4. Guidance, validation and partial qualifications

Ideal CET systems provide broad support for individuals to help them adapt to changes in the labour market and manage their transitions through the provision of guidance and validation services, as well as the availability of partial qualifications.

Guidance services help individuals to make informed educational, training and occupational choices (OECD, 2004[1]; OECD, 2021[2]). They intend to support individuals in their personal and professional development, by informing about opportunities for continuing education and training, assessing and documenting existing skills and counselling on career opportunities in line with individual and labour market needs. High-quality services offer individuals more than one-off encounters; they recommend further skill development processes, and assist individuals before, during and after participating in them. In an ideal CET system (Figure 4.1), guidance on career development is closely co-ordinated with services for the validation of existing skills.

Validation involves the identification, documentation, assessment and certification of the skills held by an individual. In contrast to simple skills assessment, validation typically involves comparing an individual’s existing skills with a standard, for example the vocational training requirements of a specific occupation. It can enable individuals to acquire formal qualifications, in full or in part.

The results of guidance and validation can then link people with continuing education and training opportunities. These enable individuals to develop skills in line with their personal development needs, as well as the needs of the labour market. They typically end with an assessment of the skills gained and the certification of such skills.

As illustrated in Figure 4.1, the process of guidance, validation and continuing education and training is circular, as an individual’s skills and career development needs evolve over time.

As in many other countries, the German CET landscape diverges from this ideal configuration in several ways. Policy developments on guidance, validation of skills and CET not always occur in a joined-up manner, sometimes lacking routine and institutionalised exchange between stakeholders. Exceptions exist for specific target groups, notably migrants, where the IQ-Network (IQ-Netzwerk) takes a linked-up approach to guidance, validation and partial qualifications. This chapter analyses the existing setup of guidance, validation, and partial qualifications in Germany. It analyses each instrument and highlights the lack of sufficient co-ordination between them. Based on this analysis, it presents recommendations for future action.

Across OECD countries, guidance services are key to helping individuals navigate CET. Given the complexity of the German CET landscape (Chapter 3), the multitude of financial support mechanisms available (Chapter 5) and the comparatively low learning participation of adults with low skills (Chapter 6), the need for guidance on continuing education and training in Germany is pronounced.

Guidance services provide private and public benefits; they can improve outcomes, effectiveness and equity of CET systems (OECD, 2004[3]; OECD, 2021[4]). Making these services available to all individuals regardless of their employment situation, socio-economic status, ethnicity or gender can mitigate pre-existing inequalities of access to CET and labour market opportunities. If sufficiently user-oriented, guidance has the potential to reduce asymmetries of information and resources adults have at their disposal when taking decisions about education and training (OECD, 2021[2]). Guidance also delivers wider social and economic benefits through developing workers’ skills in accordance with the needs of the labour market. This is especially important in a context of fast-changing labour markets and learning offers, driven by digitalisation and technological change.

For individuals, international evidence suggests that guidance has a positive impact on learning and training outcomes. It can improve adult’s decision-making, self-awareness, as well as their confidence and motivation to learn (Bimrose, Barnes and Hughes, 2009[5]; European Commission, 2015[6]; Kidd, Jackson and Hirsh, 2003[7]; Maguire, 2004[8]). Impact evaluations of publicly funded guidance services for adults in the United Kingdom have found a significantly positive effect on participation in CET (Lane et al., 2017[9]; Killeen and White, 2000[10]). Evidence on long-term employment effects of guidance remains scarce.

Comparatively few adults search for information on learning opportunities in Germany, be this through print and online media, or personal networks. According to the 2016 Adult Education Survey (AES), 28% of adults looked for information about formal and non-formal education and training in the 12-month period preceding the survey. This is below the EU average of 34% and also lower than in Austria (54%), Denmark (68%), the Netherlands (54%) and Switzerland (44%), all countries with comparable education and training systems (Figure 4.2).

The share of adults looking for information has been quite stable since the first AES in 2007, in Germany and in other countries participating in the survey. There is little difference between men and women in the likelihood of searching for information. Younger individuals and those with higher qualification levels are more likely to look for information, although data for the latter have low reliability due to small sample sizes. There are currently no other national statistics on the use of guidance services (BMBF, 2019[12]).

There are different hypotheses why a comparatively small share of adults looks for information on CET in Germany, including:

  • Adults may think they are already well-informed about CET opportunities. According to 2018 data from the German AES, two in three adults aged 18-64 state that they have a good overview of their own opportunities to engage in continuing education and training (BMBF, 2019[12]).

  • Adults may not be aware of information and guidance opportunities and/or their benefits and may therefore not actively seek out information (OECD, 2021[2]). According to a 2017 survey conducted by the German Institute for Employment Research (IAB), less than two in five adults know of existing guidance offers (Osiander and Stephan, 2018[13]). Those with lower qualifications were less likely to know offers than higher qualified adults.

  • There may be issues with the quality of the available information, which might reduce the perceived usefulness of guidance (Box 4.2). Only half of all adults who take-up guidance finds the advice helpful, according to the above-mentioned IAB survey (Osiander and Stephan, 2018[13]). However, other data sources show higher satisfaction levels up to 80% (Behringer, Kuper and Schrader, 2017[14]).

Individuals that make use of guidance offers and services do so through different channels. Face-to-face guidance services are still the most common form, however, taken together about one-fifth of guidance is delivered digitally, according to 2018 data from the German AES (Figure 4.3).

