copy the linklink copied!2. Getting informed: Understanding the potential of migrants and refugees and vocational education and training

To enable the potential of young migrants through upper-secondary vocational education and training (VET), it is important that, on the one hand, host countries develop a rapid understanding of the potential of migrants, and on the other hand, that migrants themselves gain an informed understanding of what upper-secondary VET has to offer. This chapter discusses challenges such as building migrant profiles and monitoring progress towards VET, and the low reputation and attractiveness of VET among migrants. It then presents effective approaches to inform young migrants about VET opportunities, including skills assessment, skills recognition, career guidance and mentoring.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

In order for a country to unlock the potential of young migrants through upper-secondary vocational education and training (VET), two primary circumstances need to be in place. It is important that host countries develop a rapid understanding of the potential of migrants – their academic and technical abilities and experiences – as well as their characteristics, interests and needs. Such understanding will allow for a more efficient targeting of resources to address barriers preventing easy progression into upper-secondary VET and then into the labour market. It is also important that migrants themselves gain an informed understanding of what upper-secondary VET has to offer. It cannot be taken for granted that migrants, especially humanitarian migrants (who travel primarily in search of personal safety rather than economic well-being) will understand VET systems and the employment opportunities to which they act as a gateway. In most of the origin countries of recent humanitarian migrants, upper-secondary VET has a poor reputation. In order to address such information asymmetries, there is need for policy intervention. In this chapter, the challenges facing both VET systems and migrants in becoming informed about one another are addresses.

copy the linklink copied!Getting informed about the potential of young migrants and refugees and VET

The migrant population is heterogeneous

Assessing different demographic profiles and needs of young migrants and refugees

The needs and potential of newly arrived humanitarian migrants are different, especially among sub-populations such as unaccompanied minors and young refugee women. Identifying differences is important for assessing the capacity of relevant training providers in localities and communities where they reside and for mapping the organisations that serve them and determining/enhancing the service capacity.

For example, assessing different language profiles and training needs of young migrants and refugees is one of top priorities. In many OECD countries, linguistic diversity among migrants is high (OECD, 2018[1]). In order for VET systems to cope with increasing linguistic and cultural diversity of migrant and refugee students, information of different languages and cultural backgrounds is crucial.

Migrants also differ by the age they arrive in the host country. Age at arrival makes a significant difference for educational attainment among migrants (OECD, 2018[2]). Compared to younger arrivals who are still eligible for compulsory schooling, older arrivals are often penalised in terms of their education and labour market support (Figure 2.1). Ensuring that older arrivals also benefit from upper-secondary VET demands more intense assistance (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[3]). It has been argued that countries with strong dual system apprenticeships have lower rates of NEET (not in employment, formal education or training) among young people (Quintini and Martin, 2006[4]) – however this does not appear to be the case for foreign-born youth, especially those who arrived when they were aged 16 or older (Figure 2.1).

The transition of migrant students from preparatory programmes to upper-secondary education and the completion of that education clearly shows the impact of age at arrival. In Sweden, four years after entry into a preparatory programme at age 16 or younger, 48% of migrant students had entered a mainstream upper-secondary education programme. This compares to 38% of those who entered the programme at age 17, or only 10% of students who were 17 or over who would be required to undertake upper-secondary provision within adult education (Skolverket, 2018[5]; Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[3]; OECD, 2016[6]).1 For refugees who arrived younger than age 13 in the United-States, high school graduation rates are similar to the native-born population, but again rates are lower for refugees arriving between ages 14 and 18 (Evans and Fitzgerald, 2017[7]).

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Figure 2.1. Age at arrival matters for NEET status
Percentage of native- and foreign-born 15-29 year-old NEETs, by age at arrival in the country (2017)
Figure 2.1. Age at arrival matters for NEET status

Source: Adapted from Table A2.3 in OECD (2018[2]), Education at a Glance 2018: OECD Indicators,


Monitoring progress and feedback is crucial, but currently lacking.

Information on young migrants and refugees and their background characteristics, training record and labour market outcomes is crucial if the host country is to be able to help these students succeed and successfully integrate into the country. Although there are national and international data on upper-secondary VET that can be used to monitor policy developments, there is room for improvement on data collection for work-based learning, and apprenticeships in particular (Cedefop, 2017[8]). What is more challenging is that in the established statistics, refugee or asylum status is rarely a separate variable and thus does not link to variables in other policy areas such as education, labour and in particular VET. Data that are available on this target group are largely collected on an ad hoc, small-scale basis.

Throughout the study process, several countries emphasised the difficulty they have already experienced in analysing this topic, mainly due to limited data on humanitarian migrants. For example, most of the international literature on the education and labour market integration of migrants does not consider humanitarian migrants specifically or directly, mainly due to data limitations (Anna and Olof, 2017[9]). In addition, no official data on refugees in upper-secondary VET are available in any of the countries under particular consideration in this report and even estimations are not readily available.

For example, in Germany, six different databases have to be consulted to provide even a rough estimate of the number of refugee apprentices and their performance because none of the official data sources were explicitly set up for the purpose of monitoring the participation of refugees in VET (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[10]).2 There is also no linked information and data between transitional programmes and the dual VET system at the national level, which makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of various programmes offered to prepare apprenticeship. This highlights how even an advanced data and statistics system on VET can be limited when faced with a specific, emerging issue.

