copy the linklink copied!3. Getting ready: Ensuring effective pathways into upper-secondary vocational education and training

This chapter discusses how countries can support migrants, in particular humanitarian migrants, in their preparations to enter the upper-secondary vocational education and training (VET) and ensure effective pathways through VET. It describes the main barriers preventing young migrants from entering upper-secondary VET, including language, basic skills, country-specific knowledge and social barriers. The chapter explores strategies for getting young migrants ready for upper-secondary VET, including preparatory programmes, teachers’ professional development and social partner engagement.


copy the linklink copied!Why do migrants often need support to prepare for upper-secondary VET?

When newly arrived humanitarian migrants decide to try and access upper-secondary vocational education and training (VET), they face requirements of meeting not only host-country language competency and basic academic skills, but also becoming familiar with the host country’s education and skill system – basic skills and hands-on knowledge that migrants commonly lack. This is a significant challenge, because basic skills (literacy and numeracy) are increasingly important in ensuring successful entry into, and progression through, upper-secondary VET and the labour market. In addition, in the work-based learning systems, employers may be reluctant to take on young people who struggle to learn on the job, because they seek to balance costs and benefits when taking on an apprentice.

In the case of apprenticeships, in order to make migrant apprentices attractive to potential employers, it is important that employers feel confident that apprentices have necessary skills which can be developed into productive skills during their apprenticeships. Governments have tried various means to ensure this is the case, and it is apparent that programmes that help build necessary knowledge and skills of learners are more effective than simply making financial incentives available to employers.

Preparatory programmes, in particular, appear to be valuable in this context. These programmes differ from the more standard education pathways followed by native students through public compulsory education. They include building basic skills and host-country language training, as well as developing social network and familiarity of the host-country education system and the labour market. As better-prepared migrant students are more likely to enter and succeed in upper-secondary VET, such preparations are important for their future educational and career progression.

In general, migrant students have weaker basic and language skills than their native peers

Having good host-country language skills is a key determinant for integration, in particular for education and employment. Data from European OECD countries shows that refugees with intermediate or advanced levels of proficiency in the host-country language have employment rates about 40 percentage points higher than those with little or no (self-declared) language skills (Liebig and Tronstad, 2018[1]).1 Other studies (Brücker et al., 2016[2]) also confirm that participation in language courses is positively associated with asylum seekers and refugees finding work.

A lack of host-country language skills is the biggest obstacle for many refugees and migrants in their path towards upper-secondary VET. According to PISA analysis, migrants routinely struggle to obtain the same literacy levels as their native peers even after controlling for socio-economic status (OECD, 2018[3]). However, migrants who speak the host-country language are more likely to attain baseline proficiency (students who reach at least PISA proficiency level 2 in all three PISA core subjects i.e. maths, reading and science)2 than non-native-speaking migrants (8 percentage points more for native-speaking migrant students) (OECD, 2018[3]).

Weaker basic skills and country-specific knowledge of migrants are barriers to enter into, and progress through, upper-secondary VET…

Migrants are less successful in getting into upper-secondary VET, in particular apprenticeships (Chapter 4), as well as in completing upper-secondary VET (Chapter 5). The main reason for these challenges is their weak basic skills and lack of country-specific knowledge. This weakness may well be more pronounced in, for example, i) migrants who arrived in the host country when close to, or beyond, compulsory schooling age or, ii) refugees and asylum seekers who have interrupted formal education. These groups are at a disadvantage because they have little time to catch up, in particular in countries where there are age limits for entry into upper-secondary VET.

For example, in Germany, several stakeholders reported during the OECD review, cases where migrant apprentices struggled to follow the regular curriculum in VET schools or failed in the final exam whereas they were successful as apprentices in the workplace. In Norway and Sweden, the grade points of lower-secondary graduates – which determine admission to upper-secondary education – are lower among migrant students. The average of migrant students was 4.6 points lower than other students in Norway in 2017. 16% of migrants among lower-secondary graduates did not obtain any school grade points, as they had not achieved necessary subjects. Among those who migrated to Norway 0-2 years prior to completing lower-secondary education, 57% did not obtain grade points (Thorud, 2018[4]).

In the case of the United States, it is reported that refugee students are often used to a far less participatory learning environment, being more comfortable with one based on teacher lectures and choral response rather than group work or expressing opinions in response to reading or other prompts (Dryden-Peterson, 2015[5]). This is also a common gap observed in other OECD countries. These cases suggest that young migrants should prepare in terms of both language and academic competencies before entering VET, in addition to learning about and adapting to the host-country culture, possibly through supplementary courses and more supports that are specific.

