copy the linklink copied!6. Towards strong, flexible and inclusive VET systems that work for all

The combination of rapidly changing labour market needs and the growing diversity of the learners expected to participate in vocational education and training (VET) calls for strong, flexible and inclusive VET systems. This chapter discusses systemic and institutional issues related to VET in terms of migrant students, including defining strategies and co-ordinating relevant stakeholders. It highlights structural and institutional challenges facing both young humanitarian migrants and the VET system itself, noting that these challenges also apply to youth at risk in general. It lays out overarching elements for success to guide countries in efforts to unlock the potential of migrants through VET.


Vocational education and training (VET) systems are complex, involving a wide range of stakeholders and policies across multiple jurisdictions as well as often multiple levels of government. Adding an additional layer of complexity in terms of provision for migrants and refugees, which can be both logistically and politically complicated, can highlight existing governance challenges while at the same time creating new difficulties that must be addressed.

In that regard, whilst the influx of humanitarian migrants into a host country’s upper-secondary VET and preparatory systems may be seen as a short-term phenomenon, the challenges presented by this phenomenon can be an opportunity to institute reforms with long lasting impacts for a much wider group of learners. The result of reforms should be well-shaped national strategies and targets that align relevant policy measures and co-ordinate relevant stakeholders in order to shape VET systems to be more flexible, responsive and inclusive but also stronger. Such an approach is particularly important when considering that humanitarian migrants may have similar needs to a wider group of students with diverse and vulnerable backgrounds.

Prior to this report, there has not been sufficient policy discussion focusing on young migrants and refugees with regard to the integration into and through upper-secondary VET – particularly on the subject on the VET system and governance. Much of the existing literature and policy guidance is geared towards labour market integration, often focused on adults. While this is important, it does not address the importance of VET, in particular early interventions for young people. With this gap in mind, this chapter focuses on the issues of system design, planning and co-ordination of upper-secondary VET systems specifically with regard to young migrants and refugees.

copy the linklink copied!Why is updating the upper-secondary VET system and its governance important in unlocking the potential of young migrants and refugees?

General issues of upper-secondary VET systems: Evolving needs for VET

OECD countries, in particular EU countries (Cedefop, 2015[1]), have made important progress in making VET more attractive, relevant and inclusive. This has included acquainting young people with VET, increasing work-based learning in VET while enhancing basic skills, enhancing flexible access and engaging social partners in VET. However, there is room for improvement in expanding VET opportunities that meet the learning and practical needs of groups at risk; insufficient monitoring of these groups is an obstacle to targeting VET provision better suited to their needs.

While VET systems may have benefited from significant reforms in many countries, the perception of VET has not always changed proportionately. Negative perception towards upper-secondary VET remains a challenge in attracting lower-performing and disadvantaged students, compared to general education. This reflects the overall decline in the attractiveness of and perception on upper-secondary VET among young people, who are increasingly aiming to pursue higher education and the ambition of working in high-skilled jobs (Musset and Mytna Kurekova, 2018[2]). This trend has real world impacts: despite increasing labour market demand for upper-secondary VET graduates, upper-secondary VET enrolments are falling in Germany and Sweden (see Figure 1.1, Chapter 1). This is problematic for these countries and others, which are experiencing acute shortages of medium-skilled vocational graduates.

Technological change, particularly automation, is also tending to promote a shift away from narrowly confined vocational training towards more general education and higher education qualifications (Wettstein, Schmid and Gonon, 2017[3]; OECD, 2019[4]).

In this context of skills shortages within a rapidly changing labour market, VET systems are under pressure to adapt quickly. Together with increasing interest in tertiary forms of VET (e.g. higher VET) as well as a growing need for and interest in adult education, the need for increasingly flexible and permeable VET systems is gaining attention in several countries (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[5]).

This demand for VET systems to change continuously and adapt requires strategic approaches in the design and planning of VET systems, the success of which is largely based on a holistic approach and a common understanding among stakeholders committed to co-ordination and information sharing.

Additional issues facing upper-secondary VET systems due to the increase of humanitarian migrants and the increasing diversity of students

Any changes implemented due to the challenges discussed above will need to take into account the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity and other different characteristics and needs of young migrants and refugees. The challenge of increasing the capacity of VET and preparatory systems to upskill this population to the levels that meet employers’ demand while also dealing with this diversity issue may be significant in those countries that experienced an increase of migrants and refugees within a short period time.

