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60 years of Swisscontact
60 Years of Promoting Skills Development

Since its foundation in 1959, Swisscontact has gained extensive experience in developing and implementing skills development courses around the globe. In our first two decades, training skilled technicians for industry was paramount. From the 1980s, the focus switched increasingly to developing important system components such as teacher training, curriculum development, school and quality management, and certification. More recently, direct poverty alleviation defined the orientation of our skills development projects; brief training courses are enhanced through labour market integration opportunities and self-employment.

Swisscontact continues to hold the conviction that hands-on, practical vocational education is key both to social integration and economic development. We will continue to extend the arc between these two development goals, adapting our efforts to local contexts. We remain committed to entrenching hands-on work experience as a systemic component of the vocational training courses offered in target countries. Prioritisation of informal brief training courses or formal education is not necessarily clear from the outset. Instead, this priority depends on the particular objective and local potential, economic realities, abilities of ministries and authorities to implement programmes, and the skills of school administrators and teachers.

Currently, we implement 50 vocational training programmes around the globe, providing inclusive solutions for the urgent challenges inherent in youth unemployment, underemployment, and migration.

A look back at 60 years of skills development promotion

Skills development based on the Swiss model (from 1960)

Emerging industry in developing countries requires well-trained technicians. These technicians increase the middle class, which is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development. Thus, during our first two decades, Swisscontact focused on building vocational schools in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In 1963, the first vocational school was opened in Chandigarh, India, where students received training in precision mechanics workshops, built according to the Swiss model.


India, which became the most populous democracy in the world with its independence in 1947, wants to industrialize rapidly. No other city embodies the will to embark on the modern age more strongly than Chandigarh, planned by Le Corbusier. The model city in the north of the country was not yet completed when the precision mechanics training workshop was opened in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. 36 apprentices - selected from 1400 applicants - start their three-year training at the "Indo-Swiss Training Centre". Three Swiss and four Indians experts are their teachers. The vocational school is still in operation in 2009. In 1968 it was taken over by the Indian government, which a few years ago declared it a "Center of Excellence" for vocational training.

In 1966, Swisscontact, in collaboration with SENATI (Servicio Nacional de Adiestramiento en Trabajo Industrial), began training new specialists in mechanical and precision engineering in Peru, thus contributing to the country's technical development. In this context, the Latin American scholarship programme was set up, which for many years benefited young people with limited financial resources who wanted to pursue a technical career.

For over 20 years, the relationship with SENATI developed, leading to new generations of trained professionals and the creation of more knowledge for sustainable local development. Throughout Peru, projects were carried out in various areas of vocational training, including watch repair, land mechanics and machine construction.


Even after the 1970s, vocational education and training remained a focal point of work. In 1971, the technical school, the "Centre tuniso-suisse de formation professionnelle pour adultes" in Gabès, was handed over to the Tunisian government. The Governor of Gabès said to a Swisscontact representative in 1971: "If this training centre did not exist, it would have to be created because it shows us the real problems of our region, such as the lack of jobs. We developing countries must be put under pressure to achieve something."

In 1979, the Indonesian Ministry of Education contracted Swisscontact to help build six technical schools for 5,000 students, as well as a teacher training centre. The Swiss Foundation had sown the seeds of this partnership five years earlier by opening a training school for mechanics in Bandung.

Soon, more vocational schools were opened with Swisscontact’s support in other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By 1979, there were 16 vocational schools in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Benin, Tunisia, and Tanzania. Tool manufacturers, precision and maintenance mechanics, refrigeration technicians and agricultural machinery technicians were trained at these facilities. In order to optimise return on investment, instructors were also trained, who could then go on to impart their knowledge to many young people.

Vocational education becomes more flexible (since 1980)

In the 1980s, there was the conviction that economic growth in underdeveloped countries is a prerequisite to their ability to satisfy basic human needs. Swisscontact responded by offering more training courses designed to integrate disadvantaged populations into the labour market. Vocational education became more flexible, with training programmes able to be fine-tuned to reflect the needs of the private sector. Mobile training centres were also introduced.

In 1994, Swisscontact supported the development of a training workshop for auto mechanics in Durres, Albania. This was the first Swisscontact project in post-Communist Eastern Europe and provided us with the opportunity to help reform Albania’s entire vocational education system. Since then, Swisscontact has implemented numerous projects that link hands-on vocational education and training with labour market integration programmes.

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2000 to the present

After the year 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) paved the way for international development cooperation to fight poverty directly with short-term, tangible results. Consequently, skills development projects were faced with the growing challenge of meeting societal requirements, and not merely satisfying economic needs. As a result, brief training courses and on-the-job training for job seekers from specific target groups came to the fore, along with new labour market integration initiatives.

Vocational education was broadened to include life skills, counselling and advisory services, as well as information and access to financial services. These approaches are a legitimate answer to the objectives of donor organisations. However, they are more part of an active labour market policy than vocational training.  This is one of the reasons why Swisscontact today cites skills development as a core area that encompasses both vocational education and continuing training, as well as labour market integration.

Fostering income creation and employment in order to fight poverty is considered the uppermost maxim of international development cooperation and defines the current generation of skills development projects. Brief professional training courses in combination with labour market integration initiatives are therefore becoming paramount.

The archive photos on this website were kindly provided by the Archives of Contemporary History.

Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation
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