KATE Field trip in Nuremberg, f-bb, 29.10-30.10.2019: migrants’ integration in Germany


The main goal of KATE field visit at f-bb (Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training, Nuremberg, Germany) (Figure 1) has been to acquire knowledge and best practices on migrants’ integration within the German context, with specific focus on: 

a) vocational education and training; 
b) the policy-making context and counselling structures supporting migrants’ integration in the labour market; 
c) the recognition of migrants’ prior skills and qualifications.

Information has been drawn both at the national and at the local level by presenting different policy initiatives, projects, and practical examples.

Since its start, the field visit has been characterized by knowledge sharing and mutual learning; in this regard, the KATE team has presented the activities of our on-going project, whose goal is to create an innovative, hybrid model with both face-to-face and online services provided to international comers and enterprises in South-Savo, Finland. As well, the Finnish perspective and practices on the above mentioned topics has been given. Although Germany and Finland have different histories and backgrounds concerning the integration of migrants, at the same time, especially after 2015, migration represents in both contexts a relevant regional development potential, which requires structural changes from the policy-making, political, cultural, economic, and social point of views. In Germany, the population with foreign background is around 20.8 million people, which is about 25.5% of the total population. In Finland on the other hand, about 7% of the population is of foreign background (as of 2018). In both countries unemployment is about twice the average among people with foreign background.

Figure 1. Group picture at f-bb. From the left: Laura Roser, Brigitta Létai, 
Laura Kekkonen, Riitta Lappi, Wolfgang Wittig, Fulvio Rizzo, Evelien Willems.


Vocational education and training in Germany is characterized by the dual system (dual VET), which means that classroom part-time study instruction is combined with on-the-job work experience (the apprenticeship period is usually done in a public sector institution or in a company). 70% of all VET students are performing an apprenticeship within the dual system. Under the institutional point of view, the VET system is regulated both by the federal government and by the state governments. While the former is responsible for the on-the-job work experience, the latter for the part-time classroom instruction. The chambers of commerce and industry supervise the implementation of the VET system. In case somebody does not have enough training, but can show enough professional experience, he/she may be admitted to the final examination that leads to a formal VET qualification.

Although migrants and refugees in Germany can enroll to regular VET without specific requirements, there are special programs which are preparatory for admission. Among the special programs, the Occupational Orientation for Refugees (BOF) includes elementary training in a training workshop, an internship in a company, and language training. According to the OECD 2019, Germany is a comparably unattractive destination for international skilled workers, and this is in part due to the complicated vocational recognition process.


The recognition of foreign qualifications in Germany is based both on EU directive (EU Directive on the Recognition of Professional qualifications (2005/36/EC)) as well as on the Federal Recognition Act (2012), the Länder Regulations (2012-2014), the § 17a of the German Residency Act, the Recognition Grant (2016) and the Skilled Immigration Act (2020) (once the latter will come into force, § 17a of the German Residency Act will be turned into §16d). The Federal Recognition Act in 2012 has had the goal to improve the assessment and recognition of professional and vocational education and training qualifications achieved abroad, and it is related to more than 600 occupations ruled by the Federal Law. The Länder Regulations (2012-2014) regulate the recognition of foreign qualifications for those occupations for which federal states are responsible. The § 17a of the German Residency Act (2015) has allowed skilled workers from third countries to take training period in Germany in order to compensate for substantial differences. The Recognition Grant (2016) has given financial support for covering costs related to the recognition procedure and it has been adopted in 2019. The Skilled Immigration Act (2020) has the goal to facilitate the recognition procedure and the options for qualified professionals with vocational qualifications from third countries (it will enter into force on March 1st, 2020). The number of applications for credential recognition has increased substantially in the period 2012-2017. Most applicants are from Europe, and the most frequent target professions (2017) are teachers, engineers, (business) economists, and registered general nurses.

During the field visit, examples of recognition of qualifications have been drawn from the nursing and teaching sector. As for the nursing sector, the main challenges include the difference in nursing responsibilities between Germany and abroad. For instance, the “geriatric nurse” generally does not exist especially in third countries. In this regard, a few measures and projects have been implemented to facilitate the recognition process of nursing qualifications achieved abroad. As for the teacher qualifications, main challenges for recognition include the high-level of German required (C2), and differences in pedagogical and didactic concepts, as well as the requirement that the teacher has to be specialized in at least two teaching subjects. In many cases, the way to full equivalence is a long procedure. Some solutions and/or mitigating measures have included the possibility for special pedagogical language training, and in some federal states the possibility for teaching only one school subject. Looking at the statistics concerning the recognition certificates on teaching qualifications, in only 8% of the cases there is full recognition, while in 47% of cases a compensation measure is required.


In the city of Bamberg, KATE team has had the opportunity to familiarize on how counselling on credential recognition works at the local level in one of the advisory centers of the region of Bavaria. Various examples of counselling were given during the visit, in particular the recognition process of professions both coming from the EU and from outside the EU (teacher, surveying technician and geriatric nurse). In total there are 5 federal state funded advisory centers in the region of Bavaria: in addition to the one of Bamberg, the others are located in Ingolstadt, Landshut, Regensburg, and Würzburg. The services offered by these centers are free of charge and manifold, including:
  • explanation of what credential recognition is and how it can be achieved (recognition process and costs);
  • advise on German reference profession and possibilities to gain access to that profession in the state of Bavaria;
  • clarify options on possible financial support for the recognition process;
  • support in filling out request forms and identifying the relevant competent authority for recognition;
  • offer help in filling out documents, as well as advise on how to deal with missing documents.
Beyond customer service, these advisory centers may give counselling to companies on how to integrate foreign labour in the workplace, they are engaged in public relations to make their activities more visible, they monitor their activities, as well as they cooperate with employment agencies and job centers.

