RANGOON — The Swiss Embassy has announced a plan to promote vocational training for Burmese youth in collaboration with the ministries of education and of labor and industry.
Paul Seger, the Swiss ambassador to Burma, spoke to journalists about the upcoming initiative on Wednesday morning in Rangoon ahead of a series of events acknowledging 60 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Burma.
“We have target groups to promote vocational skill trainings [to] university students, teachers and the private sector,” Seger said.
Swiss representatives say that their priorities in Burma will be engagement in cooperation regarding development and support for the government-led peace process. In December 2015 and January 2016, Switzerland invited respective delegations from the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State—two of the largest nationwide ceasefire agreement signatories—to the country for exposure trips relating to Swiss federalism.
The ambassador said that the Swiss Embassy would spend US$5 million in 2017 on a series of skills-based trainings in Burma, targeting high school students, teachers, owners and managers of local businesses, as well as a wide range of government authorities.
Carin Salerno, deputy director of cooperation at the Swiss embassy, said that vocational trainings for Burmese youth would focus on the hospitality, beauty and clothing industries, as well as offer mechanical skills like welding.
Ambassador Seger described the initiative as an alternative to country loans.
“This is not charity, this is a business opportunity for people,” he said.
In an August interview with The Irrawaddy, Ambassador Seger said that Swiss firms including Nestlé, as well as pharmaceutical and construction companies, are currently working in Burma, and that he hoped that business opportunities for Swiss entities would increase.
Swiss companies are also listed among those engaged in controversial dam projects on Shan State’s Namtu River, the risks of which have been described by Shan civil society groups, and include environmental degradation and potential displacement of villagers. In the same interview, the ambassador told The Irrawaddy that the company “takes [these] concerns seriously.”
The upcoming vocational trainings will be promoted through “road shows” throughout the country in 2017, which will be partnered with youth round table discussions on federalism.
The Swiss Embassy in Burma opened in 2012 after the country transitioned from a military regime to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.