Targeted measures and additional support, shown in the previous chapters such as targeted pre-vocational programmes and measures that provide mentorship, career guidance or legal flexibility, will be key in supporting these efforts, due to the different needs of the migrant population compared to most young natives. However efforts cannot stop at specific, targeted measures, but must support a smooth transition to mainstream upper-secondary VET and then into the labour market; this requires more flexible provision such as through partial qualifications, modularised courses and a close link with adult education. As mentioned in previous chapters, teachers and other support staff in both VET and preparatory sectors will need to be equipped with skills to deal with student diversity.

Realising these efforts would be a significant step toward meeting the goal of a VET system that can take advantage of opportunities presented by the increased number of refugees and migrants, to maintain or increase the supply of VET graduates to match labour market needs and tackling issues arising from an ageing population.

Responding effectively to the challenge presented by migrants in general, and humanitarian migrants in particular, may require new approaches and more investment

With these increasing challenges and emerging trends, VET systems are being forced to continuously evolve and adapt. This requires that they are designed and delivered to be more receptive and flexible to more diverse groups of young people while remaining, or becoming more, attractive both to employers and learners. The efforts of governments and VET stakeholders to respond to the challenges facing disadvantaged learners have brought innovative ideas, as discussed in the previous chapters, including 1+3 in Germany, Vocational Packages in Sweden, targeted pre-vocational programmes in Switzerland and programme-level innovations in Italy, that may in turn strengthen VET systems and improve the quality of teaching and learning. Ultimately, such responses will underpin enhancements to VET systems of value to all learners, but will require important investment and outcome-oriented quality assurance and evaluation, supported by more disaggregated data collection system, as well as longer term monitoring and tracking.

copy the linklink copied!Better system design to build strong, flexible and inclusive upper-secondary VET systems

Flexible and permeable VET systems accommodate different starting points and learning speeds of migrants and refugees and enable alternative VET pathways

Flexible provision in upper-secondary VET systems increases the accessibility for weaker performers and disadvantaged learners who are not ready to enter mainstream upper-secondary VET programmes. Adding tailored programmes at different levels of skills and qualifications to the system, that can be readily linked to partial qualifications, can give this group of learners easier access, encourage participation and increase rates of completion by giving more time, accelerating learning or meeting different levels of skills needs. Countries may benefit from developing and promoting alternative instruments to allow flexible and permeable VET programmes, however there should be a strong component of work-based learning to be successful and mechanisms to engage social partners in the design and deliver of such programmes.

Examples include Switzerland’s two-year upper-secondary VET programmes and Italy’s regional upper-secondary VET programmes. These are both shorter and less-demanding compared to mainstream programmes, but still have labour market value. The approach that allows permeability between different levels of programmes – from preparatory VET or upper-secondary VET into adult VET in various forms – is especially effective. This includes permeability between upper-secondary VET programmes. This works because these shorter and less-demanding or partial VET programmes (compared to full diploma programmes) are fully aligned with broader VET pathways.

The flexibility of VET concerns not only expanding capacity in response to high inflows of newly arrived humanitarian migrants, but also being prepared for decreases. For example, in Sweden, the Gothenberg region has a mechanism to guarantee the continuation of service in VET schools even if demand is low. In the United States, funding cuts to programmes that support refugees in the country have encouraged stakeholders to develop flexible strategies to find alternative funding and prepare for decreases in newly resettled refugees (e.g. expanding the services of refugee organisations to the wider community while maintaining specialised services for new refugees) (Mathema, 2018[6]).

Linking preparatory programmes, upper-secondary VET and adult education allows higher flexibility

In effective VET systems, learners have the opportunity to return to education to further develop skills once they have become more settled in the host society. Seamless connections throughout the VET system, including preparatory programmes, upper-secondary VET and adult VET (in various forms, but in particular formal adult education that leads to partial or full qualifications) can facilitate migrants and refugees in beginning and completing VET and obtaining necessary qualifications. This requires alignment of all existing programmes in a coherent VET pathway for each occupation (or across occupations) and that there be close links with the qualification system, ensured by agreed quality standards.

Closer links between preparatory programmes and mainstream upper-secondary VET

Closer links between preparatory programmes and mainstream upper-secondary VET have many benefits. They can help avoid negative perceptions that poor performers attend such programmes. They can also prevent learners from staying in those programmes for too long, which can be inefficient, counterproductive and demotivating for students who may otherwise be highly motivated (OECD, 2018[7]) and want to study in the mainstream education or work as soon as possible. In certain cases it may preferable that migrants and refugees advance as early as possible into the mainstream VET programmes and receive additional support during VET or after being employed. It may take years for newly arrived students to attain entry requirements, and finding an apprenticeship is difficult due to the labour market’s negative perceptions of transitional programmes (or the fact that many migrants attend these programmes). Higher quality teaching as well as combined language and vocational training can be expected to help.

