Language courses for personnel in the Federal Administration: evaluation and analysis of courses offered and their attendance

Project conducted by the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI)

Responsibility: Prof. Alexandre Duchêne and Dr. Renata Coray (RCM), Prof. Andrea Rocci (USI); research assistants: Dr. Seraphina Zurbriggen and Dr. Sabine Christopher Guerra (USI); 2012-2013

Final report (in German); Executive Summary (in German, French, and Italian); Zusatzauswertung Online-Befragung (in German)

In the interest of advancing multilingualism in public services, the Swiss Confederation is legally bound to promoting federal employees' language skills in Switzerland's official languages. The divisions within the Federal Administration are obligated to ensure that all employees have sufficient knowledge of a second official language and that persons in a leadership role additionally have passive skills in a third official language. To implement these directives, the Federal Administration offers employees basic and advanced courses in German, French and Italian.

The legally anchored language courses for federal employees, their design, significance and the extent to which they are taken advantage of are at the core of this research project. In addition to a content analysis, the project will also perform a needs and wants analysis. The content analysis describes the courses offered and their attendance. The needs and wants analysis considers both the institutional perspective (i.e. the position of the Swiss Confederation and the language course suppliers) and the perspective of the employees. Questions include: What concrete ideas exist concerning necessity, course goals and course design on the part of the persons responsible in the Federal Administration and on the part of the institutions offering the courses? To what extent do the language and communication courses offered by private institutions on behalf of the Swiss Confederation actually fulfil the needs the government has formulated? And what needs and motivation regarding their linguistic education and further training can be discerned in federal employees? An exact description of courses currently on offer, their design and implementation as well as their reception amongst federal employees will demonstrate the extent to which supply and demand harmonise. This will also provide information on the extent to which the language courses as organised by the Federal Administration meet the needs of the employees, and how employees communicate their needs.

The findings from this study were presented in 2013 (see the Final report and Executive Summary). As part of an additional assignment given to USI that will continue through the autumn of 2014, the findings will be supplemented by an in-depth analysis of the linguistic skills used in different types of everyday work activities carried out at the Federal Administration, and by a study of existing linguistic peculiarities in the individual offices.