Research Program

The GOVPET Leading House examines contemporary challenges to collective skill formation systems.

The research program of the GOVPET Leading House addresses specific forms of governance in so-called collective skill formation systems found in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. In the first research phase, the Leading House sought to understand how decentralised cooperation in skill formation works and explored ways in which private sector stakeholders can be encouraged to make a long-term commitment to cooperate. Starting in 2020, the second research phase further investigates these questions but puts on emphasis on two issues that are crucial and at the same time under-researched in relation to the governance of collective skill formation systems: technological change and immigration. 

Research has not yet answered the question whether collective skill formation systems can adapt (fast enough) to the needs of the knowledge economy. If they cannot, firms may no longer turn to VET to meet their training needs. In addition, it is unclear whether technological change will complicate the reconciliation of social inclusiveness and economic efficiency. More ambitious and knowledge intensive programs may need stricter entry requirements, thereby de facto becoming inaccessible to academically less inclined students. This issue might be further compounded by the rise in immigration and the arrival of large numbers of youths with educational records that are not easily validated in rigidly organized occupational systems. At the same time, though, the immigration of individuals, in particular skilled ones, might also serve as a competition to VET systems, as firms increasingly opt to recruit from this pool of workers rather than train themselves. As a result, immigration influences strategic employer coordination, as immigrants might serve as alternative to trained domestic workers or as strategic employer coordination is used to protect to occupations against the entry of immigrant workers. 

The research project is structured in three research areas. The first research area, "Reconciling strategic employer coordination and social solidarity in the face of structural pressures", asks how skill formation systems can cope with structural pressures such as technological change and immigration without compromising either strategic employer coordination or social solidarity too much. It thus explores the tension between maintaining high levels of strategic employer coordination and high levels of social solidarity.

The second research area, "Adapting skill formation systems to the knowledge economy", asks how skill formation systems based on strategic employer coordination can adapt to the knowledge economy. This includes questions about what kind of skills firms want in the knowledge economy and about the recruitment strategies firms use. In this context, there is an important link to immigration because (high-skilled) immigrants are an important alternative to training. At the same time, collective actors involved in training might rely on occupational protectionism to neutralize this competition. 

The third research area, "The integration of immigrants into skill formation systems", explores the numerous challenges related to the inclusion of immigrants into skill formation systems. The challenges include the coordination between different government agencies, the balance between the requirements for enhanced accessibility and the quality of the certificates, the kind of support young immigrants need to receive or the certification of skills acquired in the immigrants’ home countries. 

Overall, the Leading House broadens and deepens our understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and conditions for successful decentralised co-operation. It also analyses how the overarching objective of social inclusion is considered in the governance of collectively organised VPET systems.

Reconciling employer coordination and social solidarity

The project will answer four fundamental questions: 1) What individual characteristics of a young person, in an advisor-advisee relationship, drives the advisor to recommend him/her a vocational education track or a general education track? 2) What elements of an educational track (vocational and general), leading to the same occupation, make it (less) attractive? 3) To what extent are there misconceptions with regards to the outcomes of vocational education and general education, and, to what extent can these misconceptions be altered in the face of correct information?

(Annatina Aerne, Scherwin Bajka, Giuliano Bonoli, Patrick Emmenegger, Matthias Haslberger, Cecilia Ivardi & Anna Wilson)

In this project, Annatina Aerne and Giuliano Bonoli analyze if employers value diploma that are formally equivalent but obtained either through recognizing experience or recognizing foreign degrees, to the same extent as common degrees. Labour market access often depends on having recognized educational credentials. Migrants lacking local qualifications may therefore experience substantial downward mobility. To counteract this problem, several countries in Europe have developed alternative ways of certifying skills: these include the formal recognition of foreign certificates and of skills gained through experience and in informal settings. These alternative skill certification credentials are formally equivalent to standard ones. But whether they increase job seekers’ chances in the labour market depends on employers’ assessments. Theoretically, employers’ valuation of alternative credentials may follow three rationales. First, alternative credentials may weaken employers’ control over labour market access. Occupational groups restrict access to those having the relevant credentials in pursuit of their own material benefit. Employers may therefore be reluctant to accept new paths to earning the same educational qualification. Second, employers may perceive alternative certificates as signalling a different level of productivity because they are obtained by passing a different set of filters. Third, those holding an alternative certificate may possess other skills than those with a standard degree and thus a different human capital. Combining a survey experiment with qualitative interviews, we study employers’ perceptions of alternative credentials. Our survey experiment reveals that such credentials, although highly valued, are not considered equal to standard ones. The main reason being, as our interviews show, that only standard educational trajectories are perceived to develop the necessary human capital.

