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Watchmaking workforce remains stable despite pandemic

The Swiss watch industry has retained staff in 2021 Keystone / Martin Ruetschi

The annual census of the Swiss watch industry labour force found that partial unemployment helped the industry weather the pandemic over the last year. The number of employees in the industry remained stable in 2021 while the share of high skilled staff increased.

There are just under 60,000 people working in the watchmaking industry in Switzerland, which is less than a 1% decrease from 2020. Partial unemployment enabled companies to adapt to the changing demand during the pandemic while keeping employees, according to the annual censusExternal link from the Employers’ Convention of the Watchmaking Industry. The 2020 census results showed the share of employees in the sector fell by 2.6% due to adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Partial unemployment benefits help cover the shortfall if an employer needs to cut back in labour hours. This can prevent layoffs. It was used frequently during earlier waves of the Covid-19 pandemic when many businesses had to close their doors temporarily under the partial lockdown.

The sector is also attracting more highly skilled individuals with a 3.4% increase in the number of people with higher education qualification in the last year. The proportion of qualified staff now represents 70% of the total workforce, according to a press statement.

The top three watchmaking cantons in terms of staff numbers remain Neuchatel (15,063), Bern (12,301) and Geneva (10,499). These three cantons, together with Jura, Vaud and Solothurn, make up the “watchmaking arc”, which represents 92% of total employees.

The flagship of Swiss industry, which sells nearly 95% of its products abroad, experienced a 22% drop in exports in 2020, comparable to the recession that followed the financial crisis in 2009.

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