In Sweden, due to the sudden influx of asylum seekers, there was a peak in 2016-17 in the number of students in upper-secondary schools who lacked civil registration information. In some cases, students were granted temporary social security number prior to obtaining new, regular numbers – an exceptional case which has made it difficult to track them through regular methods. Over 90% of those who lack civil registration information – or only managed to acquire a temporary social security number – went into the Language Introduction Programme, geared towards newly arrived students. For this reason, it was not possible to follow up some of these students in terms of their transitional pathways after starting the programme (Skolverket, 2017[11]).

The difficulty of tracking refugees related to upper-secondary VET is compounded by information protection issues due to security concerns and in some cases equity concerns that seek to avoid discrimination. Difficulties in measuring the effectiveness or outcomes of programmes for migrant students, moreover, are complicated due to potential discrimination by employers: a large part of longer duration of unemployment by migrants is explained by discrimination by employers (Auer, Bonoli and Fossati, 2016[12]) rather than the effectiveness of VET programmes in which migrants participated.

Effective approaches

Building profiles of humanitarian migrants

National statistics on education, training and employment by country of birth can inform a government about specific needs of preparatory programmes and VET courses. These are particularly useful for employers and training providers. More specifically, information about the profiles of refugees and asylum-seekers and their skills should be readily accessible, bearing in mind appropriate data-protection measures. Preferably in the form of a database, such information needs to be managed or at least accessible locally so as to be as useful as possible in linking employers and potential employees (OECD and UNHCR, 2016[13]). With such information on the characteristics of learners and their needs, the VET system is able to prepare for the coming students. Different examples can be found in Box 2.1.

There are many means of collecting information on recent arrivals, assessing their needs in terms of VET and ultimately providing them with relevant information. Assessing if there are sufficient resources and infrastructure in place to collect this information and aligning necessary tools can be the first step. For example, this includes conducting skills assessments on arrival at a reception centre, and assigning systemic student identification numbers, including migrants (Careja and Bevelander, 2018[14]). The goal of these efforts is to ensure educational and career path advancement and enable evaluations throughout that process.

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Box 2.1. Publically available databases on the education, training and skills of migrants

In Finland, Education Statistics provides detailed information on upper-secondary VET learners by mother tongue, nationality and country of origin – statistics are public although covered by privacy protection.

Sweden produces follow-up studies of students with migrant backgrounds who started in the transitional programmes, in particular the Language Introduction Programme, and provides information on their educational pathways.

In Turkey, an education circular in 2014 allowed for refugee students who do not hold residence permits to be enrolled in schools and for their personal and academic data to be entered using a new information management system (e.g. Syrian Education Monitoring and Information System – SEMIS), funded by UNICEF. This is a good example of building a new instrument to adapt to an emerging need.

In the United States, public schools report the share of English language learners and inform the need for more language training and at what levels, and which states and areas are in need. The socio-background information of learners is also publically available to help educational providers craft the right didactical approach.

Source: U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (2017[15])The Condition of Education 2017; UNICEF/UNHCR/IOM (2014[16]), Turkey: Rrp6 Monthly Update - September 2014,; OECD (2018[17]), The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Well-being,; Skolverket (2016[18]), Språkintroduktion [Language Introduction],, Skolverket (2017[19]), Uppföljning av språkintroduktion [Follow-up of language introduction],

Better matching young refugee profiles with VET or preparatory programmes

Without knowing migrants’ qualifications and skills, it is difficult for any VET institutions to plan and provide appropriate services or to engage employers. For those refugees with skills and work experience who lack documentation for their qualifications from their countries of origin, assessing formal and informal skills gains is particularly important (OECD, 2016[20]). However, assessing and approving skills gained from formal and informal education from other countries is difficult, and in particular within VET because the professions can vary substantially in content and qualification requirement between countries. Nevertheless, developing effective mechanisms for skill recognition is becoming increasingly important, as migration flows are creating a pool of workers with skills that often remain unrecognised. In fact, several countries are engaged in tackling this challenge.

Initial skills assessment

Initial skills assessment enables a host country to assess the variation of existing knowledge and skills among newly arrived. It assesses migrant potential and helps informed decisions to be made about guidance materials, learning pathways and so optimises prospective skills utilisation.

Different service providers are responsible for migrant skills assessments across countries and regions, from reception or career centres and public employment services to integration programme providers and education providers, including NGOs and employers. Their methods, priorities and timings also differ. It is essential for these actors to have appropriate tools for their purposes or to be able to inform migrants where their skills can be assessed and how these skills can be recognised, further developed and matched with employment opportunities as a next step.

Self-assessment (e.g. web-based) and assessment by counsellors are common tools and they serve different purposes. Self-assessment tools are useful for initial screening for a large number of migrants at the same time. Assessment by counsellors is more effective for in-depth assessments and particularly useful when it comes to choosing a pathway, whether that be a job application or an education/training programme. Initial screening tools should be readily available in native languages and the results of such assessments should be taken into account for the integration process. International initiatives can be also helpful for the national or regional use.