(Annatina Aerne & Giuliano Bonoli)

This project aims to uncover how active labour market (ALMPs) and skill formation policies relate to each other in terms of their development, implementation and (un)intended consequences. The central policy areas that have traditionally been concerned with the skills of the available/future workforce are labour market, skill formation and higher education policies. Especially labor market and skill formation policies have been concerned with similar objectives and thus share many stakeholders; yet the respective practitioner and scholarly communities have started to engage with each other only very recently. It remains to be answered if the attention towards complementarities and/or tensions between labour market and skill formation policies is due to the (perception of an) ever increasing gap between the demands and supplies of vocational mid-level skills. The project has identified the following three starting points to investigate the crossroads of ALMPs and VET: the historical development of ALMPs and their training component, efficiency-inclusion trade-offs in ALMPs and VET and systemic (in)complementarities of activation and skill formation.  The project opts for a comparison between countries with statist and dual VET systems, while at same guaranteeing that these countries have a strong ALMP sector.

(Guiliano Bonoli, Patrick Emmenegger & Alina Felder)

(Alina Felder & N. Stockmann)

Adapting skill formation to the knowledge economy

Annatina Aerne and Giuliano Bonoli analyze under what conditions employers prefer general and when specific skills. Technological change resulting in fast-changing skill needs may make general skills applicable across a range of situations more desirable to employers than specific skills. Employers may thus hire candidates with a more general, rather than a specific skill set. This may be particularly challenging in collective skill formation systems, where apprenticeships prepare a large share of youths for the labor market by teaching occupation-specific skills. We look at employer preferences regarding the ideal mix of general and occupation-specific skills in Switzerland, a typical collective skill formation system. In Switzerland, the same jobs can be accessed through tracks teaching more general skills i.e. in technical colleges (Fachmittelschulen), or more occupation-specific skills, i.e. in a dual VET program. Moreover, the possibility to pursue a vocational baccalaureate, adding an additional day of schooling to the VET program, results in a mix between general and specific skills. At the tertiary level, there is the possibility of pursuing higher VET imparting more occupation-specific skills or of attending a University of Applied Sciences teaching rather general skills. Based on survey experiments, we compare how employers value general and specific skills in an occupation strongly exposed to technological change: commercial employees. Despite Switzerland being a ‘knowledge economy’ we find a strong preference for occupation-specific skills both, at the beginning of candidates’ careers and at a later stage of their careers.

(Annatina Aerne & Giuliano Bonoli)

In this project, Scherwin M. Bajka, Benita Combet, Patrick Emmenegger, and Sabine Seufert investigate adolescents’ occupational preferences. With the rise of the knowledge economy, ICT-related skills have become more relevant across most occupational fields. This trend can reinforce occupational gender segregation, as women tend to prefer social over technical jobs. Previous research has primarily focused on individuals’ educational choices, especially related to university-level STEM tracks. In contrast, this project explores individuals’ occupational preferences at upper secondary level – when gender-stereotypical behavior is particularly prevalent. Moreover, it stresses the role of ‘ICT reliance’ as a characteristic of training occupations due to its potential to aggravate gender segregation. The researchers conducted a survey among 2,500 Swiss 8th graders, including two survey experiments. Their project adopts a multidimensional approach, not following existing research ap-plying a simple classification of specific occupations along the people versus things dimension. The first results indicate that ICT reliance matters in explaining adolescents’ occupational preferences, with occupations relying more heavily on ICT attracting fewer women than men. In addition, they find that women prefer occupations that emphasize social interaction. However, they find the same for men, which suggests that the standard people versus things dimension does not adequately reflect individuals’ preferences. A more elaborated data analysis is currently ongoing. The final findings of this project may shed light on how to make ICT-related career paths more inclusive.

(Scherwin Bajka, Benita Combet, Patrick Emmenegger & Sabine Seufert)

Link to the project page:

In this project, we study upskilling strategies in Germany and Switzerland. Our comparative research design covers upskilling efforts over the past 50 years. We observe important differences. Switzerland, with influential small firms and weak union presence focuses on keeping VET an attractive option at upper-secondary level and granting VET graduates access to tertiary education. By contrast, Germany is characterised by large firms dominance and influential unions, which relate to efforts of expansing general education and adding vocational elements later. Our analysis suggests that firms' reform preferences are conditioned by their size and political constraints to reform.

