Purpose ‐ The two-year basic training course leading to the Basic Federal Certificate was established in Switzerland by the new Vocational Training Act in 2002 with the intention of ensuring upper secondary education and training for disadvantaged young people. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the findings of a longitudinal study of youths who participated in a two-year vocational education and training (VET) programme. The main objective is the evaluation of intentions regarding the two-year training course. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A sample of 319 trainees on a two-year training course in the retail sales and hotel sectors were questioned at the end of their training about their educational and family background, their occupational and personal situation as well as their prospects. Their integration into the labour market was recorded 14 months later. These results are compared with the results of a sample of 183 graduates of an Elementary traineeship in the same occupational fields. Findings ‐ The results of the study confirm some assumptions made about the effects of the training with Basic Federal VET Certificate. However, the findings also point to crucial aspects that require further investigation. Originality/value ‐ The findings of the investigation provide insight into initial experiences with the new standardised VET programme. In addition, the presented research is the first longitudinal study focusing on the occupational perspectives of underachieving youths in Switzerland.