There are examples of this approach. In Denmark, Basic Integration Education (Integrationsgrunduddannelsen, IGU) programmes are closely linked to adult education centres (WEU), VET Industry Packages, Integration Programme and other job-training programmes. IGU participants can attend such programmes in parallel with IGU programmes (see Chapter 3). In Sweden, Vocational Packages in the Introductory Programme or in adult education also allow combining courses from compulsory or upper-secondary levels (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[5]).

Closer links between upper-secondary VET and adult education

Likewise, closer links between upper-secondary VET and adult education have many benefits. Innovative, modular approaches to upper-secondary VET provision and combined language and VET programmes have originated from the success of adult education, in particular (modularised courses are more common in adult VET but are increasingly being adopted by upper-secondary VET). This leads to more flexible VET provision, building on both regular upper-secondary VET courses and adult VET courses. By offering provision such as Vocational Packages (Sweden) and IGU (Denmark) that provides flexible means to link courses between preparatory programmes, upper-secondary VET and adult VET, learners have more opportunities to progress in VET and obtain necessary qualifications.

Preparatory programmes provide a good basis to improve the flexibility of VET systems

Preparatory programmes are designed with flexibility in mind. They aim to meet individual needs and respect the different educational pathways of each student. IGU programmes from Denmark, introduced above, are flexible and can link with existing institutions. For example, adult education centres (WEU) provide guidance on IGU curriculum content and refer students to relevant training providers. IGU can be attended in parallel with the Integration Programme and Danish language training and other job-training programmes. All VET Industry Packages can be included in the school-based part of IGU but some are specially developed for IGU (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[8]).1

In general, there are no standard means of offering transitional courses. Content, length, curriculum or resources depend on the decisions of local authorities (or schools) and thus quality varies across localities. Seeking to address this issue, the Swedish government recently allocated SEK 300 million (approximately EUR 29 million) per year for 2018-20 to reinforce transitional programmes in order to enhance the transition to upper-secondary or other educational programmes. The Swedish National Agency of Education is currently working with developers of transitional programmes to better support municipalities in terms of provision of these programmes (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[5]).

The arrangement of training and qualifications in transitional programmes can be also adjusted depending on rates of success. For example, in Sweden, Vocational Packages that lead to partial qualifications were introduced for students in transitional programmes who face difficulties in transitioning to mainstream upper-secondary programmes. In Denmark, those students in basic VET courses who were not able to find apprenticeships are offered the opportunity to continue in school-based VET, which can be considered a transitional programme in the context of Denmark’s dual system.

Different levels of flexibility in VET systems are reflected in the management of preparatory measures. For example, Germany and Switzerland have put substantial effort into preparatory measures, focusing on entry into the regular VET system. In contrast, Sweden and Finland are looking at the possibility of making their preparatory programmes function as a quality employment path – not just as a transitional path – for those who face difficulty in entering mainstream upper-secondary programmes. Two instruments make this possible: partial qualifications in flexible transitional programmes and strong adult education systems that offer a second chance education. In Sweden, skills and qualifications acquired through Vocational Packages are nationally or regionally recognised and are designed for learners to be able to top up their skills and qualifications based on labour market needs and their career aspiration. A remaining challenge for these countries is to build seamless pathways between programmes preparing for partial qualifications and upper-secondary VET programmes and/or higher-level programmes and to strengthen co-operation between upper-secondary schools and municipal adult education (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[5]).

copy the linklink copied!Enhancing governance to build strong, flexible and inclusive VET systems

Building national strategies may enhance a whole-of-government approach to VET management for migrants

One key aspect of successful VET governance is formulating planning and implementing a strategy (Gasskov, 2000[9]). A national strategy is an important policy tool that can enable setting common goals and mobilising necessary resources and stakeholders. It can also help to set policy priorities and make it easier to find effective and efficient ways to implement those policies. Effective national strategies and targets promote coherence and co-ordination across regions and across ministries. Successful links between local autonomy and responsibilities, and national co-ordination and funding can be formalised through a national strategy. These strategies can create an environment for governments to share knowledge and innovations across regions and local authorities and to facilitate peer learning. They can also help to articulate data requirements from across the country, to establish mechanisms for sharing relevant information, to strengthen capacity, and ultimately to determine what works, what to scale up and what to abandon. Many of these elements have been addressed through OECD National Skills Strategies (OECD, 2019[10]).

More fundamentally, a clear, overarching and long-term national strategy enhances a whole-of-government approach, which is crucial to unlocking the potential of migrants through VET as this issue involves a complex policy web including migration, education and labour market policies as well as social, economic and welfare policies. This policy web implies significant inter-ministerial and multi-stakeholder collaboration and co-ordination. A national strategy should make sure that objectives, information, data and good practices are shared across relevant stakeholders, and that policy measures and their implementations are co-ordinated.