Regarding language assessment in particular, standardised testing is typically used but it often only provides a narrow insight into students’ language competence and cognitive abilities and does not take into account external factors such as illness or trauma, which can significantly affect student performance. As a result, students’ language difficulties are often mistaken for learning difficulties, which leads to migrant students being disproportionately directed into special or more vocationally-oriented education tracks compared to their native peers. For this reason, it can be complemented by language assessment through observation, which is less structured, but allows for an in-depth and flexible assessment over time (Staring, Day and Meierkord, 2017[21]).

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Box 2.2. International skills assessment tools

The EU Skills Profile Tool promoted at the European level is a multilingual, online tool to map and document skills, qualifications and experiences of migrants, in order for them to integrate into the labour market. It has been tested in a significant number of EU countries and regions as part of pilot programmes and other projects. In Italy, for example, it was tested at the national level through the project INSIDE and will be promoted as part of the PUOI project and in the Piedmont Region through the project FORWORK – Fostering Opportunities of Refugee WORKers. Reviews show that the tool has proven very useful in the documenting and mapping of migrant skills and experiences and uptake of the tool is still growing. Several countries reported that the use of the tool remains limited despite its potential usefulness.

OECD Education & Skills Online is an assessment tool designed to provide individual-level results that are linked to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) measures of literacy, numeracy, problem solving in technology-rich environments, and reading components (basic reading skills) measures that can be used to compare the test taker’s results with the those of others both within the test taker’s country and internationally. The assessment includes a background questionnaire to collect information on the test taker’s age, gender, education level, employment status, and native country and language. The tool also includes non-cognitive assessments that measure skill utilisation, workforce readiness, career interests, and health indicators. It can be used as a diagnostic tool of skills and learning needs for disadvantaged group such as migrants.

Source: OECD and UNHCR (2018[22]), Engaging with Employers in the Hiring of Refugees, and European Commission (2019[23]), EU Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals; OECD and European Commission (2018[24]), Education & Skills Online Technical Documentation; OECD (2019[25]), Education & Skills Online Assessment,

Recognising refugee credentials

Recognition of skills and qualifications is a mark of a strong and effective VET system as it quickens the pace of skill and qualification achievement without introducing unnecessary costs and steps to either learner or employer. In responding to the challenge of recognising refugee skills, governments have an important opportunity to overhaul their recognition procedures for the benefit of all learners. In general, migrants with foreign qualifications are more likely to be overqualified for the job they do or mismatched. OECD research shows that, in general terms, workers who have the skills, but lack the qualifications, demanded of specific occupation experience a wage penalty, and that those who obtain formal recognition have better outcomes than comparable peers who did not apply to have their skills recognised (Kis and Windisch, 2018[26]; OECD, 2014[27]; Damas de Matos and Liebig, 2014[28]).

The need for qualification recognition for refugees is different from that for native or other migrants as they are often unable to obtain verifiable documents from their native country (OECD, 2016[20]). Therefore, different approaches or new methods are necessary. It should be expected that VET provision will follow after the assessment and recognition of skills. However, identifying ways to weave together skills assessments with a comprehensive understanding of VET pathways and possibilities is often challenging.

Many countries are struggling with the qualification recognition of newly arrived migrants but are nevertheless engaged in tackling the challenge (Box 2.3). For example, Germany introduced a legal entitlement in 2012 to examine the equivalence of foreign qualifications in the Qualifications Assessment Act (Berufsqualifikationsfeststellungs-gesetz, BQFG) – while most applicants are Europeans, almost 1 500 were refugees in 2015, an increase of 25% compared to 2014 (BMBF, 2017[29]; Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[10]). In addition, the German Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF) launched the ValiKom initiative in 2015 with the aim of making transparent vocational skills acquired through work experience for individuals aged 25 and over with no vocational qualifications, including refugees (Kis and Windisch, 2018[26]). Licensing guides for migrant professionals who have no proven license in the host country can be also useful, particularly in countries such as the United States where different skills and qualification requirements are applied in different localities – no single government entity oversees the professional certification process (McHugh and Morawski, 2017[30]; Rabben, 2013[31]).

Within vocational education, there are three primary approaches by which skills developed within work-based learning are recognised (Kis and Windisch, 2018[26]):

  • Access to education or training programme (e.g. Norway and Switzerland): A person gains admission into the training programme despite not holding the normally required formal entry qualification.

  • Reduced programme duration (e.g. Australia, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the United States): A person may be granted exemption from part of the coursework or on-the-job training. Typically, this means the person follows an adjusted version of a regular programme with reduced coursework requirements or training time.

  • Qualification without a required training programme (e.g Austria, Norway, Germany and Switzerland): A person earns a full qualification upon demonstrating that they have already realised the targeted learning outcomes. For these purposes the person usually needs to pass a final qualifying examination or prove that they have achieved the targeted learning outcomes in other ways (e.g. through a dossier demonstrating working skills). Coursework is not mandatory, though in practice candidates often take optional preparatory courses.