The provision of CET guidance in Germany reflects the constitutional set-up of the CET system and the distribution of responsibilities between the federation, federal states, municipalities, social partners and employers (Chapter 3) (Cedefop, 2020[17]). The guidance landscape has grown organically over time and differs substantively across federal states, as local and regional actors play an important role. In recent years, the federal level has taken increasing responsibility for guidance across the German territory, most notably through the BA. Germany introduced a legal right to guidance through the BA with the Skills Development Opportunities Act (Qualifizierungschancengesetz) in 2018.

According to data from the 2018 Adult Education Survey in Germany, one in three adults who received guidance did so through the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur and Job Centre) (32%), followed by education institutions (26%), CET providers (21%) and individual employers or employer organisations (18%). Only 16% accessed guidance at specialised guidance providers (BMBF, 2019[12]). Specialised guidance providers include non-profit and commercial private providers, such as coaches, consultants and career guidance practitioners, for which there is a growing market. However, data on the private guidance market remain scarce (Jenschke, Schober and Fruebig, 2011[18]).

The NWS acknowledges the need for greater co-ordination between the services available to adults and aims to expand and network the existing guidance services, including through online platforms (BMAS et al., 2019[19]). There is an ambition that the new guidance offer of the BA (LBB – Lebensbegleitende Berufsberatung) will be integrated with existing local solutions offered by other actors, but it remains to be seen how this will be fulfilled.

As the majority of guidance services is delivered in person, local actors necessarily play a crucial role. These actors include education and training providers, notably Adult Education Centres (Volkshochschule – VHS), local Chambers of Industry and Trade, local Chambers of Skilled Crafts, local branches of social partner organisations, as well as commercial and non-profit private providers. Many federal states have put in place solutions to co-ordinate local guidance offers, but approaches differ between federal states (Table 4.1). The following describes the main approaches towards co-ordination taken in federal states, although in reality different approaches exist in parallel:

  • Network of providers: These networks bring together different providers offering independent guidance services for individuals and/or companies in a federal state. Networks set quality standards for guidance that apply to participating providers and typically have an online platform that gives an overview of the available guidance services (including easy-to-use search engines). Such an approach is taken in Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.

  • Single guidance offer: Some federal states deliver guidance services through one specialised agency, not a network of independent organisations as above. These single agencies often operate in city-states. They may have one or several offices across the federal state, with varying numbers of guidance staff at each office. This approach is implemented in Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

  • Information platform: Other federal states provide online services that collect, structure and sign-post information about existing guidance offers, without bringing existing provision under the umbrella of a network of providers. This approach is followed in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

Generally, the extent of online information and guidance provision differs between federal states. Some websites merely redirect users to face-to-face guidance services, as is often the case in federal states where a network of organisations dominates the provision of guidance. Other digital offers provide comprehensive information on CET opportunities and financial incentives.

Several guidance offers are supported by ESF funds, namely the ones in Brandenburg, Bremen, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and North Rhine-Westphalia. Schleswig-Holstein’s programme is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Others are financed by different ministries in the federal states, e.g. the Ministry of Culture (BW), the Ministry for Family, Employment and Social Affairs (BY), or the Ministry of Science, Further Training and Culture (RP). Guidance services are typically free of charge for individuals.

While regionally and locally driven guidance provision has strong advantages, such as providing tailored services adapted to local conditions, it also translates into fragmented services and varying coverage across the territory. Especially in regions where infrastructure is sparse and limited resources are dedicated to guidance, many individuals might not have access to these services (BIBB, 2019[20]).

Additionally, many federal states have (networked) guidance offers that support specific target groups (Table 4.2). Target groups include women, refugees, parents, individuals re-entering the labour market and skilled workers. The advantage of these programmes is that they target groups that may most benefit from additional guidance and can focus on their particular needs. They can also tailor services to take into account regional factors such as the structure of the economy, skill shortages and demographic composition.

In addition to guidance offers in the federal states, a broad range of face-to-face (Table 4.3) and online (Table 4.4) guidance opportunities are available at the national level. They fall under the responsibility of many different actors, both public (such as the BA, different ministries, trade unions) and private (e.g. employers, private training institutions, independent coaches). Guidance services vary in content, in the population groups they serve and the delivery channels they use. Different services also tend to advertise their offer independently. From a user perspective, it is challenging to find the most appropriate guidance services which match individual needs.

The Federal Employment Agency (BA) is the main provider of guidance across the German territory. Its responsibilities for guidance are defined in the Third Book of the Social Security Code (§ 29 SGB III following) and include vocational guidance, including guidance on CET, for young people and adults who participate or would like to participate in the labour market. The 2019 Skills Development Opportunities Act (Qualifizierungschancengesetz) clarified the BA’s mandate for guidance to improve individual employability and the development of individual career prospects (§ 30 SGB III), which now also includes guidance for employees (see Chapter 3). In 2019, the BA introduced lifelong vocational guidance for individuals (LBB – Lebensbegleitende Berufsberatung), which implements the relevant changes of the Skills Development Opportunities Act (Box 4.3).

In-person guidance by the BA, including the LBB, is provided in Occupational Information Centres (Berufsinformationszentrum, BIZ) located in the BA’s local agencies. Guidance counsellors at the BIZ can tap into additional expertise from the Vocational Psychological Service (Berufspsychologischer Service) as well as an in-house Medical Service (Ärztlicher Dienst) when working with individuals with health or other challenges.

