# 1 / 2023

How Switzerland remains successful - the seven pillars of innovation capacity

Pillar 3: Promote STEM subjects and entrepreneurship

In the age of digital innovation, the STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) must be given a particularly high priority in education. The importance of technical specialists for technological change is enormous. They are an essential component for sustainable economic growth, which is why a shortage of skilled workers from these fields has a strong negative impact on the creative power, competitiveness and ultimately the innovative capacity of an economy in the medium and long term.

Even if the education system in Switzerland is in good shape overall in an international comparison, there are some areas where work needs to be done. One of these is the position of STEM subjects. These subjects still do not feature prominently enough in school curricula, especially in comparison to language subjects. And the number of STEM students at universities and technical colleges is also rather small relative to the humanities and social sciences. This is extremely problematic from the perspective of innovation policy.

If Switzerland wants to remain the world champion in innovation in the future, it must invest massively in education in the STEM subjects, be it through better teacher training or making STEM teaching professions more attractive. The emphasis in schools must also be adjusted, because this is the only way to create the necessary acceptance and strengthen the social anchoring of STEM professions. Interest in and understanding of technology and the natural sciences must be awakened at an early age - especially because training or study in these subject areas is considered more rigorous and depriving than in the social sciences and humanities. In today's curricula, linguistic talent is much more decisive for advancement at school than mathematical-technical skills.

There is still great potential among women. For example, their share in the total number of all graduates from Swiss STEM degree programmes is extremely low in international comparison. The necessary prerequisites and infrastructure to change this are certainly in place with the excellent education programmes at ETH/EPFL, universities and universities of applied sciences. It is now a question of using these properly.

As already stated in the introduction, an idea alone cannot be called an innovation. Only when an innovation also becomes established in the form of products, new services or processes, which are then successfully applied, marketed and sold, does innovation come into being. In other words, entrepreneurial skills are almost as important as the ideas themselves. The entrepreneurial competence to implement ideas in such a way that value is generated from them is therefore extremely important. The key qualities that go into this include creativity, critical thinking, initiative, perseverance, teamwork, project management and business skills. Certain skills may well be innate or a matter of talent. However, much can also be learned through targeted support and training.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2022, start-up activity in Switzerland is slightly below the average for comparable economies. Fear of entrepreneurial failure is very high (ranked 36 out of 47). According to the report, entrepreneurship is often seen as a less favourable career path than in other countries. Already in earlier years, the status of successful entrepreneurs and media attention to entrepreneurship have declined. This development is a threat to the future prosperity of the Swiss start-up market and innovative strength.

It is therefore important that entrepreneurial thinking and business management skills are practised and promoted at a very early stage.

House of entrepreneurship

"libs Industrial Vocational Training Switzerland" is a total service provider in basic vocational training. Since 2000, it has deliberately and specifically focused on teaching its apprentices to think and act like entrepreneurs. Early on, libs realised that although they have a high level of practical knowledge in the respective occupational field, they often lack entrepreneurial understanding.

Therefore, the "House of entrepreneurship" (Unternehmerhaus) was initiated in 2020, which aims to instil an entrepreneurial mindset in learners from the dual vocational education and training world. Thanks to the numerous sponsors, over 1500 vocational apprentices from 16 trades are now empowered to implement innovations on their own. The libs entrepreneurship course is a compulsory subject for all first-year apprentices. It teaches the ability to structure and validate a business idea. The apprentices are not primarily taught by teachers, but by experienced entrepreneurs.

In the optional follow-up course in the second year of training, participants learn to bring a product to market and build a company from it. In addition, the Unternehmerhaus organises regular events on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship and start-up investments to bring together different stakeholders and create a small innovation ecosystem.

Takeaway 3: In the age of digitalisation, technical skills and entrepreneurial ability are particularly important. Those who want to increase the capacity for innovation must promote STEM subjects and entrepreneurship at an early age in school.