Recent VET reforms or initiatives include elements that can help integration of migrants and refugees through VET

At a glance, many OECD countries appear to have strategies to integrate humanitarian migrants through measures relevant to education, training and labour market. Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States have specific VET programmes targeting refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection. Germany, Sweden and Switzerland provide early support for asylum seekers (mostly with a high possibility of being accepted) mainly consisting of language training. In the case of Norway, integration through VET has been under consideration since the country moved the responsibility of migrant integration from Ministry of Justice and Public Security to the Ministry of Education (status as of June 2018). Greece has run a pilot programme to better integrate migrant students in a small number of VET schools since 2018 and expects to later apply this programme to all VET schools.2

In particular, Switzerland has responded to the recent increase of humanitarian migrants with a coherent national strategy. The strategy builds on Cantonal Integration Programmes (Kantonale Integrationsprogramme, KIP)3 (2014-21 in two phases) that cover skills assessment, counselling and career guidance, language training and VET, and was developed into the 2018 Integration Agenda with five concrete targets including language skills, upper-secondary enrolments including VET, and labour market integration.4 It is important to note that the integration of migrants was the responsibility of cantons and no national strategy existed until 2014. More proactively, Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET) 2030 agenda launched a project, Optimisation de la Gouvernance, in order to critically examine existing processes and steering bodies within VET and to adapt them as necessary and analyse the forms of collaboration between the VET partners among others.

In Finland, the 2018 reform of the VET system is underway with the purpose of increasing flexibility and permeability within the system and enabling seamless pathways through it (Eurydice, 2019[11]; Koukku and Paronen, 2016[12]).5 In addition to the EUR 20 million invested in VET for migrants, such reform will facilitate easier access to VET among migrants. Allowing the application for VET throughout the year may also enhance newly arrived migrants’ access to VET as they can access to VET whenever they are ready. A trial of fast-track employment of migrants is also being implemented in 2016-19 to try out new employment and training models for accelerating employment of migrants and to facilitate the combination of training and work in a flexible way. The target is the employment of 2 500 migrants within four months of starting the trial. Applying the social impact bond (SIB) model, the trial will be financed completely with funding from private investors. If migrants are employed better using the SIB model, those who have invested in the SIB model will be paid a proportion of the savings arising to the government from more rapid entry into employment (OECD, 2018[13]; Finnish Ministry of Finance, 2017[14]).

Strategy and objectives should be long-term because integration takes time

In general, the gaps in employment rates of migrants and refugees vis-à-vis native peers reduces by duration of residence. While the labour market integration pathway of refugees is different across countries, the general trend shows that employment rates of migrants and refugees improve with time and it may take long time to see the intended result although VET may accelerate the process.

Co-ordination and co-operation across relevant stakeholders and coherence across policies

Design and delivery of VET provision for migrants and refugees requires co-ordination among stakeholders

Governance of a VET system is often split between a diverse constellation of actors, making it difficult to scale up good practices, harmonise requirements and data collection, and implement comprehensive reforms (Ahad and Benton, 2018[15]). This is even more the case when it comes to migrant integration through VET as additional actors are involved, ranging from reception centres where humanitarian migrants first arrive and immigration authorities to representative groups linked to migrant communities, which all are not traditionally associated with VET. Responsibilities for VET are distributed differently depending on the governance structure (from school to local, regional to national), so government across different levels (both vertical and horizontal) should be well co-ordinated and consulted in order to deliver quality and timely service for the target group.

For example, VET approaches for migrants and refugees that combine different skills (e.g.basic skills including language and vocational skills) or provide additional language training in VET require additional co-ordination between different institutions and policies. Career guidance for migrants and refugees is another example of a service that requires significant co-ordination, particularly as it is often embedded in another institution such as secondary schools, transitional programmes, or programmes run by Public Employment Services. The embedded nature of this service can increase its chances of success, by increasing opportunities for close co-ordination with education and employment service providers in determining when and how to implement guidance effectively – not only for the students but also for their families.

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Figure 6.1. Employment rates of refugees improve with time
Employment rates of refugees (%) by length of stay (2014, except Denmark)
Figure 6.1. Employment rates of refugees improve with time

Note: This is based on cross-sectional data, rather than following the same people over time. Therefore, in particular those with very long duration of residence may have come from different countries. Nevertheless, results from cross-sectional data show consistent patterns as longitudinal analysis, see Liebig, T. and K. Tronstad (2018[16]), “Triple disadvantage? : A first overview of the integration of refugee women”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 216, Denmark data are based on Statistics Denmark [1999-2013] for ages 25-64: 1st year, 5th year, 10th year and 15th year of arrival.