…and are less attractive to training employers

To realise the full potential of apprenticeships for migrants, in particular humanitarian migrants, it is important to ensure that the prospect of taking on a refugee or a person with a temporary protection aligns with the business interests of enterprises. This requires shifting the balance of costs and benefits to employers, to make it more attractive for employers to offer opportunities to this group (Kis, 2016[6]). In countries where apprenticeship is at development stage or where the supply and demand is unbalanced, apprentice wage support or similar financial support for employers may help at least for the short term.3 Whilst financial incentives are used to promote apprenticeship, adjusting key parameters of apprenticeship schemes such as duration or training time arrangement, remedial courses for basic skills, mentoring, preparatory programmes and support measures are proven to be more helpful (Kuczera, 2017[7]; Kis, 2016[6]). In particular, preparatory programmes speed up the pace of apprentices in contributing to production in the workplace as a skilled productive labour. Such mechanisms for enhancing the skills of apprentices are often more helpful than putting financial incentives for employers to take on an apprentice who may not be ready yet.

Providing quality preparatory programmes for young migrants and refugees is a way to give them more learning time, ultimately reducing the net cost of apprenticeships

Preparatory programmes aim to assist youth-at-risk to make a successful entry or transition into upper-secondary VET (Kis, 2016[6]). In general, there are no specific requirements for entry into transitional programmes, but basic language levels may be required. For example, A2 level in Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is required in Switzerland and the Netherlands (for Level 1 programme in the upper-secondary VET [MBO 1], which is equivalent to transitional programmes). As a result, students with migrant backgrounds are overrepresented in these programmes due to their lack of language skills or basic competences (OECD, 2018[3]).

An increase of newly arrived in transitional programmes

While young migrants tend to attend transitional programmes designed to enable access to upper-secondary VET (mostly hosted within upper-secondary schools) more often than native students do, there is no standard way for accounting enrolments for migrant students in such programmes. In Switzerland, more than 10% of students with foreign nationality attend a transitional programme (SKBF-CSRE, 2018[8]) and more than half of students in these programmes are foreign nationals (Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 2018[9]). In Sweden, one-third of students with migrant backgrounds (aged 16-20) attend a transitional programme (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[10]). In Germany, more than a third of new entrants to the transitional programme (35.3%) have a migrant background (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[11]).

In countries where transitional programmes exist, the number of students in those programmes has significantly increased due to recent arrivals between 2014 and 2017. This increase directly reflects the increase of humanitarian refugees and asylum seekers in the student population, although precise data for this population are not available. For example, the share of foreign nationals in the German transition system (Übergangsbereich) increased from 20% to 35% over this period (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2018[12]). The number of foreign-born students in the pre-vocational year (Berufsvorbereitungsjahr) – the major transitional programme in Germany, making up 73% of all students in transitional programmes in 2017 – increased from 18 000 in the school year 2014/2015 to 81 000 in 2016/2017 and around 70% of this group (55 000) were born in one of the main asylum countries (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2018[12]).4 In Sweden, more than 70% of students in such programmes were migrant students in 2017-18, an increase from 60% in 2014-15 (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[10]). Its Language Introductory Programme – the largest transitional programme in Sweden – admitted over 90% more students in 2016-17 than 2015-16 while barely any change was seen in most other programmes (Skolverket, 2017[13]; Skolverket, 2018[14]).

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Box 3.1. Transitional programmes: from compulsory to upper-secondary schools

Transitional programmes assist youth-at-risk to make a successful entry or transition into upper-secondary VET (Kis, 2016[6]). These programmes were introduced with specific policy goals such as reducing dropout rates in upper-secondary schools in Sweden (Arreman and Dovemark, 2018[15]) and reducing youth unemployment rates in Switzerland (Landert and Eberli, 2015[16]). While these programmes do not focus solely on humanitarian migrants, they are well suited to serving this population given that migrants face multiple barriers related to knowledge and skills, social networks and cultural orientation.

These programmes can include language training, basic academic programmes, integration courses targeted to migrants, career guidance and pre-vocational programmes including pre-apprenticeships or introductory vocational programmes (Table 3.1). Many preparatory programmes are vocationally oriented and include elements of work-based learning. These programmes are usually intended to facilitate the transition from compulsory into upper-secondary VET provision or potentially progression within general education.

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Table 3.1. Overview of preparatory programmes that facilitate the entry or transition to upper-secondary VET


Preparatory programmes

Typical duration

Types and content

Possibility of work-based learning (including apprenticeship)



6-12 months

General employability skills, occupation-specific skills


Basic Integration Education (Integrationsgrunduddannelsen, IGU)* for the ages 18-40 having lived in Denmark for less than five years

2 years

School-based VET with language and vocational competencies. Flexibly combined with other types of education.

20-week of school-based VET with education allowance and paid internship at a company (minimum 25 hours per week).