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Box 2.3. Skills assessment and qualification recognition of refugees

In Austria, the Public Employment Service (PES) offers ‘competence checks’ for refugees to assess their skills, qualifications and language knowledge in their mother tongue (e.g. Farsi, Arabic, Russian and French). The scheme provides information on the recognition of qualifications, the Austrian education system and labour market. As part of the programme, the PES organises training days in companies. At the end of the programme, each participant receives a report showcasing existing competences (OECD, 2016[20]).

Denmark took steps to ensure systematic identification and recognition of the qualifications and competences of newly arrived refugees in 2016 – from accommodation centres to municipalities and also during integration programmes. The Danish Agency for Higher Education has set up a hotline to assist accommodation centres and local authorities with fast-track assessments and other advice on foreign qualifications recognition (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[32]).

In Germany, an IT-based system using video technology and filmed sequences assesses and validates skills. This tool requires basic language skills but can process a large number of cases simultaneously as well as provide reliable information on potential labour supply to vocational chambers or employers (European PES Network, 2016[33]). In 2012, the federal government passed the Federal Law on the Recognition of Foreign Qualifications (BQFG), covering both regulated and nonregulated professions. As part of the law, other means can be used to assess the credentials of refugees who lack documents including assessment tests or expert interviews (Loo, 2016[34]). To assess refugees’ informal skills, the German PES has developed computer-based skills identification tests (“MYSKILLS”). Developed in co-operation with employers’ associations to ensure compatibility with job requirements, the assessment takes around four hours and is done under the supervision of an expert at the public employment service. Testing is currently available in six languages will be rolled out to a total of 30 professions (OECD and UNHCR, 2018[22]).

In Norway, municipalities are responsible for the introductory integration programme and thus for skills assessment to determine which tracks participants will follow in the programme. The assessment may consist of a conversation with the migrant, possibly through an interpreter, complemented by language tests (in Norwegian and other languages) (Djuve et al., 2017[35]). In addition, a standardised procedure for refugees was established in 2013.

At the European level, Lisbon Recognition Convention defines a legal obligation to develop procedures to assess the qualifications of refugees.3 In 2015, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), together with the United Kingdom’s National Agency for the Recognition and Comparison of International Qualifications and Skills (NARIC), proposed European Qualifications Passport for Refugees. A pilot project by NOKUT was launched in 2016 (tested in Greece in 2017 and Turkey and Lebanon in 2018), which led to EQPR scheme (2018-2020) and REACT project 2018-20 aiming to map educational levels, work experience and language proficiency and provide information relevant for employment, internships, qualification courses, access to further studies (Malgina and Skjerven, 2018[36]).

In Canada, the World Education Services launched a project to assess the credentials of Syrian refugees to Canada (Global Talent Bridge Programme) in 2016 and plans to implement this in other countries including the United States. Combined with surveys and interviews, the programme makes use of trained evaluators with language and country-specific expertise and technical and research capacity to identify fraudulent documents. The programme involves local resettlement agencies, regulatory bodies, academic institutions and caseworkers, and provides contextual information on the educational system in Syria to assist in interpreting results to facilitate entry to licensing, VET and employment. Processing time takes 2-3 weeks but is expected to become shorter as the experience matures (Jillions, 2018[37]).

copy the linklink copied!Informing young migrants and refugees about VET opportunities

Challenges in informing young humanitarian migrants about VET

Humanitarian migrants are often unfamiliar with VET

A common challenge facing upper-secondary VET systems is that vocational education does not appear as an attractive option to many young learners. While this can be a rational decision (in some cases based on a lack of progression opportunities granted by, or the poor reputation of, upper-secondary VET), often it is due rather to ignorance. Across the OECD, a consistent challenge for upper-secondary VET provision is to ensure that prospective learners have easy access to full information before choices are made (OECD, 2010[38]). This is especially important for education systems where young people are expected to opt out of general schooling and join VET at a young age (Musset et al., 2019[39]). Challenges are particularly acute for humanitarian migrants who are often unfamiliar with the host-country education systems in general and in particular with the VET system and its benefits and opportunities. For many young people who have no direct experiences of VET (whether they are migrants or not), VET is an unknown. The costs and benefits associated with training, the range of work-based or school-based courses and qualification options, and subsidy and entitlement regimes often appear complicated and confusing to young people, in particular early school leavers (Dommers et al., 2017[40]).

As addressed in Chapter 4, upper-secondary VET systems are commonly much more complex than general education and VET opportunities often differ across countries, regions and municipalities. In addition, the range of different labour market conditions, sectoral regulations and qualification requirements for training can be overwhelming for those who just arrived in the country; these are often complicated even for native born.

How VET is provided and promoted, and its general reputation, can significantly influence young people’s perception of VET and its prospects

Attitudes about upper-secondary VET are influenced by both the host country and the migrant’s country of origin – and it is unlikely that many recent humanitarian migrants will bring with them an informed understanding of VET. Major countries of asylum show very low levels of upper secondary VET enrolment, for example the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) (16%), Afghanistan (1.3%), Iraq (5%), Eritrea (0.6%) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) (19%) and they are mostly school-based (Stoewe, 2017[41]). In comparison, about 45% of students in OECD countries are enrolled in upper-secondary VET (OECD, 2018[2]). Moreover, the quality of VET provision in these countries of origin is often poor in terms of labour market relevance and outcomes of VET graduates (ETF, 2003[42]). This suggests young humanitarian migrants will be instinctively less likely to choose upper-secondary VET. Moreover, when the host country does not value VET, it is more difficult for migrants to choose this path. Community perceptions and expectations can be regarded as a barrier to make VET more attractive (Dommers et al., 2017[40]).