Source: Based on Eurostat (2019[17]), EU-Labour Force Survey ad hoc module 2014, (Employment rate of first generation of immigrants by sex, age, years of residence and reason for migration [lfso_14l1empr]). For Denmark, Schultz-Nielsen (2016[18]), Arbejdsmarkedstilknytningen for flygtninge og indvandrere,

Rockwoolfondens Forskningsenhed [Labour market attachment of refugees and immigrants], (see Table 9).


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Box 6.1. European strategy to build a strong, flexible and inclusive VET systems

As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Strategic Framework for European Co-operation in Education and Training, the 2012 Council Conclusions on the Employability of Graduates from Education and Training recognises the importance of strengthening youth employability and how VET plays a role in the transition from education and training to employment. The conclusions aim to achieve, on average across the EU, an 82% share of employment among 20-34 year olds who graduated within the past three years; this target has almost been met for recent VET graduates. This goal is in addition to the goal of having less than 10% of all 18-24 year olds leave education and training early.

In line with this, the Framework for European VET Policy (2011-20) set quantitative benchmarks (such as at least 6% of 18 to 34 year-olds with an initial VET qualification have a related study or training period that includes work placements) and qualitative priorities (such as attractive, inclusive, flexible, permeable and easily accessible VET that is highly relevant to labour market needs). The period 2015-20 will focus on five deliverables as defined in the Riga Conclusions that are agreed by VET ministers, social partners, and the European Commission and supported by VET providers’ associations :

  • Promote work-based learning in all its forms, with special attention to apprenticeships.

  • Further develop quality assurance mechanisms in VET.

  • Enhance access to VET and qualifications for all through more flexible and permeable systems.

  • Further strengthen key competences in VET curricula and provide more effective opportunities to acquire or develop those skills through VET.

  • Introduce systematic approaches to, and opportunities for, professional development of VET teachers, trainers and mentors in both school and work based settings.

Source: Council of the European Union (2012[19]), Council conclusions on the employability of graduates from education and training, European Commission (2015[20]), Riga Conclusions 2015, Cedefop (2017[21]), On the way to 2020: data for vocational education and training policies. Country statistical overviews – 2016 update. Cedefop research paper; No 61, Cedefop (2015[1]), Stronger VET for better lives: Cedefop’s monitoring report on vocational education and training policies 2010-14, Cedefop Reference series; No 98

Co-ordination among stakeholders often defines the success of a policy measure

Co-ordination and information sharing across stakeholders is important in any policy area. Policies that focus only on a specific group without regard for other target populations, or are designed without appropriate consultation with a broad variety of stakeholders, can have unintended consequences. In the best cases, such policies can have poor or inefficient outcomes, in the worst cases, such policies can have negative consequences.

For example, funding has been available since 2017 for placing German as Second Language teachers in VET classes in Bavaria. However, a VET school in Bavaria reported to the OECD review team that due to a lack of information on the number of migrant students who required language support, they faced difficulties in terms of actually recruiting and allocating these teachers. By the time schools receive such information they have already hired language teachers because the recruitment should done well in advance through a public tender. Hiring freelance teachers is also not an option, as all teachers are required to have secure employment status. Effective co-ordination in this kind of case often requires a change of legislation, but at a minimum requires information sharing and co-ordination between a range of groups including reception centres and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), stakeholders involved in teacher training and recruitment, and schools and employers.

Another example from Sweden illustrates the unintended consequence of otherwise rational policies. Migrant students enrolled in compulsory education in Sweden are often concentrated in certain schools partly due to the freedom to choose what school to attend. Parents with resources tend to send their children to the best school available while options are more limited for disadvantaged, immigrant families who are forced to choose schools based on location and availability of financial aid. However, as a result of these factors, there are large geographic variations in the share of pupils eligible for at least upper-secondary VET: the gap in these shares was at least 22 percentage points between districts. The large influx of asylum seekers in recent years has further aggravated the level of school segregation – asylum seekers may organise living conditions by themselves,6 which does not encourage a more equitable distribution across districts. Addressing this challenge requires efforts that encourage parents of migrant students to choose schools in other areas or measures that set a minimum or maximum share of disadvantaged students in each school (OECD, 2018[22]).

