Competence is the guiding principle and supporting pillar of the VET system. Competence is attested by two upper-secondary level vocational qualifications: the Federal VET Certificate, which is awarded upon completion of two years of training, and the Federal VET Diploma, which is awarded after three or four years of training. These two qualifications are only awarded when a person is qualified to work in a given occupation. As a result, Swiss vocational qualifications are recognised by society.

Within the Swiss VET system, there are various bodies that determine the various characteristics and conditions applying to a given occupation, i.e. they establish the occupational profile, decide on the suitability of prospective learners to work in the given occupational field and recognise their aptitudes.

In VET programmes, professional competences are all abilities, knowledge and skills required to respond appropriately to a given work situation for a given occupation. Professional competences are broken down into a range of technical, methodological, social and personal competences.