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The German vocational education and training (VET) system is known and admired around the world for its ability to prepare young people for high skilled employment. In Germany, VET smooths transitions into work and is closely aligned with labour market demand. This report focuses on an unprecedented test of the German VET system: how to respond to the significant increase in migrants who arrived in the country in 2015-16.

When delivered effectively, VET is well-placed to enable integration. It delivers knowledge and skills in demonstrable employer demand enabling new relationships between people in workplaces. This study looks at the capacity of the German VET system to unlock the potential of migrants, focusing particularly on refugees and other individuals who are protected from deportation. It recognises that migrants present both opportunities and challenges for host countries. For a country with a rapidly ageing population and who is experiences skills shortages, Germany cannot ignore the opportunity presented by hundreds of thousands newly arrived young people. It cannot be taken for granted, however, that access to vocational education, and through it to skilled employment, will be easy. Young migrants face a number of barriers which prevent easy access to VET. They commonly lack familiarity and useful social networks linked to VET. They also often require additional support to build up the knowledge and skills, not least in language competency, to benefit from vocational education and ensure ultimate attractiveness to employers. By following learners through their journeys into, and through VET, it is possible to identify where targeted interventions are needed to enable progression.

The study is set in the context of a country which undertook remarkable efforts to scale up existing approaches and develop new initiatives aimed at enabling integration. VET has been fundamental to German integration policy, and many measures have made use of work-based learning. The integration of migrants is, however, as long-term project. Significant challenges remain. This report assesses the strength and challenges faced by Germany and suggests policy responses for how these challenges can be addressed. A particular focus is on recent migrants seeking humanitarian protection aged 16 to 35, but insights and implications for the integration of other migrant youth and native-born youth with migrant parents are drawn. The report complements a cross-national OECD study of how other countries, notably Switzerland, Sweden and Italy, have responded to similar challenges.

Chapter 1 introduces the study and sets out the challenges and opportunities presented by new migrants to German society. The chapter provides a snapshot of the German VET system and describes the key characteristics of immigrant youth in the VET system. The chapter lastly summarises the key strengths and challenges that the report has identified.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 export the challenges that migrants can anticipate as they follow VET pathways in pursuit of a VET qualification and access to skilled work. Chapter 2 focuses on migrants getting ready for VET. Given the low status of VET in many origin countries, it is unsurprising that many perceive VET as undesirable. Proactive career guidance, informing migrants about VET opportunities, is an essential first step in bringing migrant learners into vocational education. Second, the chapter looks at how migrants build the necessary skills to enter VET. Most recent arrivals are in need of substantial support in order to get ready to benefit from upper secondary VET provision.

Chapter 3 looks at the growing difficulties faced by both native and foreign-born youth with migrant parents in securing an apprenticeship. Challenges include the weakness of social networks, getting employers on board and tackling discrimination in the apprenticeship market. Chapter 4 considers the need that many migrants have for additional support during training to enable them to complete VET qualifications. For many migrants, a major issue is weak language skills, which can have implications for their ability to follow the theoretical curriculum in VET schools.

Chapter 5 takes on system-wide topics related to how the VET system is governed. The entry of so many migrants into the country within such short time period represents an exceptional situation. The report looks into the system’s ability to ensure policy coherence across a complex and largely devolved policy field, as well as how to enable peer learning and co-operation across the country. Chapter 6 explores opportunity for increased flexibility in the German VET system for all youth at risk of not being admitted into, or succeeding in, VET.

This report was drafted by Benedicte Bergseng from the OECD Centre for Skills and Eva Degler from the International Migration Division within the OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs with Samuel Lüthi within the OECD Centre for Skills. Shinyoung Jeon engaged with important inputs throughout the work. The project benefited considerably from the support of Rosa Neri. Jennifer Cannon, Elisa Larrakoetxea, and Charity Kome provided valuable administrative support. Lauren Thwaites provided valuable support in the editorial and production process.

The OECD would like to thank many colleagues in Germany for their constructive engagement throughout the study, and especially Oliver Diehl, Erik Hess and Peter Thiele at the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. German colleagues gave valuable inputs to early drafts of this report and co-organised visits to five Länder, including a workshop held in Bremen that brought together policy makers, researchers and other colleagues from Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden. The OECD would also like to thank colleagues from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), and especially Mona Granato, who shared their rich knowledge on the topic. In addition, the OECD is grateful to the hundreds of stakeholders in Germany who shared their experiences and perceptions of strengths and challenges of vocational education as a means to integrate migrants.

Within the OECD, Anthony Mann oversaw the preparation of this report as Head of the VET and Adult Learning team within the OECD Centre for Skills. Pauline Musset, Viktoria Kis and Malgorzata Kuzcera within the VET and Adult Learning team gave inputs. Thomas Liebig from the International Migration Division within the OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs gave valuable input and advice. Support throughout the project was received from Montserrat Gomendio as Head of the OECD Centre for Skills, Dirk van Damme as Head of the Skills beyond School division in the Directorate for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher as Director of the Directorate for Education and Skills, Stefano Scarpetta as Director of the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs and Ludger Schuknecht, Deputy Secretary-General at the OECD.

The report was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries.

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