(Patrick Emmenegger, Scherwin Bajka & Cecilia Ivardi)

Link to the paper:

Since its popularization in the early 2000s, the concept of the “knowledge economy” has been a key driver of education and economic policy. Broadly recognized as an economic shift through which knowledge has become the main driver of productivity, the specific interpretation of the idea of a knowledge economy varies both between and within economies. This relates both to the fundamental problems and/or opportunities associated with the advent of the knowledge economy as well as which solutions are deemed relevant or promising. Existing scholarship demonstrates that a crucial reason for the political attraction of the “knowledge economy” is its openness to multiple interpretations, which promotes its role as a “coalition magnet” between key elite actors in advanced economies. However, little is known about what coalitions have developed, how they vary in their makeup between liberal, statist, and coordinated economies, and which policy interpretations actors coalesce around. To map meaning structures, we investigate policy debates in four national contexts by studying discourse coalitions in Denmark, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Employing discourse network analysis, we analyze data from eight quality newspapers over the past 20 years. We trace the evolution of constellations of actors and concepts over time and find (preliminary) evidence of systematic differences in the national discourses on the knowledge economy in the terms of actors participating in the debate, the topics they discuss, and their modes of interaction.

(Patrick Emmenegger, Cecilia Ivardi & Martin B. Carstensen)

Student mobility constitutes a core pillar of higher education internationalisation. Reflecting wider global trends, Canada and the EU have increasingly prioritised equity and inclusion in their student mobility programmes. Canada’s Global Skills Opportunity programme, launched in 2021, provides federal funding specifically to low-income students, students with disabilities, and Indigenous students. The EU’s Erasmus Programme has a long-standing tradition of community-building through inclusive student mobility. This article traces the principle of inclusion as a mobility rationale and analyses the role of the federal government in Canada and the European Commission in the EU supporting it. Using a policy framing lens, this study compares problem definitions, policy rationales, and solutions for federal/supranational involvement in student mobility. Findings show that inclusiveness has been an underlying silent value, yet it has mostly supported larger political and economic goals in both contexts. 

(Alina Felder & Merli Tamtik)

Link to the paper:


How does technological change affect social policy preferences? We advance the lively debate surrounding this question by focusing on the moderating role of education and training institutions. In particular, we develop a theoretical argument that foregrounds the role of dual VET systems. While existing literature would lead us to expect that dual VET systems increase demand for compensatory social policy and magnify the effect of automation risk on such demand, we contend that the opposite holds true. We hypothesize that dual VET systems weaken demand for compensatory social policy and dampen the effect of automation risk on demand for compensatory social policy through three non-mutually exclusive mechanisms that we refer to as (i) skill certification; (ii) material self-interest; and (iii) workplace socialization. Analyzing cross-national individual data from ESS, fine-grained data on individual educational background from the German ESS module as well as national-level OECD data on education and training systems, we find strong evidence in favor of our argument. The paper does not only advance the debate on social policy preferences in the age of automation but it also sheds new light on an old debate, namely the relationship between skill specificity and social policy preferences.

(Matthias Haslberger, Patrick Emmenegger & Niccolo Durazzi)

First paper project: Supernovas, Sceptics, and Loyal VETerans: Swiss firms’ training considerations in dual vocational education and training

This paper addresses the concerns about the viability of a core pillar of coordinated market economies: in-firm vocational education and training (VET). Engaging with Hirschman’s theory on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty theory and its more recent adaptations, we explain what type of firms consider opting out of, or staying in, dual VET. We argue that loyalty, in combination with an efficient channel for voice, insulate firms from opt-out considerations, even when facing difficulties hiring apprentices. Using a novel and unique survey data from over 2’000 Swiss training firms, we show that the institutional affiliation with occupational interest groups shields firms in ‘traditional’ VET sectors from opt-out considerations. Linking the sectoral and the firm-levels, we propose a framework that sorts firms into four categories along sectoral groups and opting-out considerations, indicating where risk for opting out is highest.