In addition, the BA has a wide range of tools and approaches to CET guidance targeted at specific groups. Online information and guidance platforms hosted by BA include the website Career and CET (Karriere und Weiterbildung), Exploratory Tool Check-U (Erkundungstool Check-U), Course Net (KURSNET), Career Development Navigator (Berufsentwicklungsnavigator, BEN), berufe.tv, Occupational Field Info (berufsfeld-info.de), Typically Me (Typisch ich) and Learning Bourse (Lernbörse). Some of these offers are centrally available through the main website of the public employment services,1 while others can be found on separate websites. They target a range of different groups, such as young people, young people interested in vocational occupations, employed individuals that want to develop professionally, or the general public.

Social and economic partners offer in-person and online guidance across the German territory. Some offers are limited to specific sectors, others support individuals more broadly. Chambers of Commerce and Industry (IHK), for example, provide guidance services in local offices throughout Germany, including for companies (see further below). The Chambers have a legal responsibility to support and monitor vocational education and training in companies according to the Vocational Training Act and the Crafts Code (BBiG § 76 / HwO §41a) and do so by providing specialised guidance in this area. Many of their offices operate own online guidance websites.2 Other actors, such as local Chambers of Skilled Crafts or professional organisations provide guidance particularly focusing on occupation-specific career development, in-person and online. Trade unions also offer guidance on job-related CET, both to employed and unemployed individuals. The trade union in the metal industry (IG Metall), for example, trains CET mentors (Weiterbildungsmentoren) who provide guidance on CET offers, financial and other support measures to employees. These social partners operate nation-wide, however, the implementation and type of guidance offer often shows considerable heterogeneity across federal states.

Education and training providers, including the local Adult Education Centres (VHS), offer guidance to aspiring learners, and also give more general advice on career orientation. This kind of guidance is in part regulated through Länder legislation. For instance, the university laws of the 16 Länder regulate career guidance in universities (Cedefop, 2020[17]). Many universities offer support for individuals in the initial orientation, organisation and financing of higher education. These services are usually open to (future) students of all ages but can be targeted to particular groups such as students with children.

Despite their nation-wide presence, it is important to acknowledge that guidance offers by Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Trade Unions and Adult Education Centres are often governed in a decentralised way. It is difficult to speak of national provision, since differences are considerable across local branches and federal states.

In addition to these offers, employers in Germany are obliged to provide guidance to their employees via the staff association according to §96 and §97 BetrVG on CET measures, financing and providers. Many companies do so via CET mentoring schemes. Other companies run training schemes that provide guidance for their employees. Guidance in companies is also regulated in many collective bargaining agreements that regulate aspects of CET.

Beyond the guidance services described above, there are also a number of websites that focus on providing information about nationwide CET offers. While access to information is a key part of guidance services, these websites are not substitutes for more holistic guidance that includes counselling, mentoring and skill assessment. Some websites have integrated search engines that collect and display information from various other databases, such as the InfoWeb CET (InfoWeb Weiterbildung, IWWB). Currently, there is no single user-friendly database that combines all the information on nationwide CET offers.

What particularly stands out about the German guidance landscape is the plethora of online platforms with information about CET available to users. According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training there are around 200 digital platforms in Germany (BIBB, 2019[20]). Many of them focus on the needs of specific target groups. There is no common entry-point or one-stop-shop that directs users towards the most appropriate guidance offer or CET opportunity. The National Skills Strategy (NWS) acknowledges the need to improve transparency in this area (BMAS et al., 2019[19]). While the BA and the economic partners are committed to further developing their own platforms with information on CET and guidance offers, federal ministries pledged to increase transparency of digital platforms in at least three ways:

  • BMAS would prototype a central guidance platform that aggregates information on financial support for CET across the country. At the time of writing, the prototyping was completed and a new phase to prepare the implementation of the project was in progress in co-operation with the Federal Employment Agency.

  • BMBF would implement a call for the development of solutions that enable and support interoperability of online CET platforms, increase the user orientation of these platforms and allow for adaptive learning processes (INVITE). These solutions would also ensure the compatibility of the supported projects with national and international initiatives (e.g. Europass).

  • BMBF would establish an information portal for CET in higher education in co-ordination with the federal states. This information portal is to provide a nationwide overview of CET programmes offered by higher education institutions.

    Federal ministries expressly aim for close co-ordination and exchange between these projects.

Companies are key actors in facilitating continuing education and training for workers. Typically, they put in place skill development strategies in line with their needs, that is, to stay competitive, to increase innovation or to be an attractive employer. However, some companies find it difficult to develop such strategies, in particular when it comes to judging the impact of the megatrends of digitalisation, demographic change and a shortage of skilled labour on the skill development needs of their company. Small and medium-sized companies especially may not have the knowledge or capacity to develop and implement strategies for their staff, especially if they are not a member of an employers’ association (Jenschke, Schober and Fruebig, 2011[18]).

Support for companies in this area can help increase the efficiency of the CET system, as well as to reach labour market policy objectives. While governments should avoid subsidising low-productivity firms, advice on CET especially for small and medium-sized businesses with limited resources can reduce information asymmetries and help overcome low-skill equilibria. Well-designed policies can assist companies with the adoption of future-ready skill development strategies, and provide incentives for technological adoption, which might increase productivity while also benefitting employees.