According to a study in Canada,4 migrant parents have strong opinions of, attitudes towards, vocational occupations (Deussing, 2019[43]; Deussing, 2019[43]). Indeed, relatively higher shares of migrant students agree that their parents would discourage them from pursuing a career in the trades, a finding that is in line with the fact that migrant students are less likely than their native peers to be interested in such careers (5 percentage points difference), less likely to have positive perceptions in terms of pay, and also less likely to associate trade careers with good grades and good job opportunities.

Despite good employment prospects, migrant students are less likely to choose upper-secondary VET

Education and career choices are often influenced by preferences formed by country or culture of origin or the aspirations of parents and families. In fact, an analysis based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data (OECD, 2018[17]) confirms that compared to native students, students with a migrant background tend to have higher, but less realistic career ambitions than native-born students.5

In most OECD countries, 2015 PISA data show that in general, proportionally more migrant students are enrolled in general education programmes than on pre-vocational or vocational programmes (OECD, 2018[17]).6 Belgium (24 percentage points), Austria (19 pp), Slovenia (14 pp), the Netherlands (11 pp) and France (11 pp) show relatively large differences, having lower proportions of migrant students in VET. Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Japan have more than 5 percentage points fewer migrant students in VET compared to native students. This observation is consistent with national estimations such as in Sweden: migrant students primarily choose the academic track in upper secondary education (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[3]).

Young migrants may see less value in VET compared to native students or may be more susceptible to systemic factors that influence the education choices. Low value or attractiveness of VET may be affected by perceptions of parents and a lack of information on VET. For example, the VET system may be comparably more difficult for migrant parents to understand than general education, especially if they do not speak the native language. Ultimately, if there is a perception that upper-secondary VET has no easy transition to higher education or other tertiary levels and VET occupations are poorly regarded by learners in general, migrants can be expected to choose the general education track.

Without some intervention, migrant learners are unlikely to enter upper-secondary VET at comparable levels to native populations

Given all of these challenges in terms of perceptions, accessible, understandable and realistically helpful information can make a significant difference to students who have the option of choosing to prepare for and enter upper-secondary VET. Disadvantaged youth are more likely to demonstrate poor understanding of the connections between career ambitions and educational pathways. Concerns are inherently greater for young people from families with weak linguistic abilities and poor cultural understanding of national education systems. Host countries need, consequently, to proactively inform not only migrant students but also their parents about the prospects of upper-secondary VET and support them if they choose to enter the VET system. In Switzerland, analysis has explained the difference in upper-secondary VET education between natives and students with migrant backgrounds by not only gaps in knowledge and skills, but also by differences in tastes, aspirations and incomplete or inaccurate information about the education system (Wolter and Zumbuehl, 2017[44]).

Confident understanding of how an individual will navigate an education system has been seen as a form of cultural capital – it is a resource which shapes decision-making and enables progression. In the absence of useful familial sources of information and insight, public guidance becomes systematically more important (Norris, 2011[45]). In fact, a small-scale qualitative survey in Italy conducted by IOM (not publically available due to data protection) has suggested that for those motivated young migrants who value VET, a well-established regional upper-secondary VET system can be a pull factor for them to choose where to settle.

Evidence from a large-scale randomised trial in France also shows that information targeted at low-achieving students in middle schools can help them to identify tracks that fit both their tastes and academic proficiency. Broadly, information sessions are seen to have changed the overall value that students and their families attach to different options, either because they changed their perception of VET or because they measured more accurately their own chances of performing well. This also results in a significant reduction in grade repetition and dropout rates in high school. This trial was not targeted at migrants but it has clear implication given that parents in general have strong biases against vocational education (Goux, Gurgand and Maurin, 2015[46]).

Effective approaches: Helping newly arrived students understand VET opportunities

Proactive provision of career guidance

Career guidance helps individuals to progress in their learning and into work ultimately. Career guidance services are commonly designed to provide a formative influence on young people’s understanding of themselves and the world of work, and can often improve educational, social and economic outcomes (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]). Career counselling may provide initial screening and career guidance to match the aspirations and skills of migrants to potential vocational pathways while broadening their perspective to less well-known occupations and pathways. It can also be followed by skills and qualification recognition if necessary.

A number of studies have highlighted the characteristics of effective career guidance. An OECD analysis (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]) has highlighted the need for it to: i) be designed to broaden aspirations, focusing on areas likely to be misunderstood; ii) involve easy access to Labour Market Information; iii) be delivered by trained, impartial advisers; iv) recognise the social and demographic influences on young people’s aspirations; v) target the most disadvantaged with the greatest levels of intervention; and vi) involve multiple direct encounters with people in work and workplaces. All these principles also apply strongly for provision aimed at migrants.