England (United Kingdom)

Traineeship (youth aged 16-24 qualified below level 3 with little work experience and not in employment)

6 weeks-6 months

Work experience placement, work preparation training, literacy and mathematics if needed



Preparatory vocational education (ammatilliseen peruskoulutukseen valmentava koulutus or VALMA)*

6-12 months

Basic skills including language training



Transitional programmes (Übergangsbereich)

6-24 months

- Pre-vocational year (school-based)

- Preparatory educational programmes offered by the PES

- School-based programmes to obtain a lower-secondary diploma

- Preparatory traineeships or EQ (6-12 months)

- Preparatory internships for VET in childcare5

Internship/ traineeship


Pre-vocational programme (VMBO)

MBO 1 (part of regular VET)

1 year




Introductory programmes

1-3 years

Mostly individualised programmes that may contain language training, basic skills and/or upper secondary VET and general subjects depending on the needs of the individual. Each of four Introductory Programmes has slightly different focus.

- Individual Alternative

- Language Introduction Programme

- Programme-oriented Options

- Vocational Introduction

Work-based learning is compulsory for Programme-oriented Options and Vocational Introduction. WBL may be offered for Individual Alternative and Language Introduction.


Transitional programmes


6-12 months

Pre-apprenticeship: basic skills including language training, social, personal and country-specific skills and knowledge, vocational skills, minimum 8 weeks of work, interview preparation

Pre-apprenticeship: Combined with school-based training (Refugees and temporarily admitted persons [ages 16-35])

Note: Programmes with an asterisk sign (*) are targeted at humanitarian migrants or migrants in general.

Source: Adapted from Kis, V. (2016[6]), Work-based Learning for Youth at Risk: Getting Employers on Board, OECD Education Working Papers No. 150,; Kuczera, M. and S. Jeon (2019[10]), Vocational Education and Training in Sweden, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training,; Kuczera, M. and S. Field (2018[17]), Apprenticeship in England, United Kingdom, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, and Cedefop (2019[18]), Introductory Training: Einstiegsqualifizierung,


copy the linklink copied!Effective approaches to enhance migrant basic skills on the way to upper-secondary VET

Combining language and vocational training is proven effective

Many OECD countries have put in place more language training opportunities for the increased number of young migrants and refugees and upgraded the quality of that training. These include: i) language training as part of integration courses, or combined with vocational training, mainly for adults;6 ii) language training within transitional programmes for young people, often combined with vocational subjects (see next section on preparatory courses); and iii) independently-run language training, often offered by private providers and NGOs yet linked to integration courses or transitional programmes and funded by the host-country government.

Among existing approaches, combining language and vocational training is proven effective especially for adults and can facilitate rapid transitions for young people. Evidence suggests that this approach improves language proficiency among migrants as well as their employment outcomes (McHugh and Challinor, 2011[19]). This approach can be also more appealing to migrant students who want to join mainstream education as early as possible (Sharif, 2017[20]; Nilsson Folke, 2017[21]). When such combined courses are available from arrival, it can minimise or avoid lock-in effects, meaning that migrants do not feel stuck or lose too much time only in language classes. In comparison, ‘language-first models’ (Ahad and Benton, 2018[22]) where access to VET programmes is determined only by a certain level of language skills, present a challenging choice. While teaching only language can rapidly prepare new arrivals to be in a position where they are well-placed to take advantage of VET provision or labour market opportunities, it may also mean retaining them for longer in language education and the education system as a whole. For young people, ‘pull-out’ programmes where they are taught outside mainstream classes also have disadvantages so evidence indicates that separate classes should be short-term and a smooth transition into mainstream education should be guaranteed to avoid segregation (Fazekas and Litjens, 2014[23]; Nusche, 2009[24]; Staring, Day and Meierkord, 2017[25]).

Vocational training can be combined with language training either from the beginning of the integration process or at later stages. This combined approach is more often used for adults (Box 3.2) but is also increasingly common in transitional programmes for youth.

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Box 3.2. Combined approaches for adults: Basic skills including language and vocational training

In Sweden, Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) and Swedish as a Second Language (SVA) help migrants acquire basic (SFI) to advanced (SVA) knowledge of the Swedish language. SFI is combined with vocational adult education in different occupations including apprenticeships (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[10]). In some municipalities the SFI offer is tailored to particular professions (OECD, 2016[26]).

Denmark takes a ‘staircase’ model: identification of skills combined with language lessons (4-8 weeks) and trainee placement in an enterprise at no cost to the employer, followed by additional language lessons (26-52 weeks). The country also runs a labour market-oriented Danish course, which must be completed within one and half years of enrolment and can lead to Danish language training for up to three years (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[27]) (Konle-Seidl and Bolits, 2016[28]) (European PES Network, 2016[29]).

