportion of foreigners occupying executive positions is higher than Swiss nationals
- A higher percentage of US and UK nationals occupy management roles than Swiss nationals.
- Although the absolute numbers of US nationals for example, only stands at 0.2% of the total population of 8.7 million, when hiring talent for senior executive roles, companies in Switzerland lean heavily on certain nationalities.
- Leading countries with workforce holding management positions in Switzerland are: United Kingdom, USA, Netherlands, Greece, Germany.
- Executive positions requiring highly skilled workers, generally reserved for people with university degrees
- Many of the highlighted passport holders are employed as scientists, technicians and financiers.
- Only 48.2% of Swiss Nationals hold a tertiary education qualification.
- However, 56% of Swiss nationals do go on to take highly skilled jobs, achieved through the Swiss vocational apprenticeship system, acquiring degrees later.
- Females dominate part time work.
- Both female Swiss nationals and foreigners are more likely to work part time than their male colleagues.
- The above is partly down to national cultures (Switzerland) and low education (some foreigners).
- Certain industry sectors such as travel, report the necessity to advertise job roles with flexible working hours eg. 60-80%. Shared roles are also common.
Recent history of immigration to Switzerland
- As documented, Switzerland has experienced a considerable population growth in recent years. In 1970, it had only 6.1 million inhabitants. This compared to nearly 9 million in 2023 with approximately 30% of the workforce now classified as foreign.
- Around two thirds of the foreign workers in Switzerland originate from EU countries. The countries with the highest number of their citizens living in Switzerland are Italy, Germany, Portugal, France and Kosovo.
- In the case of Italians, worker migration began already in the 1900’s. Further waves after the second world war saw the Italian population climbing steadily until 1975. In fact then, Italians made up over two-thirds of the entire foreign population residing in Switzerland!
- In 1970, there were one million immigrants in Switzerland, 54% of whom were Italians. In 1975 ,just over half a million Italians were registered as foreign workers in Switzerland. Many of these migrants took up manual, low skilled work.
- With Germany, this is a different story – and the number of German nationals living in Switzerland has grown exponentially in recent years. In 1995 there were only just over 90’000 Germans living in the whole of Switzerland making up around 1.3% of the total population. By 2019 this number had risen to 450’000 from the total population. And German nationals now occupy a wide range of positions in Switzerland including senior executive roles.
The Swiss apprenticeship vocational system means around 2/3 of students take the vocational route, while the rest attend high school to prepare for university to study in fields such as healthcare and the arts. Although the number of vocational students with a degree has increased significantly in Switzerland in recent years, highly qualified and experienced workers are still in short supply as new industry trends emerge at rapid speed.
Companies in industry sectors where highly-skilled workers are required, are looking outside of Switzerland in increasing numbers to find the right staff. This is unequivocally leading to a rise in the number of foreign workers entering Switzerland. These are often highly educated, specialists, resulting in the five key trends highlighted.
A rapid growth in population driven by the influx of foreign workers offers economic opportunity as well as social challenges for Switzerland. This has always been the case if we look back in the history of immigration.
One famous quote about immigration to the USA stated: “We welcome immigrants, not because they are American… But because we are American.” “We are a country where people of all backgrounds, all nations of origin, all languages, all religions, all races, can make a home. America was built by immigrants.
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