Apprenticeship: a worthwhile option

What better way is there to get good training than by alternating classwork with practical work? This is what CERN offers with its long-standing apprenticeship training programme, which this year again saw two young participants win awards from the Union industrielle genevoise (UIG).


Graduation ceremony at ARENA.

If you think you’ve seen this story before, that’s because you have: for several years now, CERN's apprentices have been awarded the UIG prize.
The apprenticeship training programme is intended for young people aged between 15 and 21. It runs over four years and is available for two trades: electronics technicians and physics laboratory technicians (see box). This year, once again, the programme proved its mettle.

Each year, prizes are awarded to the best apprentices in the canton of Geneva at a special ceremony at which the 1 700 apprentices get their CFC (Certificat fédéral de capacité) diplomas. Despite its formal nature—the ceremony is attended by canton councillors and representatives of the major professional training bodies—the mood is a relaxed and festive one. This year Adrian Gaggero, a physics lab technician, was awarded a UIG prize for his outstanding performance during his training. At a separate ceremony, Audrey Grüter, in the same trade, also received a UIG prize awarded to the best apprentice in the field of mechatronics.

UIG award presentation at CERN.

Jean-Marc Bouché, in charge of technical apprentice training in CERN’s Human Resources Department, explains: “The apprenticeship programme is a very complete training programme that meets specific objectives laid down by the Swiss federal apprenticeship regulations and vocational and professional education and training ordinances. Up until the end of their second year all trainees follow practically identical courses, before choosing an area of specialisation. This allows them to explore the various aspects of their future profession, thereby gaining experience of numerous activities linked to their field of specialisation.”

It’s not always easy to find the right placement for each of the 24 apprentices under Jean-Marc’s care. “I always try to find the apprentice a traineeship placement that corresponds to his or her request. It’s made easier by the fact that so many different domains are represented at CERN. Colleagues in the Laboratory’s various services play a big role in placing the apprentices, and I would like to express my gratitude to all of them," says Jean-Marc. His responsibilities also include monitoring the programme so as to maintain close coordination with the instructors and supervisors.

For those seeking employment, today’s job market can be a forbidding place, and having a successful apprenticeship under one’s belt can make all the difference. “Very few of our graduates end up not finding work. Of course, motivation and determination remain the main factors that determine a trainee’s success,” concludes Jean-Marc.


The apprenticeship programme is open to young people from all the Member States. Knowledge of French is a prerequisite, as French is the language of instruction. Applications can be made on the UIG website, or directly through an employer. All applications are centrally processed by the UIG. Candidates will be required to undergo a test organised by the UIG in March, April or May. Their CVs are then sent to the various employers, who conduct their own selection procedure.

The first year of training takes place outside CERN, at a training centre called CEP (Centre d'enseignement professionnel, UIG-UNIA). Here, trainees learn the basic skills of their trade and prepare them for work in an industrial setting.  Six new apprentices join the scheme every year. Study and work alternate, with two days of classroom instruction typically followed by three days in a firm. To obtain the CFC diploma, they must not only pass the final examination, but also demonstrate the practical and theoretical skills needed to work in their chosen trade, in addition to presenting the projects in which they participated and the work they performed during their apprenticeship at CERN.

by Laëtitia Pedroso