In the United States, the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) programme, implemented at a state level first and then scaled up to the national level, uses a team-teaching approach to combine basic adult education classes with regular, credit-bearing academic or job training classes so students get through school and into jobs faster. I-BEST students are nine times more likely to earn a workforce credential than students in traditional programs who must complete basic skills first, before training for a job. Also, in Project I-DEA in Washington State, English language learners learn English while gaining skills for college and careers. Like I-BEST, this project uses an integrated, team-teaching approach so students learn English in tandem with college and job skills (Washington's Community and Technical Colleges, 2018[30]).

Seattle’s Ready to Work programme for job-seeking refugees and other migrants is organised by the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and is offered in a community-based setting since 2015. It combines English as a Second Language classes with computer literacy instruction and case management to help immigrants gain job readiness skills. The programme offers contextualised instruction (industry-specific, career-oriented), combined with visits to area apprenticeship trainers or employers, pre-apprenticeship programs, and Human Resources staff from industry partners (Bergson-Shilcock, 1 June 2016[31]).

Personalised approaches such as differentiating the learning and teaching needs is important

As a group, young humanitarian migrants exhibit a broad range of characteristics, and so they naturally have different needs for language training. For example, they may lack basic literacy skills, an understanding of the norms of school culture, or in some cases, academic content that their age-level peers were exposed to in earlier years of schooling. In contrast, newly arrived adults with work experience need language courses that specifically target vocational and technical language training. The necessity of language training is particularly high for refugee women as they tend to have poorer skills in the host-country language upon arrival7 and the process of acquiring the necessary language skills often takes more time compared to men partly due to lower participation, for example, in introduction courses (Liebig and Tronstad, 2018[1]).8

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Box 3.3. Effective language training practices for second language learners

Context-based and scenario-based language teaching

Switzerland has developed a framework for the linguistic integration for migrants (FIDE), acknowledging the needs for a curriculum and teaching materials adapted to an increasingly culturally diverse student body. This teaching framework is referred to as a quality assurance mechanism for subsidised language courses for migrants, and emphasises teaching based on individual needs, closely linking to everyday life including a scenario learning approach. FIDE also offers an officially valid language pass, which attests that the student has skills under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Differentiating levels

The Council of Europe proposes a classification of four migrant profiles in terms of literacy: pre-literate, illiterate, semi-literate and literate. Countries design different levels of language courses to meet the needs of different target groups. Switzerland differentiate migrants with educational qualifications, migrants with more than six years of schooling, migrants with less than six years and illiterates. Denmark also offers three-level courses and similarly Norway offers three tracks in the integration programme for humanitarian migrants: illiterates with no education background, learners with limited educational background in their country of origin, and learners with sufficient educational background in their country of origin

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

In the United Kingdom, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is a domain of language learning and teaching where teaching strategies in mainstream, accredited provision are influenced not only by pedagogical and language learning theory but also by policy directives concerning integration, employability and citizenship.

ESOL provision is benchmarked against national standards set by the 2001 Skills for Life national programme (which aimed to improve adult literacy and numeracy skills for all adult learners) and is based on a national Adult ESOL core curriculum. Prior to this, ESOL provision had been informal in nature. Informal non-accredited ESOL courses are also offered through community learning.

In 2016, the United Kingdom Government announced GBP 10 million of funding to boost English language tuition (12 hours a week of tuition, for up to 6 months) for those arriving under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. This language training is in addition to the language support already provided by local authorities, which is accessed by refugees and their families within a month of their arrival.

Teaching language with age-appropriate content

In the United States, the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol model aims to enable English learner students to access grade-level academic content even before they have achieved full English proficiency. Teachers are encouraged to develop strategies that make content more accessible, using visual aids and an appropriate rate of speech.

Approaches of multilingualism and translanguaging – other languages as an asset

Courses can take full advantage of the multilingual nature of many migrant students. For example, multilingual study guidance and mother tongue instruction help recently arrived students reach the learning goals of subjects in the Swedish curriculum. A translanguaging science classroom in Sweden benefits from the students’ ability to relate to and contextualise science content through prior experience. Although the outcomes of this approach vary depending on many different associated factors, and its effectiveness is debated among linguists, it is contributing to the discussion about the needs to acknowledge diversity in classrooms and promote a more inclusive linguistic climate.

Several OECD countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, are exploring how this approach can improve learning and teaching of language as well as other subjects for newly arrived students. Denmark has also launched a randomised, controlled trial programme (2013-16) on language immersion in teaching in schools with bilanguage students.