Several initiatives to provide advice on CET to companies exist in Germany (Table 4.5). Some of these are part of broader strategies to support enterprises, focussing for example on the quality of work (INQA3 by BMAS) or artificial intelligence (KI Strategie by BMBF, BMAS and BMWi). Social and economic partners also play an important role in the provision of advice on CET to companies. In addition to the offers listed in the table below, trade unions and employer organisations provide advice to companies about CET via their staff associations in the form of information material, conferences or seminars on-site.

The NWS includes a commitment to assessing if the advice on CET to companies by the BA and the offer of the federal states could be better linked, although no further commitment is made to establish these linkages in practice (BMAS et al., 2019[19]).

Some services are free of charge, while others come with a fee. The programme unternehmensWert: Mensch, for example, offers a free introductory session and has a progressive model of charging for follow-up advice. Companies with less than ten employees receive up to 80% subsidy for the costs of the service, companies with 10 to 249 employees up to 50%. The remaining costs are borne by the companies themselves.

People learn in a variety of contexts, whether at work, in education and training institutions, during social activities or individually at home. While some of this learning is formally recognised, much learning takes place non-formally or informally and remains undocumented.

Advanced skill development systems therefore give individuals the opportunity to have their prior learning recognised (i.e. validated). Such validation increases the visibility and value of the entire set of knowledge, skills and competences of an individual. It can open doors to further learning opportunities, taking up new employment opportunities or progressing in an existing career. For enterprises, having greater skill visibility can lead to more efficient hiring, training and promotion decisions. At the macro-level, validation improves labour market functioning by facilitating better matching between skills supply and demand.

In Europe, policy development on the validation of prior learning has gained momentum since the 2012 recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning of the Council of the European Union, which encouraged EU Member States to put in place national arrangements for validating non-formal and informal learning by 2018 (Council of the European Union, 2012[26]). Several OECD countries now have mature systems to validate non-formal and informal learning that are closely linked to their CET systems, for example Denmark, Finland, France and Portugal.

By contrast, Germany’s approach to validation has been described as “a colourful mosaic of local, regional, sectoral and national approaches and initiatives” (Ball, 2019[27]). It continues to lack the key elements of a well-developed validation system, despite the introduction of numerous new initiatives and measures since 2012 (Münchhausen and Seidel, 2015[28]). The National Skills Strategy (NWS) itself states that “at present, there are no uniform, comprehensive and standardised opportunities in Germany for informally and non-formally acquired job-related skills to be reliably verified” (BMAS et al., 2019[19]). It also highlights broad consensus amongst NWS partners about the need for a standardised process for the documentation, assessment and certification of skills, which have been acquired through non-formal or informal learning.

This sub-chapter reviews the system of validation in Germany and its links to guidance and the CET landscape (or lack thereof).

Formal qualifications and certifications are highly valued in the German labour market. They are often the key to labour market entry, career progression and even wages when considering collective bargaining agreements. By contrast, non-formally and informally acquired skills often remain invisible and so have limited value for career progression and employability of individuals. A system of validation, as intended by the 2012 EU Council recommendation, has not yet fully materialised in Germany (Ball, 2019[27]).

To date, there is no comprehensive or coherent system for the validation of non-formally and informally acquired skills in Germany (BMAS et al., 2019[19]). In fact, existing validation procedures are limited to i) the recognition of foreign qualifications for migrants (Qualifikationsfeststellung im Rahmen der Anerkennung); ii) recognition procedures in the context of accessing university courses; iii) the external students examination for VET qualifications (Externenprüfung); and iv) the project ValiKom, which encompasses validation procedures for 32 vocational degrees (Table 4.6). The first three procedures are laid down in law. Beyond that, Germany has no universal legal basis regulating the recognition of prior learning across the territory and across CET sub-systems. On the upside, many collective agreements refer to performed tasks instead of formal qualifications.

In 2012, the Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (BQFG) laid the foundation for a nationwide, standardised procedure for the recognition of foreign qualifications (Anerkennung). The act enables recognition of more than 600 vocational and professional qualifications regulated by federal law, while complementary Länder Professional Qualifications Assessment Acts govern qualifications regulated at the federal state level (e.g. those for teachers, engineers, medical doctors, pharmacists). The recognition procedure itself establishes the equivalence of formal foreign qualifications and those attainable in Germany, based on documentary evidence. Non-formally and informally acquired skills also have to be considered in the process, in particular where there are differences between foreign and the equivalent national qualification. If necessary documents are missing or incomplete, individuals can undergo an assessment (Qualifikationsanalyse) involving work trials, work samples or expert discussions as part of the recognition process (Pielorz and Werquin, 2019[29]). According to data collected by the German Statistical Office, 50% of individuals undergoing the recognition procedure gain a certification of full equivalence, while the remainder obtains partial recognition with the option of further training to gain full equivalence (BIBB, 2020[30]). The certification of equivalence is not identical to the certificate of the relevant German qualification, but does give the same rights, including access to regulated professions (Ball, 2019[27]).