For humanitarian migrants, career guidance is even more crucial for several reasons. Migrant students and their parents often have limited knowledge about career opportunities and how best to prepare for them. Formal VET provision is virtually absent in the major countries of asylum such as Afghanistan and Eritrea. While in Syria and Iran upper-secondary VET is available, programmes are school-based, and dual apprenticeships, as predominant in Germany, are unknown. Where apprenticeships in these asylum countries exist, they are associated with informal training in crafts (Stoewe, 2017[41]). Career guidance can help change the perception towards upper-secondary VET.

Research also highlights that career guidance should not be limited to the provision of information, but crucially also include opportunities for migrants to explore for themselves, through career events, job shadowing and work placements. This is particularly important for young people whose families lack first hand insights into careers of interest and how to access them. Information about career pathways can be considered as a resource to which learners have differing access. Compulsory, proactive provision, from a young age, is called for to address the gap in knowledge (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]).

Many countries provide a certain form of career guidance service, but not many countries provide tailor-made guidance for refugees or other migrants, not to mention supplementary advice on VET pathways. However, as the need for career guidance grows, especially for migrant students, several countries have reinforced their career guidance and orientation services to assist humanitarian migrants. In addition, given the limited access to information in general, it is important to proactively reach out to these migrants and systemically provide career guidance, for example, through case management systems, given that even with a good provision of career guidance, young refugees often do not reach out to counselling services by themselves, as in the example of Germany (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[10]).

Equity and access to career guidance

In general, disadvantaged students have a lower level of access to career guidance opportunities. Evidence shows that for both activities that engage employers and other stakeholders (job shadowing and careers fairs) and more school-based career guidance activities, advantaged students participate to a greater extent in such activities compared to disadvantaged students (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]).

There are distinct differences between the way that native students and students with migrants backgrounds access information about education and career possibilities. For example, according to PISA 2012, while foreign-born students tend to speak to career advisors at school relatively as often as native-born students (except Denmark and Finland), they tend to speak to career advisors outside of school more often (Figure 2.2, Panel A). Moreover, proportionally fewer migrant students attend job shadowing or work-site visits (Figure 2.2, Panel B) and visit job fairs (Figure 2.2, Panel C) compared to native-born students. This is concerning, as these are particularly effective mechanisms in raising aspiration, providing information and developing networks open to migrants.

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Figure 2.2. Migrant students tend to benefit less from career guidance provision
Share of students (%) in PISA 2012
Figure 2.2. Migrant students tend to benefit less from career guidance provision

Note: Figures present countries with available data at least 30 students and 5 schools.

Source: OECD (2012[48]), PISA 2012, (database),


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Box 2.4. Effective career guidance for humanitarian migrants

In Sweden, multi-lingual, online career guides on different occupations help refugees assess their own skills and qualifications against different occupations. The guides were developed together with employers’ organisations, and counsellors from public employment services can assist refugees in using the guides.

In Germany, migrants have access to all career guidance provisions, which are in general well developed. Career guidance focusing on vocational counselling is an integral part of the curriculum in compulsory school as well as within transitional programmes, often including company visits, internships or vocational workshops. Due to the importance of dual VET in Germany, the Federal Employment Agency with its local Public Employment Services, i.e. Job Centres and the Career Information Centre, are involved in this career guidance, offering counselling regarding apprenticeship training and the labour market. Tailored occupational information based on individual potential assessment is part of such counselling, which also includes educational coaches, preparatory mentoring and support up to the first year of apprenticeship. Support measures during upper-secondary VET begin connecting career guidance from the preparatory phase. For example, Assisted Apprenticeship (Assistierte Ausbildung) also includes skills assessment and career guidance. Germany also has targeted services, comprehensively providing career guidance such as Youth Migration Services (Jugendmigrationsdienste) (Flach and Imhof, 2017[49]).

Source: For Sweden, European PES Network (2016[33]), Labour Market Integration of Refugees – Key Considerations,; OECD (2016[6]), Working Together: Skills and Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Sweden, For Germany, Jenschke, B., K. Schober and J. Langner (2014[50]), Career Guidance in the Life Course: Structures and Services in Germany, National Guidance Forum in Education, Career and Employment (nfb),, BMBF (2018[51]), Berufsbildungsbericht 2018, Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, Bonn, Bergseng, B., E. Degler and S. Lüthi (2019[10]), Unlocking the Potential of Migrants in Germany,; OECD (2017[52]), Labour Market Integration of Refugees in Germany,

Proactive provision of mentoring services

Individual mentoring can also provide additional support to newly arrived immigrant students. Mentoring may consist of tutoring, social and emotional support, and educational and vocational orientation. Mentors can help facilitate the integration of these students into the host community, as they can offer opportunities to acquire or improve local language skills, and can help connect youth to resources, such as public transportation, local libraries, and other programmes. Through such interventions, young migrants can build connections with caring adults who can encourage them in their studies and provide relevant information. The success of mentoring rests on how well mentors have been trained, the extent of schools’ co-operation, and the engagement of parents and children (OECD, 2018[17]).