Source: For Sweden, Warren, A. (2017[32]), Developing Multilingual Literacies in Sweden and Australia; Torpsten, A. (2018[33]), “Translanguaging in a Swedish Multilingual Classroom”, Multicultural Perspectives, Vol. 20/2, pp. 104-110,; Karlsson, A., P. Larsson and A. Jakob (2018[34]), “Multilingual students’ use of translanguaging in science classrooms”, International Journal of Science Education,; and Jaspers, J. (2018[35]), “The transformative limits of translanguaging”, Language & Communication, Vol. 58, For the United Kingdom, Simpson, J. (2017[36]), Translanguaging, superdiversity and ESOL: A summary of the 2017 TLang e-seminar,; Nickson, M. (2013[37]), Volunteer ESOL Teaching: Local Pedagogy or Teaching Without a Theory?,; Foster, D. and P. Bolton (2018[38]), Adult ESOL in England,

For the United States, McHugh, M. and J. Sugarman (2015[39]), Transatlantic Symposium Report: Improving Instruction for Immigrant and Refugee Students in Secondary Schools,; and Lopez, A., S. Turkan and D. Guzman-Orth (2017[40]), Conceptualizing the Use of Translanguaging in Initial Content Assessments for Newly Arrived Emergent Bilingual Students, ETS Research Report No. RR–17-07, For Denmark, Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration (2016[27]), and International Migration – Denmark (Report to OECD), For Switzerland: Lüthi, S. (forthcoming[41]), Unlocking the Potential of Migrants through Vocational Education and Training - Country Note: Switzerland.

Different didactic approaches, targeted or flexible provision (e.g. part-time, flexible venues, childcare for parents) and more tailored courses seem to provide better results (Box 3.3). In many countries, language provision is largely focused on basic language that is the biggest need. However, these could be supplemented or supported by specific programmes for dual language learners, language training for secondary language learners, or programmes that provide VET-specific language courses.

Pre-vocational or pre-apprenticeship programmes prepare specifically well to upper-secondary VET

Pre-vocational programmes are essential to maintaining the integrity, inclusiveness and quality of VET systems. Pre-vocational programmes are proven to be successful in increasing the access to VET of a broader range of learners, because these programmes offer opportunities to connect with potential employers and to improve necessary skills. They are designed to ensure that learners are well placed to succeed when they enrol on upper-secondary VET programmes. Trainees have an opportunity to demonstrate their practical talents and motivation as well as skills that may also be difficult to convey in a regular recruitment process or with weaker language skills. Moreover, pre-apprenticeship provision, one form of pre-vocational programme, can help improving the cost-benefit balance for employers by enhancing the right skill levels of migrant students through work-based programmes and by allowing for a trial period (Kis, 2016[6]). Evidence shows that employers generally have good experiences with taking on asylum seekers and refugees through pre-vocational programmes and are likely to offer the trainees an apprenticeship or job contract after the programme (Degler and Liebig, 2017[42]). Many countries pursue extensive pre-apprenticeship programmes to this end (Kis, 2016[6]; OECD, 2018[43]).

While many young migrants can benefit from generic pre-vocational provision, there may be call for more targeted provision, as examples from Denmark and Switzerland illustrate. In general, key characteristics of successful pre-vocational or pre-apprenticeship programmes are related to:

  • Labour market relevance: Pre-vocational programmes often aim to help match participants to available placements by offering career guidance, work placements and job search training. Therefore they need to be well articulated to upper-secondary VET provision, which is gateway to skilled employment, and ultimately to labour market demand. Pre-vocational programmes are often developed in areas of labour market shortage, and thus these programmes are more likely to enable ultimate progression into the labour market for youth at risk.

  • Engagement of social partners: In effective programmes, employers, professional organisations and trade unions are often involved in design and implementation, such as in the case of Denmark and Switzerland (Box 3.4). Social partner engagement helps ensure that provision relates to areas of skill demand. A high level of social partner engagement also helps put emphasis on and provision of work-based learning (WBL).

  • Work-based learning: Pre-vocational programmes including pre-apprenticeships can help young migrants to connect to employers through WBL. As in Germany and Switzerland, such courses include practical work experience in companies such as a short internship and work shadowing. Preparatory traineeships (Einstiegsqualifizierungen) in Germany, pre-apprenticeship (INVOL) in Switzerland and work-based learning including apprenticeship opportunities in preparatory programmes in Sweden serve this purpose (Box 3.4).

  • Strengthening general skills and providing career guidance: These pre-apprenticeship programmes usually aim to develop the general, vocational and soft skills (including employability skills) that help young people to obtain and successfully complete an apprenticeship. They typically combine education in schools with elements of WBL. Such programmes often offer intensive language training and career orientation. Programmes may provide credit towards a regular apprenticeship.

