How does a company that designs and manufactures specialized, turbine-powered aircraft and is located deep within the Swiss Alps recruit a workforce with the skills necessary to compete on the world stage?

The answer is multifaceted but begins with an educated population. When I posed a question in battered German about nondestructive testing to a Pilatus maintenance technician, he smiled and responded in British-accented English, “You can ask me in English, German, Swiss-German, French or Italian, whatever is easiest for you.” Multilingual fluency is common in a country with four official languages, plus a near universal command of English.

A second major factor is the Swiss system of apprenticeship, of which Andre Zimmermann, Pilatus vice president PC-24, is an ardent advocate. Currently more than 100 young people are training in 11 different career paths at Pilatus. A typical apprenticeship involves working four days and then on the fifth, taking formal schooling in the apprentice’s field of specialization.

The government pays the apprentice’s tuition, and the manufacturer pays wages, typically in the range of 600-700 Swiss francs per month. In the fourth year, wages rise to 1,200-1,300 Swiss francs per month. Currently 37 apprentices work as “polymechanics.” These highly skilled technicians require expert-level knowledge of electrical installation, mechanical engineering, hydraulics, milling machine automation and pneumatics to produce and install components. The other apprentice positions include 19 technical designers and 12 plant and equipment builders, along with IT engineers, business administrators, automation engineers, industrial painters, logistics specialists, plastics engineers, publicity and production mechanics.

Pilatus has trained hundreds of apprentices, and over 30% of the young people who complete their apprenticeship remain with the company working as highly skilled team members.