The approach to recognition in higher education is governed by decisions of the Standing Conference of Education Ministers (KMK) on the recognition of skills and knowledge acquired outside higher education (KMK, 2002[35]; KMK, 2008[36]) and on access to higher education for adults without entry qualifications (KMK, 2009[37]), as well as the higher education laws of the Länder. Individual higher education institutions implement the recognition procedures and there is great variation in the use and approaches of recognition procedures across the territory (Nickel, Thiele and Leonowitsch, 2020[32]). In principle, individuals may gain access to higher education programmes or obtain a reduction of study time (up to 50%) upon presentation of evidence of vocational qualification and/or relevant work experience. In some cases, agreements between vocational and higher education institutions exist that lead to a blanket recognition for individuals (Pielorz and Werquin, 2019[29]). Between 2005 and 2014, the BMBF supported the development and testing of tools for the recognition of prior learning in order to enable access to higher education courses through the project ANKOM. Among other things, ANKOM included the development of andragogic approaches that integrate work experience and the development of linkages between HR and CET in higher education (ANKOM, n.d.[38]).

Finally, both the External Students Examination (Externenprüfung) and the project ValiKom concern themselves with recognition in the area of vocational education and training. The External Students Examination is a long-standing instrument that gives individuals the right to participate in the final assessment of vocational degrees based on previous work experience. It is regulated by law in the Vocational Training Act (§ 45, Abs. 2 BBiG) and the Crafts Code (§ 37, Abs. 2 HwO). To be eligible, individuals need to prove that they have relevant work experience that is at least 1.5 times the duration of the regular training time for the attempted occupation. The provision of this minimum evidence may be waived if participants convincingly demonstrate that they have acquired the occupational competence required to be admitted to the External Students Examination, whereby foreign qualifications and occupational activity abroad is considered. If successful in the final assessment, participants can achieve a full vocational qualification without having participated in formal training. As such, the External Students Examination does not include a validation of non-formal or informal learning, but solely constitutes a right to participate in the final examination of a formal training (Pielorz and Werquin, 2019[29]). More than 80% of individuals with work experience who attempt the assessment are successful (BIBB, 2020[31]).

By contrast, the project ValiKom is the closest approach to a validation procedure in the sense of the 2012 EU Council recommendation. It targets individuals without vocational qualifications, individuals who work in a profession they are not formally qualified for, individuals with migrant background and refugees. Initiated as a pilot project in 2015, ValiKom developed and tested procedures to document and assess the non-formally and informally acquired skills of individuals against the standards of selected vocational occupations. The process ends with a certificate that states the equivalence or partial equivalence of skills compared to formal regulated professions, but it does not lead to the qualification itself. Since 2018, the ValiKom project has been in a transfer phase supported by the BIBB, during which it aims to expand the developed procedures to 32 vocational qualifications in collaboration with chambers of industry, crafts and agriculture and make the procedures available to a larger number of individuals. ValiKom will continue to be funded on a project basis by the BMBF until 2021 and currently does not have a legal basis. Since its inception in 2015 until September 2020, it has covered a negligible number of individuals (595) (Deutscher Bundestag, 2020[39]).

In addition to the four validation procedures described above, there exist a wide range of tools that allow individuals to identify and document their skills in Germany (Kompetenzpass, Weiterbildungspass, Kompetenzportfolio). According to some experts there are more than 50 such tools, developed by different stakeholders (European Commission, federation, federal states, foundations) and for different target groups (e.g. migrants, workers in specific sectors), many of which are only promoted and in use for a limited amount of time, while project funding lasts (Pielorz and Werquin, 2019[29]). In contrast to validation procedures, these tools do not typically include an assessment against a given standard or the certification of skills. They primarily serve the purpose of structuring and documenting formally, non-formally and informally acquired skills, with the objective to empower and support individuals in recognising the skills they hold. Some of them include an assessment or test. In doing so, they can be used as the basis for further training decisions or in the context of job applications. Table 4.7 describes the most important of these tools.

ProfilPASS is a comprehensive, biographical and systematic tool to document the skills that individuals have acquired over the life-course. It is the best known of the existing skills portfolios in Germany (Velten and Herdin, 2016[40]). The lengthy process of completing the ProfilPASS involves analysing the life history of an individual, their areas of activity, competences and goals. Individuals can undergo the process with or without the guidance of a qualified coach. Dialogue Centres (Dialogzentren) across the country train guidance counsellors in the ProfilPASS methodology. While the electronic version of the ProfilPASS is free of charge, fees for qualified coaches range from EUR 60-120 per hour (Schöpf, 2015[41]).

In addition to this instrument, there is a range of regional and sectoral approaches for the documentation of skills, such as the Qualipass in Baden-Wuerttemberg or the AiKomPass for employees in the metal and electro sector.

The computer-based test MySkills assesses the actual skills of individuals in 30 selected vocational areas. It aims to make existing skills in specific occupational areas visible and so guide further professional development decisions. It also provides potential employers with information about individual skills. The target group are job seekers, typically with work experience but without formal qualifications, who take the multilingual 4-hour long test at a Job-Centre or Local Employment Office under the supervision of advisors. The test results consist of a standardised overview of how individuals perform in different skill domains. This overview does not constitute a formal recognition or validation. Individuals who perform well in the test may be advised to undergo validation procedures such as ValiKom or the External Students Assessment (Ball, 2019[27]; Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2020[42]). The test itself is free of charge for individuals.