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Box 3.4. Major transitional programmes and pre-apprenticeships

Denmark’s Basic Integration Education (IGU)

Denmark offers a Basic Integration Education (Integrationsgrunduddannelsen, IGU) programme that aims to enable smooth labour market transitions. It was initiated as a three-year trial scheme by a tripartite agreement in 2016. It lasts two years and is offered for a clear target group: newly-arrived refugees aged 18-40 with a focus on adults with work experience. This programme leads to a certificate of completion but not a formal qualification. It has strong work-based components with financial incentives for both participants and their employers. The training positions that IGU offers are equivalent to regular basic VET programmes (erhvervsgrunduddannelse, EGU), i.e. same wage rates and labour rights including unemployment benefits, paid holiday leave and pension contributions (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[27]). This programme is highly flexible: it can be linked with other programmes and there is also possibility for already-employed people to start IGU with their current employer to get appropriate qualifications (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[27]). Almost one thousand companies have already hired a refugee for an IGU-position by February 2019 – for a total of over 1 955 IGU courses (Knudsen and Holst, 2017[44]).

Germany’s preparatory traineeships (EQ)

Preparatory traineeships (Einstiegsqualifizierung, EQ) support young people who did not secure an apprenticeship at the end of lower secondary provision and are designed to increase their chance of securing access to either an apprenticeship or equivalent school-based provision. The Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs designed the measure in 2004 in co-operation with key stakeholders from industry and trade. This measure does not necessarily target migrants but about 40% of participants had migrant parents (2007-10). About 70% of EQ interns managed to find an apprenticeship within half a year after finishing their traineeship, and around 40% of them stayed with the company in which they had interned (Popp et al., 2012[45]). Refugees are even more strongly over-represented in 2017, out of 12 000 new EQ trainees, around 8 000 (40%) came from one of the main asylum origin countries. Generally employers view this measure positively (Degler and Liebig, 2017[42]). A more supportive scheme called “EQ plus” has been introduced, which combines EQ with other vocational or socio-pedagogical support measures such as Training Assistance (abH) or prevention of dropout from training (VerA) (see Box 5.1) (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[11]). The German Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF) has also launched the measure Berufsorientierung für Flüchtlinge (BOF). BOF includes intensive vocational career orientation, vocational language training and company visits to prepare for entry into VET. BOF and VerA are parts of the Education Chains initiative by the BMBF, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and Federal Employment Agency in co-operation with the federal states.

Sweden’s Language Introduction Programme

In Sweden, the Language Introduction Programme is designed in particular for newly arrived young people who have not met the language qualification required for entry into a national upper-secondary programme. This programme teaches Swedish or Swedish as a second language at the compulsory school level, but other subjects can be added based on the student’s aspirations or skills. Work-based learning could be included. This programme may be combined with Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) or other initiatives that would be helpful for the student’s knowledge development (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[10]).

Switzerland’s Pre-apprenticeship for humanitarian migrants (INVOL)

Integration Apprenticeship (Integrationsvorlehre) is a form of pre-apprenticeship. The programme is a one-year long preparatory training courses designed to facilitate enrolment in a dual-track VET programme. It combines on-the-job training or traineeships lasting at least eight weeks with the goal of acquiring basic competences in an occupational field and language training to achieve A2 level of Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It is a pilot programme (800-1 000 positions per year for 2018-21) designed to help the transition of refugees and temporarily admitted persons (aged 16-35) with work experience or training, into VET and then the labour market. Through this programme, the Federal Council collaborates with the cantons, professional organisations and VET institutes. Integration Apprenticeships are developed in sectors where skills shortages are acute and that social partners are supportive.

Finland’s pre-vocational programme for migrants (VALMA)

This programme (ammatilliseen peruskoulutukseen valmentava koulutus or VALMA) aims to help newly arrived learners to move on to programmes leading to upper-secondary vocational qualifications. It lasts between 6 and 12 months and provides migrants with information and guidance on different occupations and vocational studies. When migrants later apply for an upper-secondary vocational programme through a joint application system, they can receive extra points for completed preparatory education (OECD, 2017[46]).

Getting the teaching workforce ready

Coping with student diversity in the context of teacher shortages

While teachers play a crucial role in student learning outcomes (OECD, 2005[47]), several countries are facing teacher shortages, partly due to the recent increase of migrants, but combined with general trends. On the one hand, language teacher shortages are a worldwide phenomenon (Swanson and Mason, 2018[48]) and on the other hand, some countries find it difficult to recruit high quality VET teachers. In Germany, one out of ten newly hired teachers in 2017 and 2018 had no formal qualification (KMK, 2019[49]) and in Sweden 45% of active VET teachers (yrkeslärarutbildning) have no educational college degree (Statistics Sweden, 2017[50]).

In addition, some teachers and trainers are also poorly equipped to teach students with growing diversity in general and newly arrived students in particular because they lack skills and experience in teaching in increasingly diverse classrooms. For example, in Europe, one study shows that 38% of teachers felt a moderate or high level of need for training in teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting and only 13% had taken part in professional development activities in this area (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[51]). While this survey was undertaken in lower secondary education, the results may be similar in other levels and types of education.