Information transfer in relation to humanitarian migrants is another co-ordination issue. For example in Sweden, newly arrived are often moved around due to their insecure legal status and registration issues. For those under the age 18, they can start schooling even if the settlement is not confirmed – this is understandable, but it can cause a complication for tracking in the education system if the students have to move for a permanent accommodation after having started a school already. This is a challenge for schools and municipalities in providing education for them. For this reason, some migrant students are moved several times and have to restart at new schools, with new teachers, fellow students and curricula. The Swedish National Agency of Education has noted that administrative and academic information is not passed smoothly between schools and institutions when newly arrived students change schools or municipalities. This is partly due to a lack of an established system of transfer (or alignment of registration system) and the fact that transitional programmes are designed differently across municipalities (Skolverket, 2018[23]; Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[5]).

Systematic co-ordination between existing skills assessment tools can avoid inefficiencies. This requires co-operation among relevant actors, effective information sharing and transfer, and clear definition of skills needs and pathways to acquire equivalent qualifications. For example, the development of instruments to record and track migrant skills could be useful for sustainable integration including for skills development and use at a later phase of integration. Unfortunately, skills and credentials screening, assessment and recognition processes and systems are often fragmented, and more so in the case of migrants and refugees. When skills gaps are identified, a migrant must find a way to complete supplementary coursework. However, depending on the field and the missing skill or qualification, this can prove impossible, since stand-alone courses that cover the material needed are often not available to students outside a full programme. In the worse-case scenario, a skilled migrant missing a single course may have no option other than to repeat an entire programme before applying to become licensed or re-entering their field. Accessing hands-on training can prove even more difficult than filling gaps in academic coursework.

Co-ordination between central and local government lowers regional disparities

One of key elements for effective co-ordination is finding the right balance between a central government, which has a broad overview and desire for a coherent approach, and local governments, which have more flexibility and decision making power.

In countries where local authorities are often responsible for the provision of upper-secondary VET, successful entry and completion of upper-secondary VET depends largely on local actors. In Sweden, for example, the quantity and quality of career guidance services depends upon local decisions and allocation of resources (Hertzberg, 2017[24]). Regional and local authorities in Sweden (and in some cases in Germany) are also responsible for transitional programmes and the quality varies between regions. In this regard, national government needs to ensure that each local government has sufficient capacity to deliver the service, ensure coherent quality across regions and distribute resources and information accordingly. This is particularly important in countries with significant regional disparities.

Horizontal co-operation across regions is also important. Inter-municipal co-operation in public service delivery in Sweden allows specific courses to be offered to newcomers that could be difficult to arrange in every municipality (e.g. vocational training with language support, mother tongue tuition) and allows new arrivals to access such provision regardless of which municipality they live in – in case they move on to another municipality within the region – and to continue to benefit (OECD, 2018[22]).

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Box 6.2. Examples of alignment and co-ordination across public sectors

Explicit co-ordination mechanisms that proactively engage relevant stakeholders can help to ensure that necessary co-ordination and co-operation is undertaken. For example, in Sweden, the Swedish National Delegation for the Employment of Young People and Newly Arrived Migrants (DUA) was established to increase dialogue between schools, municipalities, PES and social partners to the benefit of refugees, asylum workers and youth. The DUA aims to consolidate and co-ordinate existing measures (e.g. joint skills assessment) from both PES and municipalities and build local agreements with compulsory elements (Local Job Track). Needs and requirements are defined by local companies. However, this is so far a temporary arrangement and the involvement of municipalities is on a voluntary basis.

In Turkey, multi-stakeholder support ensures VET access for Syrian migrants and provincial and district commissions have been established to increase access to VET for Syrians under temporary protection. These commissions involve provinces, VET schools, VET programme co-ordinators or Temporary Education Centre co-ordinators, school counsellors, teachers, social partners and employment agencies.

In the United States, multiple stakeholders are involved in the delivery of programmes for humanitarian migrants, such as Seattle’s Ready to Work Programme (see Box 3.2) that combines language training and VET. For example, Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs works with the community, NGOs, adult education providers, colleges, workforce development groups and employers.

Source: Countries’ responses to the OECD questionnaire.

Good practice needs to be promoted through peer learning and upscaling

Regional and local bodies are often better suited to make appropriate decisions based on local labour market needs, apprenticeship demand and supply and school resources (Mosely, 2008[25]). Local actors have a particularly key role to play when there is a lack of tailor-made strategies within a national policy framework, such as for recent humanitarian migrants (OECD, 2018[26]). Moreover, given the potential of humanitarian migrants to bring relevant skills to a host region or municipality, local authorities are often keen to take initiatives to handle skills shortages by providing training for newly arrived and facilitating the entrance of skilled refugees into local sectors and occupations that are experiencing shortages.

