Svenja and Nemias take part in the vocational preparation year organised by the Migros Group. This new offer enables them to iron out their academic weaknesses and gain initial practical experience working at a Migros company.
Svenja* (16): «I should have listened to my parents.»
Svenia's SMS to arrange an appointment with the journalist reads like an application: A polite greeting, correct capitalisation and paragraphs that could be straight out of a textbook. Despite this, the 16-year old still hasn't found an apprenticeship after completing her third year in the B class at secondary school.
She doesn't really know why. Could it be that the pandemic prevented her doing any trial internships and introducing herself in person? She explains that extended home-schooling wasn't easy for her entire class. Although her teacher helped everyone write out numerous applications, it sometimes took him three weeks to provide feedback. By that time, the apprenticeship was gone. Input from her cousin and her best friend clearly didn't help either. Svenja wasn't invited to any interviews.
Today she would write her motivation letter differently. «Everyone describes themselves as helpful,» she says. Instead of writing hat, she says she would now write «I'm punctual, a team player and a quick learner.» She would also add a photo to her documents. «This piques people's interest in you,» she says.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, Svenja attends Viventa vocational school, improving her academic weaknesses, such as geometry and fractions, capitalisation rules and presentation. She's also learning what makes a really good application.
I do my best every day.
She appreciates the clean break between starting her week in the classroom and then going to work for the rest of the week. If the commercial apprenticeship works out, she'll train as a customer dialogue specialist at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives next summer. She already takes on a few such tasks.
For example, she can already deal with customer complaints all by herself. If someone complains that their favourite cheese is no longer available at their local store, Svenja explains why and recommends possible alternatives. If a number of people criticise the quality of the same product - for example olive oil - she will even taste the oil that is allegedly too sour. She recently also started entering new products on the system. This still makes her a bit nervous, because mistakes would have repercussions all the way to the distribution centre. She's therefore happy that her line manager continues to keep an watchful eye on her. She also has regular sessions with a coach, who's there to help her with all manner of problems, even those of a personal nature.
Svenja feels well looked after in this setting. Nevertheless, she sometimes feels stressed that everything she does is recorded. If she ever turned up late for school, her line manager and coach would know immediately.
Svenja is pretty sure that she'll get her apprenticeship. She's fighting to ensure that she does. «I do my best every day,» she says. It's encouraging to have a goal. In her third year of secondary school, she hadn't realised how important her grades would be and therefore hadn't worked hard enough. «I should have listened to my parents,» she says, shrugging her shoulders. Her mother is a sales assistant in a bakery. Her father is a chef. Partly because they are Turkish native speakers, they couldn't support Svenja much with her applications. Today, they're both proud that Svenja's grades and attitude have improved over the course of her vocational preparation year. «Their smiles make me happy,» she says.
Svenja hopes that in ten years' time, she'll have a job she likes, as well as colleagues she gets on well with. In addition to finishing her commercial apprenticeship, she would also like to complete at least one continuing training course by then. «I'd like to understand the connections better and advance in my career,» she explains. Maybe she could even convince Migros to add her favourite flavour of crisps (sweet and sour) to its product range.
Nemias* (16): «I mustn't mess up this opportunity.»
The skills that Nemias hones three times a week with his handball team – strength, endurance, team spirit and clear communication - also come in handy for his internship at Mibelle logistics. Because everyone helps one another, he feels completely at ease with his colleagues. When he's sticking labels, scanning and stacking products, Nemias is in his element.
And yet at the end of summer, things still looked bad for him. He would have liked to have trained as a dental assistant or completed a commercial apprenticeship, but he only received rejections in response to the dozens of applications he sent. «The first rejection was really hard,» he recalls. When the next few arrived, he had tried to not let it get him down. Each time, he asked what he could have done better. One employer told him he should correct the spelling mistakes in his application. Another time, they said they had found a better candidate.
Looking back, he thinks: «I should have started sending applications much sooner, ideally in my second year of high school.» All his friends at school had said it was simple to get an apprenticeship. But that wasn't true. What's more, the pandemic meant it was almost impossible to present himself to prospective employers in person. Nemias is convinced that he would have been able to make a better impression face-to-face than on paper.
I've never earned this much before!
Nemias really enjoys going to work. He doesn't mind that it means he has to get up at 5am. One time, when his train from Lenzburg to Aarau was cancelled, he wanted to run to work in the hope that he would arrive on time.
At school, he's not always as quite as motivated as he is at work. He struggles with endless verbs and their illogical conjugations. When he speaks in his native Bosnian, he says he never has to think about which verb to use. And as for his geometry exercises, he doesn't see what use they are in his everyday life.
Nevertheless, his coach keeps reminding him how important schoolwork is. Nemias knows: «This is my opportunity. I mustn't mess it up.»
When he talks with former classmates from secondary school, he realises: «I'm lucky!» Other people finished their tenth grade at school without an internship or anything else. He's touched by the fact that Migros works to help young people like him. «So many young people don't have an apprenticeship. If they have a future, that's good for everyone.»
Nemias also likes the 550 Swiss francs he earns every month. «I've never earned this much before!» he says. He has an agreement with his parents that if he puts 500 francs of that in a savings account, they'll give him 30 francs a week for food. That's plenty to get by on. In the future, he wishes he'll have a job that means he always has enough to eat, can live in a nice apartment and pay his tax without any problems.
Nemias hopes he'll be able to begin an apprenticeship as a logistics specialist at Mibelle from next summer. He'd also like to learn to drive a forklift truck.
* The names of the people in this article have been changed for their protection
A helping hand for an apprenticeship
In August 2021, Migros and Viventa vocational school launched a pilot project in the Greater Zurich region. This is aimed at young people who haven't yet been able to meet the requirements to get an apprenticeship, whether for family, social or other reasons.
Over the course of a year, the young people attend Viventa vocational school and gain initial practical experience working at a Migros Group company. The aim is to be able to offer them an apprenticeship within the Migros Group after this year of vocational preparation - provided both sides are interested.
Photos: Nik Hunger