If It's Good Enough for the Swiss, It's Good Enough for US

Written by Kyle Coward, Writer, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

It's hard not to admire Switzerland for quite a few things - everything from the skiing and those decadent chocolates and cheeses to the world-renowned precision and durability of its watches and army knives. And now this polyglot nation with one of the world's most stable economies has an honor that America, and the rest of the world, might want to take notice of - its workforce talent.

According to the first-ever Global Talent Competitiveness Index - which was developed by global graduate business school INSEAD and released last November - Switzerland was ranked as the number one country in the world for workforce talent, both technical and white-collar. Of the 103 countries ranked in the study, Switzerland was number one in developing and retaining talent, and came in second (behind Finland) in social mobility, which measures the ease by which lower-income individuals can move up a nation's socioeconomic ladder.

To be sure, the Unites States can lay claim to some good numbers, coming in at ninth overall in the index, and first when it comes to the prevalence of female professionals and technical workers. And although we're quite good at growing talent as the world's third-best in that category, we've got some work to do when it comes to retaining talent, as we're ranked 19th.

Our country could also step up more in an area dear to our heart at CAEL, which is INSEAD's educational subcategory of lifelong learning, described by the index as learning that relies on "the concept of further education," and taking into account "the quality of management schools and extent of staff training." Although we crack the top ten at number 10, the Swiss are even better; in fact, they rank number one, and are particularly singled out by INSEAD for its "thriving apprenticeship programme" as well as having a system "where workers can move back and forth from classroom to workplace."

One might look at this study and figure it represents more proof of America slipping behind the rest of the world when it comes to employee talent, workforce training and quality of learning opportunities - all of which are necessary to propel the nation's economy into a high-tech, globalized era. We, however, like to think our country is already addressing this issue, as evidenced by ongoing developments in labor and education.

The dilemma of employee turnover has moved beyond just any individual workplace and onto the business news cycle. Growing numbers of employers are becoming more sensitive to the problem - it's hard not to be when it threatens productivity and profits - and are collaborating with workforce consultants like CAEL to create such resources as online career lattices and maps, in addition to establishing internal learning and development advisory services. Continued technological advancements present HR departments with an opportunity to consistently update and improve their career development resources, and as long as awareness to this issue is maintained, we're hopeful this trend can be reversed in due time.

Most future jobs will require workers to possess college credentials and, in another encouraging sign, more colleges and universities are providing adults with opportunities to receive course credits from college-level learning experiences like prior employment, military service, volunteerism, and online independent study courses. Programs like CAEL's LearningCounts.org are among those at the forefront of translating adults' outside-classroom experiences to college credit, thereby enabling adults to make the transition into high-skilled jobs that are a crucial component of a 21st century economy. As our country races to ensure that future workers possess the educational credentials needed to replace the Baby Boomers who are on the cusp of retirement, this talent development strategy is especially important.

No one should look at this study and think America has to be number one just for the sake of being number one. Rather, when looking at these results, we should look at Switzerland as inspiration for improving our own workforce talent in America, in order to ensure future economic growth and productivity. We'd like to think we're making some strides on that road.