For example, in Germany, Bavaria has put in place one of the country’s most accommodating VET programmes (partly due to well-established preparatory VET programmes) for migrants allocated to the Länder. Measures include raising the age of compulsory education for asylum seekers and refugees to 21 and the possibility of educators applying for an extension to keep migrants in school until the age of 25. Bavaria has also spent substantial resources in hiring more teachers to teach German to young refugees. In 2018, Bavaria allocated EUR 938 million for integration efforts, more than any other Länder (though it should be noted Bavaria has the highest budget surplus in Germany) (Nasr, 2018[27]). A chamber of commerce in Bavaria also developed the 1+3 VET pilots for refugee students where one year of intensive language courses is combined with 3-year regular VET.

However, approaches from local actors may result in inefficiencies and duplication if appropriate co-ordination, peer-learning and capacity building mechanisms are absent. To avoid this, in Switzerland, the confederation plays a role in terms of peer-learning across cantons. While taking into account the difference between French, German and Italian-speaking regions, it takes responsibility for scaling up successful programmes nationally.

Incentive mechanisms or flexibility can promote good and effective practices at regional and local levels and scale up those practices to national levels. One widely known example of upscaling is Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) in the United States, which effectively combines basic skills and vocational skills (Box 3.2). The success of this programme can be attributed partly to the significant autonomy of states in terms of how they allocate federal budgets to target groups. For instance, VET budgets under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) can be used for refugee training if states decide to do so.

Measurable goals, monitoring and evaluation

Rapid changes in labour markets mean that national VET systems are in constant need of upgrades (Gasskov, 2000[9]), which in turn requires strategic planning and management, up to and including regular reviews of the entire national VET policy framework. This need to review and upgrade is clearly recognised, as it is apparent when looking at VET mission statements across countries that have ever broader objectives requiring more funds, built on a more developed system and well-ordered strategies.

For example, Switzerland has set clear goals to achieve for migrants, as mentioned in Chapter 1, aiming for 66% of young humanitarian migrants to attain an upper-secondary education by their fifth year of arrival – and 50% of humanitarian migrants to be employed by their seventh year of arrival. Switzerland comes closer to the goals, compared to other countries, due to a strong VET system, a solid integration agenda that brings additional funding, and evaluation of migrant potential under the strategic plan for integration.

In Denmark, the goal is to see 50% of refugees and reunified relatives (25-64 years old) placed in a job (for now, 28% obtained a job after three years of participation in integration programmes) (Danish Tripartite Negotiations, 2016[28]). In Norway, since 2010, one of the integration goals has been for 70% of Integration Programme participants to be in paid employment and/or education within one year of completing the programme (Djuve et al., 2017[29]). Similarly in the United States,7 employment and career development services funded through Refugee Social Services and Targeted Assistance Programme provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement are geared towards helping humanitarian migrants become economically self-sufficient within 120 to 180 days for the former and within one year for the latter, although these services focus less on VET and more on employment-focused language or computer training, career development, cultural orientation and employment services.

Setting success indicators based on outcome-oriented (or mixed) approaches would lead to more effective outcomes and more focused implementation rather than input-oriented approaches. Clear, feasible and measurable targets enables better evaluation and monitoring not only regarding effectiveness and efficiency but also equity and quality.

Tracking and monitoring is particular important, as the integration of migrants is a long-term process that requires long-term planning. For example, Sweden provides reports on the destination of VET graduates as well as the transition paths of students in preparatory programmes. This was started on an ad hoc basis, but in 2012 the Swedish government decided to produce such reports regularly and more systematically (Cedefop, 2015[1]).

Monitoring and evaluation may require a more contextualised approach when the VET system allows for more flexibility and permeability. For example, the overall basic skills, including language skills, may appear low when accounting young migrants and refugees who were able to enter into the VET system through a modularised VET course. Such context needs to be taken into account when monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness and outcomes of VET programmes.

Engage social partner throughout the integration process through VET

Social partner engagement is a mechanism for ensuring labour market relevance both in the design and delivery of VET programmes and optimising ultimate outcomes while addressing strategic skills shortages (OECD, 2018[30]; Kis, 2016[31]; Kuczera, 2017[32]). Consequently, their role is even more important when it comes to young newly-arrived humanitarian migrants, including from the preparatory phases to labour market integration. Countries that have strong VET systems typically exhibit a higher level of social partner engagement, in particular with employers, sectoral and occupational bodies. These stakeholders play essential roles in ensuring the relevance and attractiveness of VET provision. In Switzerland, occupational associations are responsible for defining VET content and creating apprenticeship positions. These associations are important for encouraging contributions to VET from companies, representing members’ interests in the national arena, and working together with public authorities to design and implement VET policies (Baumeler, Engelage and Strebel, 2018[33]). Countries with strong social partner engagement in VET involve social partners from the preparatory phase. Preparatory traineeships (Einstiegsqualifizierung, EQ) in Germany and pre-apprenticeship for humanitarian migrants (INVOL) in Switzerland were designed in co-operation with key stakeholders from industry and trade. In the case of INVOL, the role of professional organisations in sectors where skills shortages are acute was critical to consolidate the initiative at the national level.

