Swiss Effort for Vocational Education and Training
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Embassies in Washington provide rich opportunities to learn about the culture and history of the countries they represent. Often they open the doors for visitors to appreciate the architecture, the arts and exchanges of ideas – all together making this a beautiful world.
The Swiss Embassy, however, stands out. The embassy staff reaches out and touches us in a way that reflects the harmony that exists between its citizens who speak four different languages. In addition to the cultural outreach, the Swiss Embassy has demonstrated a real commitment to growth in America.
An example of this commitment was an excellent vocational education seminar at the Northern Virginia Community College. The focus of the half-day seminar was: “How the Swiss Model is Creating High-Paying Manufacturing Jobs in America.” It brought together academics from University of South Carolina, American University and vocational experts from Switzerland. In addition, the seminar included experts from the US Department of Labor and leaders of the Buhler Group – which operates in 140 countries and specializes in food processing and manufacturing high-grade materials.
Talking to Northern Virginia Community College students attending this seminar provides a positive impact of such vocational programs. Contentment conveys through the words spoken by some of these students over morning coffee and muffins. For instance, they expressed satisfaction with their employer Curry’s Auto Service in suburban Virginia.
“Not everyone is destined for a PhD”, said Alexis Sullivan, when this program came up during a conversation at the Swiss Club’s meeting in May, 2013. In fact, President Barack Obama – and even his predecessors like President Bill Clinton – have spoken about the value of education through the community college system. The goal of high paying jobs is shared by leaders of all political persuasions.
The cost of a four-year degree and the ensuing debt burden is a serious concern for both parents as well as political leaders. It came up during a breakfast meeting with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who explained his efforts to revitalize the community colleges during his term as Virginia’s governor.
The jobs created through the vocational education – promoted by the Swiss Embassy and the Northern Virginia Community College – support a growing population. “We employ over hundred people, many with salaries of over $100,000,” said Mohammad Siddique Sheikh, President, Nationwide Tire and Auto.
Sheikh – an avid soccer player - came with just ten dollars in his pocket in 1969. He graduated from the Lincoln Technical Institute and started his career as a technician with the Koons Ford dealership. Today, he is a Pakistan-American businessman success story.
Like Sheikh, there are many other Pakistani-Americans like Nasar Agha operating a Verizon Wireless franchise in Maryland. Together, they are proving that the jobs growth in America might be more in the floors of automotive shops and increasingly by immigrants taking advantage of vocational training opportunities – and not always behind a desk chained to a 9-5 routine.
Vocational training aside, there is a notable personal touch to Swiss diplomacy. When Bill Ibisch, a committed soccer fan, sent an email to Manuel Sager, the Swiss Ambassador, congratulating him over the Swiss team’s victory, he got a reply within fifteen minutes.