The biggest challenges in the work of these centers are represented by bureaucracy both for the customers and for the counsellor, by the required language skills (which have to be proved in order to gain the recognition), by the resident permit process, and by the covering costs of the individual recognition process. The customers visiting the centers are pleased with services offered; at the same time, it is important to remind that the centers’ staff have no influence on the result of the recognition process or the chances to succeed in gaining recognition.

Network ”Integration through Qualification (IQ)”

An important milestone for labour market integration in Germany has been undertaken in 2005, when the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) has established a programme to improve labour market integration of people with foreign background. Such programme – which is in the 5th funding period (2019-2022) – is funded by both the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the European Social Fund (ESF). Key partners are the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and the Federal Employment Agency (BA). Target groups are specifically individuals who have acquired professional credentials abroad, as well as labour market and economic stakeholders. Since the establishment of the network in 2005, the programme has progressively expanded all over the country and it currently includes:
  • 16 regional networks with approximately 380 subprojects
  • 5 competence centres
  • IQ Dissemination Project
  • Project Support Fair integration (SFI)
The regional networks address a variety of activities at the Länder level such as policy consultancy and networking, advise on credential recognition and job training, development and implementation of bridge training measures. The competence centers instead have the goal to share and consolidate expertise and practical experience, as well as guaranteeing quality standards for all the services offered.


In addition, the results of a project whose goal was to involve refugees in labour market measures as early as possible on the basis of their prior qualifications and competencies were presented. The participants in the project were particularly those refugees who had a high chance to remain in Germany (for instance Syria, and Afghanistan) and with high level of formal qualifications. The starting points of the project included refugees’ individual barriers (cultural shock, individual experiences), a legal framework not oriented towards fast labour market integration, and insufficient measures supporting market integration, such as no access to adequate language courses. Throughout the period 2006-2017, refugee arrivals in Germany have reached their peak in 2015 (441,899 arrivals) and 2016 (722,370).

The institutional setting of the financial support for refugees is divided into two systems. While employment agencies (Social Code III-SC III) give financial support to asylum seekers (whose employment is possible if granted by the immigration authority), the job centers (Social Code II-SC II) are responsible for supporting refugees to whom asylum has been granted. As for the latter, it is important to note that refugees have unrestricted access to the labour market. Both institutions organize match-making between employers and the unemployed. Such match-making endeaviours have to take into account refugees’ employment prospects and characteristics, as well as coordination dynamics between employment agencies and job centers.

Within the project, early labour market measures were evaluated by both qualitative case studies and an online survey conducted among employees of these institutions. According to the results of the evaluation, a skill appropriate labour market integration should be the long term objective. In order to achieve such goal, integration needs: 
  1. individualized support (both for refugees and employers); 
  2. investment in the language skills; 
  3. investment in the assessment of competencies;
  4. strong cooperation between key players; 
  5. investment in counsellors’ skills; 
  6. a reasonable number of refugees per counselor.


Without formal qualifications, job seekers face challenges in the labour market; this is especially true for both low-skilled adults (usually people who are 25 years or older with no formal qualifications or whose qualification is out-dated), and refugees. At the same time, there is evidence that employers are willing to hire people without formal qualifications provided that their aptitude for the job in question is demonstrated othrwise.

In order to support individuals without formal qualifications, it is important to have effective counselling services and job placements, and at the same their informal competencies need to be tested and validated. As for skill testing and validation, there are in Germany three different stages. The first one is self-assessment (run by the Bavarian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) undertaken by the target group itself. Usually it lasts 30 to 60 minutes and it involves image-based online assessment with the aim of an initial mapping of the client’s work experience. The second one is testing (run by the Federal Employment Agency), which involves computerised multiple choice test. In this case, the goal is to have reliable information on an individual’s technical knowledge. The third and final stage is validation (run by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), where work knowledge is evaluated by the means of concrete and practical tasks, and it is one day long.

During the field visit, focus has been on the testing stage. The main tool for the testing stage is the MYSKILLS computer program, which evaluates the individual knowledge and competencies by the means of questions on specific work situations and challenges. MYSKILLS tests technical knowledge related to specific occupations recognized within the German dual system, and it is based upon curriculum documents, and analysis of real life work. At the same time this tool does not evaluate language skills, practical skills, personal and social competence, and problem solving.

MYSKILLS tests are performed at the employment agency and/or job centre by the supervision of a test administrator. After the test is done, there is a follow-up meeting between the client and the counsellor or case worker where the test results are discussed and it is defined what is the best placement strategy taking into account the results. Since 2017, the test has been taken by 12,000 people (about 500 tests per month). The evaluation of such tool is expected in 2020. The critical issue is to verify to what extent the test results are correctly interpreted, both by the counselor and the client point of view. As well, another important issue is the employers’ trust concerning the validity of competence assessments.


The structural changes needed to integrate migrants in the labour market in the most effective way present many similarities with the Finnish context. Especially important – from all stakeholders involved – is to increasingly take into account not only formal, but also and above all migrants’ informal qualifications, and how to test and validate them. The MYSKILLS programme – although yet to be evaluated – could be also replicated in the Finnish context, whereas testing and skills validation appears to be currently more fragmented. From the policy-making point of view, the IQ network programme is comprehensive and addresses migrants’ integration from a variety of perspectives. As well, a skill appropriate labour market integration should be the key model for all practitioners who deal with integrating migrants within the labour market.

For more information:
Fulvio Rizzo, KATE Project Manager

Hankkeen esittely

Etelä-Savo on Suomen ikääntynein maakunta. Väestönkehityksessä on tapahtunut negatiivinen luonnollinen väestönmuutos, eli kuolleisu...