In addition, the Occupational Psychology Service (Berufspsychologischer Service) of the Federal Employment Agency offers a range of services for competence assessment for job seekers. Job seekers are typically referred to this service by their advisor. In contrast to MySkills, these assessments aim to identify soft or transversal skills, as well as attitudes towards employment and training. They involve a multi-stage process of four computer-based questionnaires and tests: i) K1 – self-assessment on behaviour in working life (20 minutes), ii) K2 – test to assess perception (90 minutes), iii) K3 – assessment of performance orientation (80 minutes), and iv) K4 – assessment of social and communication competences for specific occupations (150 minutes). The outcome of the assessment is a report or expert opinion produced by a psychologist, which is discussed with the individual and forwarded to their career advisor in the public employment services (Ball, 2019[27]; Sander, 2015[43]).

Competence cards (KompetenzKarten) constitute a specific tool to identify and document the competences of newly arrived migrants and take a visual approach to discuss and assess key transversal skills of individuals. Developed by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the cards are a low-threshold practical tool rather than a fully developed skills assessment (Döring, Müller and Neumann, 2015[44]). They cover different skill domains (i.e. social, personal, occupation-specific and method skills) visually and offer a simple explanation for each of the domains. The cards are designed to be used by guidance counsellors for migrants, at job centres and public employment services.

An easy-to-use tool for migrants, refugees and low-qualified adults is My Professional Skills (Meine Berufserfahrung). The five-minute online test, which is available in six languages, allows individuals to assess their prior learning in 30 vocational qualifications. Developed and funded by the Bertelsmann Foundation, it is free of charge for the individual and can be used in consultation with guidance counsellors for migrants or advisors at jobcentres and public employment services.

While the multitude of approaches for documenting skills provide differential approaches to specific target groups, they introduce yet another layer of complexity in the German CET landscape. Project-based funding and the absence of widespread recognition of the developed tools typically mean that they have an expiry date, with only few tools having stood the test of time.

Partial qualifications are standardised, modular components of full qualifications, which can be acquired through formal training or the recognition of non-formally or informally acquired skills. Many countries have introduced partial qualifications to improve the flexibility and permeability of their skill development system, and to improve pathways towards qualifications for, including but not limited to, adults with low skills.

The German skill development system is largely based on a traditional, holistic training model, with a strong focus on full formal qualifications. Partial qualifications do exist, but they are used only narrowly in the area of continuing vocational education and training, and for the target group of low-qualified individuals. In Germany, partial qualifications are understood to be modular up- or reskilling opportunities targeted at people without formal professional qualifications and those with outdated qualifications with high risk of unemployment. They are one of several measures summarised under the umbrella term post-qualification (Nachqualifizierung).

In Germany, partial qualifications are understood to be delimited learning units that form part of a vocational qualification. After every partial qualification, the skills of individuals are tested and, if sufficient, certified. After completing all the necessary components, learners can take the external examination (Externenprüfung) in order to receive the full vocational qualification. The completion of partial qualifications does therefore not automatically add up to a full qualification. Across different programmes, the names and concepts for partial qualifications have changed, and have included the terms training modules (Ausbildungsbausteine), partial qualifications (Teilqualifikationen) or qualification modules (Qualifizierungsbausteine).

The NWS includes the objective of developing standardised, high-quality partial qualifications for in-demand occupations. This goal is pursued by the BMBF in co-operation with the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammertag), the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Arbeitgeberverbände), their affiliated educational institutions and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). At the same time, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and the Federal Employment Agency also pledge to continue expanding their activities on partial qualifications in the NWS (BMAS et al., 2019[19]).

The main policy rationale for the development of partial qualifications is that they improve the flexibility of the CET system. In the context of the digital transformation and changing skill needs, the introduction of partial qualifications or modules gives individuals the opportunity to reskill in less time than a full qualification would typically take, leveraging skills they already possess. If qualifications are structured in modules, it is easier to update professional qualifications and adapt them to changing labour market needs, for instance by replacing or refreshing individual modules where required (Cedefop, 2015[48]). In Germany, the shortage of skilled labour (Fachkräftemangel) is often used as an argument to support the development of partial qualifications. A 2019 representative survey showed that more than 80% of German companies were willing to hire a person with a partial qualification relevant in their field of activity. Two thirds of the companies surveyed saw modular upskilling measures (Nachqualifizierung) of adults in Germany as an appropriate measure to counter skill shortages, irrespective of whether these measures lead to a full qualification or not (Fischer, Hecker and Wittig, 2020[49]).

As a part of broader upskilling and reskilling measures, partial qualifications potentially encourage access and mobility in CET, particularly for disadvantaged groups. Pursuing full education and training programs can pose financial and time challenges for adults (see Chapter 6), but these barriers may be lowered with modular organisation of education and training. Partial qualifications are often designed as a series of shorter modules that are directly job-related. They have the potential to facilitate the progression in training for adults with low skills by allowing them to start with single modules, and to experience continuous, step-by-step progress that eventually leads to the acquisition of a qualification. In this way, partial qualifications can increase the permeability of CET.

Partial qualifications are limited to the context of CVET in Germany and are only available for certain occupations. Currently, different sets of partial qualifications are used in parallel by different institutions and CET providers. Several initiatives exist in Germany, run by the BMBF and BIBB, the BA and the Employers’ Associations (Arbeitgeberverbände) with the educational institutions of the German economy (ADBW e. V.) that each develop conceptual variants of partial qualifications. One pilot project called Seize the Opportunities (Chancen Nutzen!) run by the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) with support of the BMBF drew on existing variants of partial qualifications and developed basic guiding principles for the development of partial qualifications. Additionally, there are regional and sector-specific programmes, for example the partial qualifications in the construction industry (Teilqualifikationen in der Bauwirtschaft, TQBW) offered by a provider in Hesse and Thuringia (BAU, n.d.[50]).

