WOSTEP Asks Watch Industry’s Opinion On 800-Hour Program For `New Profession’

The international watch industry-including schools, retailers, associations, Swiss watch firms, importers and suppliers-is being surveyed for opinions on a proposed 800-hour training program that would create a new type of watch service professional.

The program was proposed by the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP), in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. WOSTEP, which has been the leader in watchmaker education for 35 years, is conducting what it calls a “consultation” of watch industry members, who have until Nov. 15 to respond with comments. If results are positive and supportive, WOSTEP will develop the program, which could be taught as early as Fall 2002.

“This is [a proposed course for] a new profession,” Antoine Simonin, director of WOSTEP, told JCK, “but it is the industry that should decide what training there should be” to meet its needs and requirements. If response is negative, the program won’t be implemented.

Idea’s origins. In 1994, WOSTEP launched its two-year 3,000-hour curriculum, now universally regarded as the standard in complete watchmaker training. It is taught worldwide in many WOSTEP “partner” watch schools, including several in North America. Even then, Simonin saw the need also for an additional, shorter program to train people more in quick, basic, service-oriented watch work. At the time, however, full attention was needed to set up WOSTEP’s two-year program and network of partner schools.

The idea of a shorter curriculum was revived early this year with a suggestion from the U.S. Watchmaker Education Coalition to divide the 3,000-hour program into basic and advanced courses.

Although WOSTEP officials rejected the idea, they recognized the growing worldwide need-especially by retailers and distributors-for specialized personnel to do quick after-sales watch services. Those services include replacing movements, crystals, and batteries; water resistance tests; cleaning cases and bracelets, and replacing straps-services for which the 3,000-hour-trained watchmakers are overqualified.

“There is a need for such professionals not only in the States but worldwide, everywhere there are major [watch] distribution centers,” says Simonin.

Drafting a proposal. On Feb. 28, 2001, WOSTEP set up a working committee that included Simonin and representatives of some Swiss watch firms to do initial studies and prepare an interim report for a proposed training program usable in all world markets of the Swiss watch industry.

On Oct. 8, WOSTEP sent a few hundred copies of that proposal to all WOSTEP members including Swiss watch firms, partner schools and other watch schools, horological associations, and representatives of Swiss watch brands (importers, retailers, and service centers). Included with the proposal was a questionnaire asking for reaction, comments, and criticism.

WOSTEP will take the rest of the year to evaluate the responses. If they are generally positive-meaning not only approval of the proposed training, but also promises to support it-WOSTEP will proceed to develop the program. That includes setting its actual length (800 hours is the working size); requirements for students and instructors; determining what materials, tools, and equipment are required; selecting locations for instruction; drafting a budget-and choosing a name.

“This is [a course for] a new profession,” says Simonin, “so we’re not sure yet if we’ll call it `watchmaking’ or something else. We are sure that if we proceed, we want to make it a respected, well-paid profession-not a source of cheap labor-with jobs in the industry offering those entering it a chance [for a good career].”

The final concept must be approved by WOSTEP’s governing committee and then ratified by a special general assembly of the WOSTEP membership.

Then, says Simonin, WOSTEP will recruit technical and administrative staff and launch the program. The inaugural course would probably be taught in WOSTEP’s Swiss headquarters. Assuming there is support from the industry for the program, it could begin as early as Fall 2002.