copy the linklink copied!Executive summary

This study explores how vocational education and training (VET) systems can best respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by migration. The focus is on Germany and how it is responding to the 1.5 million migrants arriving in search of humanitarian protection during 2015-16. The arrival of this disproportionately young group of people represents a significant opportunity. Germany is an ageing society experiencing skills shortages. It cannot be taken for granted, however, that new arrivals will succeed in VET. The barriers they face are considerable: familiarity with, or interest in, VET is commonly limited; relevant social networks are routinely weak; and the knowledge and skills required to enter and benefit from VET, notably in terms of language capability, is often insufficient. Targeted interventions can address such challenges, helping to improve provision for all learners at risk of poor outcomes. In responding to migrant needs, German VET can become more inclusive without reducing quality. Germany has already devoted significant attention to VET as a mechanism to enable integration - and for good reason. Work-based learning enables integration because it demonstrably gives learners skills that employers want in real-world settings.

This study considers the barriers faced by learners in their journeys into and through VET, exploring how such challenges can be addressed. The focus is on new migrants seeking humanitarian protection aged 16-35 engaging in upper secondary VET, but insights are identified for the wider migrant population. The study complements a sister publication, Unlocking the Potential of Migrants: Cross-country Analysis, which highlights practice across the OECD.

copy the linklink copied!Getting the migrants ready for VET

Getting the migrants informed about VET and then getting them ready to benefit from an upper secondary VET programme presents clear challenges. It cannot be assumed that migrants seeking humanitarian protection, in particular, will possess a positive view of VET. In many origin countries, vocational education does not enjoy a high reputation. Familiarity with VET needs to be built up. Germany already has a strong career guidance system that makes use of work-based learning and close connections with employers. The report argues for building on this system to provide pro-active, personalised and co-ordinated support for migrants from an early stage.

The admirable quality of the German VET system is based on high standards, linked to the effective preparation of learners to benefit from upper secondary VET qualifications. For refugees and other migrants in receipt of some protection in particular, while backgrounds vary, many have interrupted or insufficient educational preparation. German language skills are often lacking. Consequently, risks are high of long-term economic marginalisation within low-skilled employment in sectors vulnerable to automation. A number of opportunities exist to build on Germany’s strong transition system to help migrants become ready to enter apprenticeships. The report argues for the importance of recent arrivals having access to high quality language learning throughout their training and that the most effective preparatory programmes are made consistently available across Länder. Consideration should be given, moreover, to increasing access to successful preparatory programmes to students over the age of 18. Such programmes are essential in enabling access to apprenticeships, as they reduce the risks to employers of apprenticeship costs ultimately outweighing benefits.

copy the linklink copied!Getting into VET

Compared to native-born Germans with native-born parents, both recent arrivals and natives with migrant parents face greater difficulties in finding an apprenticeship. While employers may be responding to perceived risks in taking on potentially vulnerable apprentices, as is common in many OECD countries evidence exists of discrimination within the labour market. Direct contact between migrants and employers has proven effective in improving access to apprenticeships. The 3+2 initiative which guarantees that migrants with tolerated status can work for two years after the completion of a three-year apprenticeship has given confidence to employers, but needs to be consistently implemented. In response to evidence of discrimination in the apprenticeship market, the report recommends consideration be given to making diversity training more widely available, particularly to smaller enterprises, and that measures are taken to address unconscious stereotyping of migrants.

copy the linklink copied!Supporting during VET

Experience shows that natives with migrant parents are more likely to need additional support during apprenticeship training. Dropout rates are high for refugees and other migrants. Germany has a strong structure on which to build when it comes to supporting apprentices to complete apprenticeships. Opportunity exists to strengthen the availability of support measures during VET to provide migrants, like any learner at risk of poor outcomes, with targeted help so that they can complete upper secondary VET. Important here is the need to ensure effective communication is in place between VET schools, employers, learners and social services.

copy the linklink copied!Governing the system

As the integration agenda cuts across different policy fields, governing the VET system, particularly in a federal country like Germany, can be challenging. Germany has, however, great opportunity to build upon its strong tradition of close collaboration with social partners. Ongoing efforts to update the Federal Action Plan on integration are welcome here and opportunity should be taken to include a specific focus on VET, with measurable goals, as a mechanism for integrating migrants. Further, there is potential to improve data and evaluations about how the measures implemented are working in general terms and in relation to individual learners. Greater emphasis should be put on facilitating peer-learning and co-ordination across the federal government and Länder to help expand effective practice and to take advantage of economies of scale.

copy the linklink copied!Exploring increased flexibility

As some learners are struggling to achieve formal qualifications through the VET system, opportunity exists to discuss alternative pathways for particular groups of students. Where there is clear labour market demand, increased flexibility can be a more effective pathway for struggling learners who are less likely to succeed on a standard VET track. Learning from both local and international experiences, more flexible approaches might include part qualifications as stepping stones towards full qualifications, prolonging the duration of training for specific learners, as well as modularised approaches. In such a way, access to VET can be increased for all youth at risk of poor outcomes, while high standards and the labour market relevance of provision is retained.

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