The recent initiative ETAPP aims to establish nationwide and standardised partial qualifications. The project is financed by the BMBF, and run in co-operation with the BIBB and the project Seize the Opportunities mentioned above. It does not develop new concepts, but builds on previous efforts in order to structure existing approaches in the area of partial qualifications. Table 4.8 gives an overview of the most important initiatives on partial qualifications in Germany.

Existing initiatives on partial qualifications mainly target low-qualified adults older than 25, particularly those who are unemployed. The Jobstarter-Connect initiative is an outlier, targeting young school leavers and aiming to ease their entry into IVET. Among low-qualified adults, migrants are a target group of increasing importance.

In addition to the initiatives above, a project called BIBBTQ focusing on partial qualifications and run by the BIBB was initiated at the end of 2020 on behalf of the BMBF. It aims to develop an empirical database in order to systematically analyse and evaluate the impact of partial qualifications in Germany. The project is implemented in co-operation with the ETAPP and the ‘Seize the opportunities!’ initiative. Its goal is to consolidate the results of the two partner projects, to analyse the effectiveness of partial qualifications for the achievement of labour market and education policy goals as well as to stimulate discourse on the topic.

The BA has defined eligibility criteria for partial qualifications within the framework of its promotion of CVET (BA, 2020[56]). Under certain circumstances, the BA provides education vouchers for partial qualifications. The eligibility criteria have influenced the subsequent development of partial qualifications and provide orientation for CET providers:

  • Partial qualifications need to be conceptually oriented towards a regulated training occupation and must cover all the elements of an occupational profile.

  • The number of partial qualifications available for one occupation is limited to eight modules that must last between two and six months.

  • Partial qualifications must be job-related and include obligatory in-company training periods.

  • The individual competences acquired through partial qualifications need to be assessed against the quality standards that apply to the respective profession.

  • Participants are to be given structured and meaningful certification that provides orientation for the participant and potential employers.

Even if most partial qualifications correspond to these criteria, there are considerable differences between the available approaches. While the initiatives on partial qualifications mentioned above operate nationwide, the availability of provision varies according to federal states and regions. In some cases, the same vocational qualification or training regulation is modularised in different ways, depending on the implementing institution and its specific target group. This makes the system complex to navigate for participants, employers and institutional actors and it is therefore difficult to combine partial qualifications with validation and recognition instruments.

Two of the projects mentioned above (ETAPP, Seize the Opportunities!) aim to address these complexities in the system of partial qualifications through the development of standardised and nationwide partial qualifications across Germany. In line with the commitments made in the NWS, the projects are funded by the BMBF for a period of four years between 2019 and 2022. In co-operation with BIBBTQ, the goal of the three projects is to create structures for transparent, directly applicable, comparable and consistent partial qualifications across the country that can also be linked to other processes of validation and recognition so that a full vocational qualification becomes possible. Results of the projects remain to be seen.

In an ideal CET system, guidance, validation and partial qualifications are conceived together from a user perspective. In such a system, individuals interested in developing personally or professionally through CET are able to access advice and guidance services in person or online. These services help individuals define their career or personal goals, assess existing skills through different tools and conduct a gap analysis. To close this gap, individuals are offered appropriate CET opportunities. Where individuals want to acquire formal qualifications, they have the opportunity to have prior learning recognised and can access modular CET opportunities to gain the remaining skills required for a full qualification. The reality of the German CET landscape is far from this ideal configuration. The policy areas of career guidance, validation and partial qualifications are often considered separate from each other, with developments in the respective areas largely happening in a disjointed manner. Moreover, within these policy areas there is a lack of a coherence and continuous exchange among relevant stakeholders.

Career guidance structures and approaches across the country are as heterogeneous as the CET landscape itself. On the one hand, this plurality allows for career guidance specific to different target groups and sectors. On the other hand, the system is difficult to navigate for individuals and impedes equal opportunities across regions. Given the variety of guidance structures, the multitude of actors and the large number of online information and guidance resources, co-operation is key. The NWS includes a commitment to streamline available online career guidance, yet results remain to be seen.

The system for the validation of skills in Germany is underdeveloped in comparison to other OECD countries. There is no common legal framework and the landscape lacks coherence and co-ordination. Existing approaches typically relate only to some educational sub-sectors, occupations or economic sectors and affect a negligible number of individuals in a given year. Only one of the existing approaches – the external student examination (Externenprüfung) – leads to a full qualification, while others solely lead to certificates of equivalence.

Finally, career guidance, skills assessment and validation of prior learning have to be considered together with the topic of modular CET and partial qualifications. Currently, the development of partial qualifications has primarily taken place on a project basis. A consistent approach is lacking across the territory, and there is strong resistance to partial qualifications by some key players in the system.

The NWS contains a number of commitments to strengthen career guidance in the German CET landscape, including the development of online platforms and the rollout of the LBB. However, commitments in this area seem disjointed and overlaps remain, in particular when it comes to online guidance platforms: both BMBF and BMAS are currently developing general online guidance platforms for different purposes; the BMBF supports the development of a separate information portal for higher CET together with the federal states; BA and the economic partners are encouraged to further develop their own offers. In addition to these online offers, but not specifically mentioned in the National Skills Strategy (NWS), the many face-to-face and online offers by the federal states, trade unions and private providers add complexity. While the NWS commitments aim for increased transparency for the end-users, this seems difficult to achieve in practice.