An increasingly diverse classroom requires more responsive teachers equipped with an understanding of students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, of how they construct knowledge, and of the impact of their home and community culture (Zhao, 2010[52]; García et al., 2009[53]). Research shows that teacher performance influences student achievement and that this influence is more pronounced for students with migrant backgrounds (OECD, 2018[3]; Middelkoop, Ballafkih and Meerman, 2017[54]; OECD, 2010[55]). Therefore training teachers about the sensitivity of teaching diverse groups of students is important – in particular for those teachers in language training and VET where students with migrant backgrounds are often overrepresented. For the VET sector, not only VET teachers, but also company trainers at workplaces, will benefit from training in relation to student diversity.

Professional development for more systemic and institutional support for teachers

Several countries have recognised this challenge and are providing additional training for teachers (Box 3.5). In addition to providing formal education for teachers, informal and non-formal teaching materials or support materials for teachers can be provided to aid in preparations for teaching migrants and refugees. For example, the Immigrant Learning Center in the United States runs workshops and provides educator resources including: how to plan lessons including welcoming and ESOL classes; how to better understand migrant and refugee students and motivate them; how to deal with different ethnicities, break down implicit bias, engage parents and families, and share creative teaching ideas and practices.

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Box 3.5. Practices for teacher training and support for diversity

In Austria, the Federal Center for Interculturalism, Migration and Multilingualism (Bundeszentrum für Interkulturalität, Migration und Mehrsprachigkeit, BIMM) is a resource centre for teachers in the field of interculturalism, migration and multilingualism. BIMM organises network meetings among the relevant staff of the teacher-training institutions, and convenes workshops and conferences conferences (Herzog-Punzenberger, Le Pichon-Vorstman and Siarova, 2017[56]).

In Denmark, the Retention Taskforce (FastholdelsesTaskfoce) provides training for supervisors to guide teachers and other professionals in improving communication with the parents of bilingual pupils and helping parents play a more active role in the children’s school attendance (Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2016[27]).

In Italy, the National Plan for Teacher Training (a multi-year project of the Italian Ministry of Education) trains teachers on multiculturalism and methodologies for teaching languages for students with migrant backgrounds, financed by the Asylum, Migration Fund.

In Norway, multicultural competence, Norwegian as a second language and multilingualism are topics that are included in the regulations for teacher education. A five-year strategy (Competence for Diversity 2013-2017) was formulated for in-service training to enhance multicultural competences and knowledge of teaching Norwegian as a second language among employees in all levels of education. The last two years of this strategy placed more emphasis on second language acquisition, preventing radicalisation and good reception of refugee children in schools (Thorud, 2018[4]).

In Portugal, the Entreculturas programme provides teacher training with regards to multiculturalism and diversity and strengthens Portuguese public schools to better serve increasingly diverse student population.

In Switzerland, teacher education institutions such as the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) offer various modules and one-day courses covering topics such as migration, integration, diversity or ethics for VET teachers and leaders to cope with the increasing complexity arising due to migration.

Due to the acute need for teachers during the high migration influx period, Germany had to rely on alternative means of recruiting teachers, especially for language and vocational training (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[11]). In comparison, Sweden was already experiencing teacher shortages prior to the influx and has since put greater efforts into qualified teacher recruitment while accelerating the pace of recruiting and training teachers with a migrant background (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[10]). Efforts include Fast-track for Newly Arrived Teachers (OECD, 2016[26]; OECD, 2017[57]; Dryden-Peterson, 2015[5]), Further Education of Migrant Teachers (Bunar, 2017[58]) and the Boost for Teachers Programme (Lärarlyftet)9 (OECD, 2017[57]).

Ultimately, more systemic and institutional supply and support for teachers in regard to student diversity (Cerna et al., 2019[59]) are necessary if education systems are to unlock the full potential of migrant students. Greater awareness and small adjustments to teaching practice can underpin better outcomes for these learners. This should go together with promoting professional development to teachers on issues central to the education of migrant students, ensuring that such professional development activities are regular and compulsory, forming peer-to-peer support networks for teaching migrant students. All of these need to take into account the fact that students have become more diverse in terms of their familiarity with VET and the social networks possessed as well as their knowledge and skills.

Counsellors, skills assessors

There are other parts of the workforce that can play an important role in helping young migrants and refugees to be prepared for and able to succeed in VET. These include career counsellors, skills assessors, case managers, social workers and volunteers. Just like teachers, they are likely to require high quality training on how to communicate with young migrants and refugees and how to support them. They often need additional training in understanding the legal rights of humanitarian migrants based on their status, learning about up-to-date labour market information, dealing with skills and qualification assessment and providing adequate information about schools, training providers and apprentice employers.