Provide employers with easily accessible and practical information related to training refugees and asylum seekers

In order to engage employers in the integration of migrants and refugees through VET, easily accessible and practical information on successful cases for training and hiring refugees and asylum seekers and guidance on existing support initiatives are helpful (OECD and UNHCR, 2016[34]). For employers, information needs will differ depending on the size of the potential employer, the sector in which the employer operates, and geographical location. In order to meet the information needs of employers, a network of Danish corporate leaders (Virksomhedsforum for Socialt Ansvar, VFSA) developed a brochure for employers. The 2017 document, Virksomheder integrerer flygtninge (Companies Integrate Refugees), offers concrete experience from participating companies to give practical guidance to companies considering training and hiring refugees and asylum seekers. More transparent and more accessible information on refugees’ right to work, the recognition of foreign qualifications and the availability of training support for refugees, including through one-stop shops and hotlines also help employers to engage. Active research and public support on this area of work will enhance and maintain the level of social partner engagement: an example is ‘Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET) governance’ in Switzerland (Box 6.3).

Ensure that employers understand the skills levels involved with programmes, tests and qualifications

The assessment of migrant skills should ideally be done in co-operation with employers. For example, Skills Norway, which is responsible for the course curricula of the Norwegian language tests, ensures that employers correctly understand the skills levels involved with the test, in order to avoid exclusion of applicants due to unnecessarily high language requirements.

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Box 6.3. An example of governance practice for VET that enhances the understanding of social partner engagement and other important issues of governance

GOVPET Leading House in Switzerland is working on decentralised co-operation for VET

The GOVPET Leading House, launched in 2015 and financially supported by Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, is jointly hosted by the University of St. Gallen, the University of Lausanne, the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Zollikofen, and the University of Cologne. The GOVPET research programme focuses on the governance of vocational and professional education and training in Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

More concretely, it focuses on two central, connected research questions. First, how decentralised co-operation in skill formation is made possible given the ever-present threat of co-operation breakdown and what stakeholders can do to encourage private actors to co-operate. Second, how public policies can encourage private actors to consider societal goals in decentralised co-operation that are not necessarily in the interest of these private actors using the case of the inclusion of disadvantaged labour market participants in the systems of (initial and continuous) vocational and professional training.

The analyses of Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET) systems in Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland show: i) how private actors maintain co-operation; ii) how a dual-track VET system can be adapted in response to new challenges and how interests of different actor groups can be furthered through VET system Reform; and iii) how states can get these private actors to consider societal interests in their decentralised co-operation. 

Almost 20 research papers on this issue have been published each year since 2015.

Source: University of St. Gallen (2019[35]), The Leading House on Governance in Vocational and Professional Education and Training,


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← 1. See also Bendixen (2017[39]), Preisler (2016[36]) and Kvam (2017[40]).

← 2. The pilot project is entitled “A new beginning with the Vocational Lycea (Μια νέα αρχή στα ΕΠΑΛ/ΜΝΕΑ)”. Young refugee and migrant students (aged 15-18) are offered options to enrol in upper-secondary VET (Vocational Lycea, which offers reception classes). The project covers various social groups including Greek expatriates, foreign-born students, Roma and other vulnerable groups.

← 3. For more information, see Programmes d'intégration cantonaux (2019[37]).

← 4. (1) All refugees have a basic knowledge of one national language three years after arrival, at least at A1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CFER).

(2) 80% of refugee children aged 0-4 are able to communicate in the language spoken at their place of residence by the time they start compulsory schooling.

(3) Two-thirds of refugees aged 16-25 are in an upper-secondary education (including VET) five years after arrival.

(4) Half of adult refugees are sustainably integrated in the labour market seven years after arrival.

(5) All refugees are familiar with the Swiss way of life and have contact with Swiss people seven years after arrival.

← 5. The Finnish VET reform was driven by the budget cuts in 2017 and it unifies financing system and legislation (Eurydice, 2019[11]). VET for young people and adults will be combined into a single entity and be planned individually. This may facilitate the transition between different VET programmes and institutions.

← 6. In June 2019, the Swedish government presented a proposal that includes changes that seek to steer asylum seekers who organise their own living conditions away from areas with social problems (Johansson and Pleiner, 2019[38]).

← 7. Refugees get employment authorisation as soon as they arrive and can apply for permanent residence one year after arrival.

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6. Towards strong, flexible and inclusive VET systems that work for all