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 were at the core of this research project. In addition to a content analysis, the project also performed a needs and wants analysis. The content analysis described the courses offered and their attendance. The needs and wants analysis considered both the institutional perspective (i.e. the position of the Swiss Confederation and the language course suppliers) and the perspective of the employees. Questions included: 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 (i.a. based on an online survey with federal employees) was to demonstrate the extent to which supply and demand harmonise. This also provided 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 continued through the autumn of 2014, the findings were 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.
When combined with insights gained from statistical analyses and qualitative interviews, the results from the online survey yield a good overview of the Confederation’s offer of language courses and their use. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that multilingualism is not only a must in order to carry out institutional tasks but can be considered an important resource of the Federal Administration.