Second paper project: Cracks in the façade: training firms and the viability of dual vocational education and training

Although the Swiss dual vocational education and training system (VET) is renowned for its strong political support, high level of private-public cooperation, and relatively high status among school-leavers, the expansion of general education offers at the upper secondary level along with shifting educational preferences are gaining ground also in this flagship. In this paper, we get to the bottom of training firms’ problems with dual VET as a key skills provision system. Using novel survey data, rich in detailed information about firms’ experiences, considerations, and strategies in dual VET and beyond, linked with labor market and education data, we isolate factors predicting firms’ worry for imminent skill shortage and how it is connected to dual VET. Our study contributes to the scholarly debate on trends of academization and of general education as a competitor to VET, and to the labor market literature proposing ambiguous explanations for exposure to skill shortage on the firm-level. Specifically, we show that firms’ issues often are manifold and possibly interlinked: the lack of qualified candidates for apprenticeship positions, coupled with a perceived competition for talent with the general education track at the upper secondary level, are main factors behind a concerns regardingdual VET as skill providing system. 

(Anna Wilson & Scherwin Bajka)

The integration of immigrants into skill formation systems

Forced migration constitutes, for most part, a major disruption of career and life development plans for refugees which often requires a profound redefinition of objectives in potentially all realms of life. What characterizes the integration process of refugees in the global north is the "policy dense" environment in which they live, which means that they are confronted with a series of public policies which is expected to have an important influence their integration trajectories. This includes asylum policy, integration policy, as well as other policies such as education policy, social policy, etc. Through studying how refugee educational and occupational aspirations are shaped in the host country, this project unravels interesting insights on what works and doesn’t in the process of integration and social inclusion of refugees in Switzerland and Canada. This project uses a qualitative approach is based interviews with 29 refugees from the canton of Vaud, Switzerland and 36 interviews with social workers from both Switzerland (Vaud) and Canada Québec). 

(Ihssane Otmani and Giuliano Bonoli)

Link to the paper: 

Even in so-called collective skill formation system countries with well-developed and attractive VET systems like Germany and Switzerland, the literature reports a higher-than-average preference for general education among immigrant and second-generation immigrant youth. This leads to the following research question: what motivates immigrants in their choice between VET and Higher education in collective skill formation system countries? To answer this question, this project will opt for a qualitative methodology. We will base our research on the PICE database (, which is a qualitative database about parental involvement in children’s education produced by the University of Bern and linked to the TREE dataset (a large panel survey on the transition from education to employment). The interviews that constitute this database have been conducted with immigrant parents from low socio-economic status, living in various parts of Switzerland, whose children have attained higher education.  The idea here is to understand what pushes immigrants to choose higher education rather than vocational training even when the socio-economic status would suggest the contrary. The four hypotheses that this paper aims to test are the following: lack of information about vocational education makes it a less desirable option for immigrant youth; academic higher education is perceived as better suited for fulfilling the aspiration of immigrants; academic studies are seen as a safer choice in term of anticipated discrimination; academic studies are attractive since they are perceived as affordable by immigrant groups.

(Kousha Vahidi and Annatina Aerne)

Transfer of skill formation systems to developing economies

The scholarship on growth models established that welfare policies cement political coalitions that support specific growth strategies. Notably, social protection in Germany favors labor market insiders who back the export-led growth model. However, in the context of the knowledge economy, labor market insiders are becoming scarce, and global value chains imply changes in the way exports are conducted. We study the implications of these changes. We focus on the German skills regime, namely the policies used to ensure an adequate skills supply, and we scrutinize them transnationally. We uncover a process of “externalization” through which the German state and employer organizations operate at the level of policy transfers of vocational training and migration policy to satisfy the economy’s skill demands. Externalization represents an instance of institutional change enacted by political actors to maintain a coalition supporting the export-led growth model. Thus, skills regimes are fundamental to the politics of growth models, and further research needs to study mechanisms linking skills and growth.

(Cecilia Ivardi and Linda Wanklin)

Post-communist countries are unlikely to develop high levels of coordination in providing collective goods due to their "hourglass" social structure: trust and cooperation exist mainly at the top among elites and at the bottom between individuals. This structure reinforces social traps such as corrupt institutions and ineffective cooperative equilibria. This study explores how “second-best" governance strategies located at the bottom-half of the hourglass can overcome these traps. It examines why small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) provide vocational education and training (VET) – a paradigmatic collective good requiring high levels of coordination. The study develops a most-different case study design and applies a multi-method approach to analyse rich empirical data collected during interviews with SMEs and stakeholders in the Albanian and Slovak VET systems. The findings demonstrate that micro-level actors can functionally substitute the lack of institutional trust and meso-level intermediaries by relying on the features of particularized trust.

(Linda Wanklin)