Mentors can be teachers, other school personnel or social advisors. Peer mentors can also help migrant students feel welcome. Mentors are often from the same cultural background as the mentee, so they can use their mother tongue to communicate knowledge about the school and the education system, as well as help migrant students learn the host-country language. Mentoring might be conducted at the homes of the mentees so that mentors can learn about their mentee’s family environment and develop a good relationship with their parents (OECD, 2018[17]).

Personalised provision to diverse young migrants leads to a higher demand for professional training

Effective career guidance and mentoring can be a means of recognising the unique characters and backgrounds of young people and in particular, patterns of social disadvantage (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]). This recognition can lead to an understanding of unique educational needs that are a consequence of various factors including: different language skills, prior knowledge and skills, attitudes towards upper-secondary VET and legal status as well as country of origin and family backgrounds. Therefore, advice on language learning opportunities and VET opportunities, including career guidance and counselling, should be individualised when possible – and delivered by independent, impartial counsellors.

With increased need for individualised support that takes diversity of the target group into account, several new occupations have emerged or are in high demand, namely, transition co-ordinator, reception advisor, case manager, social worker, career counsellor, inter-cultural mediator and multicultural advisor. Staff who organise group information sessions or individual counselling meetings for newly arrived migrants are also an important part of this workforce. In some cases, these workers need special training to better understand the diversity of the target group, their traumatic experiences, difference in legal status and opportunities depending on that status.

Making the best use of existing information mechanisms and channels

There are many mechanisms that already exist to inform migrants about VET pathways. These include career guidance, counselling, job fairs, skills competitions and websites as well as direct contact with employers. Sweden uses World Skills Sweden as a tool to increase attractiveness of VET including informing migrants about the value of VET. The OECD review team heard that a 2016 campaign as the Year of VET in Sweden engaged government and social partners, and informed students. It highlighted VET within film and social media, and provided an opportunity to discover student talent and skills through counselling. In particular, this campaign led migrant students to become informed about jobs that are accessible through VET. The campaign included radio interviews in Arabic.

In Turkey, provincial and district commissions have been established to increase the access of Syrians under temporary protection into VET. These commissions carry out activities to increase the awareness of Syrian students and their parents of VET and Vocational Education Centres via brochures and posters prepared by the Ministry of National Education in addition to television and radio programmes. The activities also include visits to refugee camps or refugee families and assistance with skills assessments and preparatory education, including language training.

There are other ways to connect eligible humanitarian migrants to VET opportunities, for example by identifying the target group through other existing programmes and facilities such as reception centres and public employment services (Box 2.5). In the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – a federal programme – provides low-income working families and those who are SNAP programme participants or potential participants, including eligible refugees, with funding and opportunities to participate in training programmes (National Skills Coalition, 2018[53]).7

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Box 2.5. Key players that inform humanitarian migrants and asylum seekers

1. Reception centres

Reception centres are the first information and knowledge gate for newly arrived humanitarian migrants – about not only social, health and legal information but also VET opportunities. Integrated reception services function as an ultimate intermediary between such migrants and VET institutions and other related VET services.

In Italy, the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati) provided information on legal, social, educational and vocational provision, conducting profiling of both refugees and asylum seekers and making placements in VET.8 Norway recently put in place skills mapping and career advice in reception centres. In Greece, refugee education co-ordinators9 meet with migrants and refugees in accommodation centres and schools to provide information about the Greek educational system and other relevant information. They also facilitate school enrolment for migrant and refugees and co-operate with various actors involved in refugee education. In Israel, information brochures are distributed at reception centres and offices of the ministry in charge of migrants.

2. Public employment services

In addition to reception centres, public employment services (PES) and agencies in charge of integration and/or social welfare inform recent migrants about not only VET opportunities (career, jobs and training opportunities), but also social, health and legal information. They play an active role in providing information through various means including counselling, evidenced by Flanders, Germany, Norway and Sweden. They are also involved in identification of migrants who might be well placed to benefit from VET. In some cases, these bodies collaborate to improve skill-screening processes for allocation of VET provision, which facilitates faster labour market integration. In Sweden, PES offers online skills assessment and training tools.

3. Civil society

Civil society also plays an active role in informing migrants. In Sweden, due to a lengthy asylum seeking process (averaging 26 months as of June 2018), civil society and municipalities are encouraged to play this role while reception centres focus on reducing the duration of the asylum seeking process. Since 2015, the Swedish Government has allocated additional funding to study associations and folkhighschools (both of these are often run by NGOs) for early measures aimed at giving asylum seekers and others Swedish language skills, understanding of Swedish society and other actions to promote integration

Civil society also works together with the PES in Flanders.

4. Specialised agencies

Specialised agencies provide counselling and information services for young migrants regarding their integration into education, employment and a new social environment. For example, Youth Migration Services (Jugendmigrationsdienste) in Germany provide counselling and information services for migrants between the ages of 12 to 27. There are more than 450 agencies in Germany that are financially supported by the Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.

Source: Countries’ responses to the OECD questionnaire.

In such provision, it is important to evaluate responses linked to career guidance activities. While research is clear on the need both for governments to address greater levels of guidance at young people from migrant backgrounds than native and on what the characteristics of effective careers guidance look like (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[47]), there is a need for further evaluation to understand how much more intense provision is necessary.