In Norway, an e-learning programme for job counsellors on the recognition of foreign skills and qualifications includes relevant cases and examples, and introduces different approaches related to recognition of qualifications from abroad. The main goal is for the counsellors to give adequate and accurate information to migrants in need of this information (European PES Network, 2016[29]).


Language programmes as well as vocationally-oriented integration programmes for newly arrived humanitarian migrants are often offered by non-profit organisations or local authorities. Volunteers are a major part of the provision and they fill the gap in provision for asylum seekers who have limited access to education and training. While finding volunteers who are reliable may be an issue, volunteers still provide a valuable service and can help the organisations meet their needs cost-effectively. Furthermore, using local volunteers helps refugees develop relationships, often strong ones, with individuals who are from different circles, developing social capital. Likewise, volunteers become more aware about the struggles of being a refugee and the challenges a newcomer faces in an unfamiliar country (Mathema, 2018[60]).

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) co-ordinates the nation-wide programme ‘Entry German’ (Einstieg Deutsch), where over 3 000 volunteers help migrants above school age to learn German, providing language practice opportunities (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[11]). In the United States, preparatory and VET programmes rely on volunteers to deliver the services partly because of resource constraints and also the fluctuating nature of humanitarian migrant inflows (Mathema, 2018[60]).


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← 1. EU-Labour Force Survey ad hoc module 2014. OECD-Europe includes all European OECD countries apart from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland.

← 2. Students who attain baseline academic proficiency are those who attain at least proficiency Level 2 in all three core PISA subjects: science, reading and mathematics. At Level 2, students can draw on their knowledge of basic science content and procedures to identify an appropriate explanation, interpret data, and identify the question being addressed in a simple experiment. All students should be expected to attain Level 2 by the time they leave compulsory education.

← 3. In some countries, all training enterprises receive a state grant for the training period (e.g. EUR 13 000 per apprentice in Norway to compensate the cost of training). Several projects in Italy that aim at integrating young migrants in the labour market offer financial support not only apprentices but also employers and intermediary bodies.

← 4. Data does not distinguish by legal status and citizenship is therefore taken as a proxy for asylum seeker or refugee status. The definition of ‘main asylum countries’ follows the definition used by the PES and includes the main eight countries of origin of asylum seekers in the past years: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Somalia.

← 5. Such internships may not be formally part of transitional programmes, but are a mandatory requirement for accessing VET in childcare.

← 6. For integration-oriented courses for adults, the government body in charge of migration and integration often takes an active role in providing meaningful access to language training, such as in Germany (BAMF), Switzerland (SEM) and the United States (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DHS). In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) offers language courses through private providers and ensure the quality through comprehensive guidelines, licensing and funding. BAMF is also responsible for the Integration Course for adults and Youth Integration Course (Jugendintegrationskurse) for young people aged 16-27. These courses offer mainly language training but also include civic education, VET-related content and information on the education system and the labour market (Bergseng, Degler and Lüthi, 2019[11]).

In other cases, local authorities are responsible for providing basic language tuition for adult migrants, in particular in Nordic countries. In Sweden, Swedish for Immigrants is mandatory as part of the Integration Programme that is organised by Public Employment Services (OECD, 2016[61]). In Switzerland, two-thirds of the cantons participate in a four-year pilot project (Frühzeitige Sprachförderung) that offers an intensive language course to young asylum seekers who have prospects of remaining in the country. Since 2015, this project aims to provide early language training for asylum seekers who have prospects of remaining in the country, and to help them to reach level A1-A2 through the year-long course. Participating cantons receive federal funding (CHF 2 000 per person).

For young migrants, education ministries (either national or local levels) are often responsible for language training provision through welcome classes or transitional programmes. In Turkey, the Ministry of National Education runs Turkish Language Teaching Programme for Persons under Protection.

← 7. Data from the Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants in Australia (BNLA) show that upon arrival, a higher share of refugee women responded that they could not understand any English, compared with refugee men. Over time, the ability to understand English clearly improved for both refugee women and men; mothers were significantly less likely than both other women and men to be studying and improving English (Australian Department of Social Services, 2017[63]; Australian Department of Social Services, 2019[62]; Liebig and Tronstad, 2018[1]).

← 8. Many refugee women do not participate in the introduction course or drop out in Germany. Data from the IAB-BAMF-SOEP survey show that refugee women have, after controlling for a broad range of socio-demographic characteristics, a ten percentage points lower probability to have participated in the introduction courses than their male peers. Their self-assessed improvement in German language mastery since arrival has also been lower (ibid).

← 9. This initiative is exclusive for registered teachers with a degree in education, and not directed to teachers with a migrant background in particular.

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3. Getting ready: Ensuring effective pathways into upper-secondary vocational education and training