Ensuring access to information to migrants without host-country language skills

Online information that provides young migrants with relevant information about learning opportunities in their native languages is common in many countries (Box 2.6). These services provide relevant links to inform migrant students, or provide tools for learning host-country language, skills assessment and VET courses. In Flanders, France, Sweden and the United States, for example, multilingual online services inform migrants of study pathways, VET and career and language training as well as housing, financial aid and other issues. In the United States, the Language Access Plan developed by the Department of Homeland Security aims to improve access to services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), including interpretation and translation services as a regular part of conducting programmes and operations, outreach to LEP populations to provide relevant information, identification of current and future needs for language services, as well as providing training and guidance to staff on language access requirements.

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Box 2.6. Web portals and online information tools that inform and teach young migrants in terms of language and VET in selected OECD countries

In Italy, the Directorate General for Immigration and Integration Policies of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies has created a Web Portal on Integration ( in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education, University and Research. It is partly dedicated to informing young migrants about access to language courses and providing e-learning tools for language learning. It also provides information on integration services including Italian language programmes, housing, work, health and intercultural mediation. The portal is also the national reference point, linking public administrations (national and local) and private sectors. The Directorate General also publishes a monthly newsletter and disseminates a newsletter with the main news, translated into English, published on the portal. The website also includes a number of short guides in languages frequently spoken by migrants.

Norway’s (“The School Box”) provides teaching aids in seven languages and relevant tools in relation to the learning of Norwegian, English, mathematics, science and social studies, at the primary and secondary level. The project Flexible Education (2017-20), organised by the National Centre of Multicultural Education (NAFO), offers online learning tools within the subjects mathematics and science in Arabic, Somali and Tigrinja.

Sweden’s includes search tools for educational paths and providers. The site contains information about possible vocational outcomes, the situation on the labour market in a chosen field, plus funding and information on other important considerations when choosing a study path (Skolverket, ReferNet Sweden, 2016[54]). is offered in six languages. provides a wide range of information that is necessary for integration in ten languages.

In the United States, is a free English language learning website. It was originally an initiative of the Sacramento County Office of Education and now offers service nationally and includes a citizenship course component.

Source: Countries’ responses to the OECD questionnaire.


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← 1. This is also partly related to the fact that in the Swedish education system, all residents, regardless of whether they are migrants or otherwise, are only entitled to begin their upper-secondary National Programme up to the end of the spring term in the year they turn 20 years of age. An upper-secondary VET diploma can also be attained through studies in adult education (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[3]).

← 2. These databases include: i) Integrated Training Reporting System; ii) Training Statistics; iii) VET-market Statistics or Applicant Statistics; iv) Employment Statistics; v) Statistics on Assistance Measures; and vi) Statistics on Integration Courses. German Federal Employment Agency Data count registered applicants but no refugee status; German Federal Statistics Office Data count population by country of birth (ibid).

← 3. The main entities that work internationally to implement the Lisbon Convention are known collectively as the ENIC-NARIC Networks. The ENIC Network (European Network of National Information Centres on academic recognition and mobility) was formed jointly by UNESCO and the Council of Europe in 1994, while the NARIC Network (National Academic Recognition Information Centres) was set up by the European Commission in 1984. These two networks usually work jointly (and host a joint Web site) and encompass national information centres from each of the Lisbon Convention signatory countries (ibid).

← 4. The Youth Attitudes toward the Trades (YATT) questionnaire was included in PISA 2015 (initially in 2012) and administered to a sample of approximately 8 300 students from six Canadian provinces. This questionnaire is unique to Canada.

← 5. Students with ‘ambitious career expectations’ are those who expect to work as a manager, a professional or an associate professional by the age of 30. Students with ‘ambitious but realistic career expectations’ are those who expect to become managers, professionals or associate professionals and technicians by the age of 30 and who achieved at least PISA proficiency Level 2 in all three core PISA subjects – science, reading and mathematics. See Tables 8.6-8.11 in OECD (2018[17]).

← 6. On average in 2015 across OECD countries, and after accounting for students’ academic performance, foreign-born students and native-born students with foreign-born parents were four and three percentage points, respectively, less likely to be enrolled in a vocational track compared to native students of similar ability (across EU countries, five and four percentage points, respectively).

← 7. Federal SNAP E&T programme funding expands the reach of refugee employment services beyond those associated with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA). For example, refugees who secure employment after their initial months in the United States through RCA affiliated employment services can access additional employment services via SNAP E&T after they are no longer receiving RCA benefits, so long as they are eligible for SNAP (Boland and Gaffney, 2017[55]).

← 8. Access to SPRAR has been restricted to refugees and unaccompanied minors since December 2018. It has been renamed in SIPROIMI - System of Protection for those with International Protection Status and Unaccompanied Foreign Minors.

← 9. The Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs has appointed co-ordinators for refugee education. These co-ordinators are permanently appointed teachers, seconded by the ministry to schools for refugees and migrants in the accommodation centers or in urban schools with refugees and migrants.

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2. Getting informed: Understanding the potential of migrants and refugees and vocational education and training