Data show that many adults, in particular those with low skills face a range of complex barriers to CET participation. Germany should consider taking a one-stop-shop approach to guidance that helps adults identify their development needs and appropriate CET opportunities, as well as to address any other barriers they might face (financing, health issues, care responsibilities, time-related issues etc.) (see Chapter 6). These services should continue to support individuals while in training, through counselling, coaching and other support to limit dropouts.

Germany should consider approaching the issue of guidance more systematically and set up a national initiative on the topic. This should include all relevant actors on different levels of government, including the local level, as well as social and economic partners, which play a key role in guidance. Such an initiative should:

  • network and streamline current provision (including existing regional networks and the LBB);

  • take a one-stop-shop approach to guidance, providing comprehensive services that address the variety of barriers to participation that especially low-skilled adults face (see Chapter 6);

  • set quality standards for CET guidance;

  • close any regional supply gaps (e.g. in structurally weaker regions); and

  • offer guidance under a single brand, including online.

The initiative could be co-funded by the federation, federal states and ESF and be implemented through administrative agreements between the federation, the BA and individual federal states (see Chapter 3). It is crucial that the initiative builds on, rather than replaces, existing well-functioning local and networked approaches in some federal states and regions (see also Fuchs et al. (2017[21])).

Operating under a single brand would increase the visibility of existing offers, improve transparency for individuals looking for career guidance, streamline provision and ensure that individuals receive the most appropriate guidance for their needs. The joint initiative would work towards a single entry point for all online offers, to give the user full transparency and full information to choose the best suited offer for his/her specific situation. The initiative would also ensure high-quality presentation of this online entry point to foster user interest and engagement during their search for guidance. One key objective should be to increase take-up amongst population groups who are least likely to seek guidance. Other OECD countries are following similar nationwide approaches:

  • Offer career guidance under a ‘single brand’: Austria has subsumed its CET guidance under the brand Educational Guidance Austria (Bildungsberatung Österreich). The service offers free career guidance in 16 languages in all federal states, online (erwachsenenbildung.at, email and chat) and on the phone. The career guidance is delivered through networks of different organisations in each federal state. Local contact points (Anlaufstellen) offer the combined services of career guidance and validation counselling, including accompanying individuals throughout the validation process. In the United Kingdom, the National Careers Service provides information, advice and guidance across the country to help individuals make decisions on learning, training and work. Qualified careers advisers support adults 19 years and over (or age 18 and out of work or on benefits) via three delivery channels: local face-to-face service, telephone and a website. Greece provides career guidance to all through the statutory body EOPPEP, the National Organisation for the Certification of Qualifications and Vocational Guidance. Its objective is linking VET with labour market needs, upgrading people’s occupational qualifications, reinforcing their employment perspectives and strengthening social cohesion.

  • Develop one single career guidance platform: In Portugal the Vi@s orientation portal by the Institute for Employment and Vocaitonal Training (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional) serves as the main career guidance platform. Individuals can access information on exploring their own abilities, on soft skills development, entrepreneurship, the exploration of different professions (including labour market information from a number of sources) and job and training search. The guidance has a strong focus on lifelong learning. Integrating innovative approaches, Vi@s offers a variety of interactive tools through its Multimedia Centre, such as online guidance programmes, vocational games, electronic publications and videos. In addition, the “My Portfolio” section allows users to store their CVs and other certificates. A plan exists to integrate Vi@s into the IEFP interactive services portal (https://iefponline.iefp.pt) to increase its visibility. The Irish approach to one-stop-shop online guidance is outlined below (Box 4.8).

  • Design one-stop-shops that provide comprehensive advice and guidance to adults: Many OECD countries are experimenting with such approaches for different target groups: Finland, for example, has developed one-stop-shops for young people (Ohjaamo), migrants and the long-term unemployed. Different support services, including relating to health, education and employment, are co-located in a variety of one-stop-shops through the country. Iceland runs a network of regional Lifelong Learning Centres, which provide free services to the low qualified. Highly trained staff provide advice and guidance around CET, but also address financial, health and other barriers (OECD, 2019[57]). In practice, a one-stop-shop does not need to be provided by one single institution but can be implemented through the co-ordination and co-location of different local service providers in the same place. In this way, one-stop-shops put the information and guidance needs of individuals at the centre. In Portugal, for example, one-stop-shops that combine guidance, validation and partial qualifications exist (Box 4.9).

Germany’s approach to validating non-formal and informal learning lags behind the mature validation systems in other OECD countries. While the 2012 recommendation of the Council of the European Union has brought some momentum to the topic, the formal approaches developed to date have limited scope and reach (e.g. ValiKom). Instruments for the assessment and documentation of skills (e.g. MySkills) aim to address some of the gaps left by the absence of validation measures. However, many of these tools have a short life span, limited by project-based funding, narrow area of application and lack of de facto recognition in the labour market. The NWS itself gives a strong judgement of the present system, stating “there are no uniform, comprehensive and standardised opportunities in Germany for informally and non-formally acquired job-related skills to be reliably verified” (BMAS et al., 2019[19]).

While the NWS is clear in its analysis of the situation, it is less explicit about the scale of the required response. It states that the NWS partners welcome a nationwide, uniform procedure for the validation of non-formal and informal job-related skills. But its proposals are limited to the further development of ValiKom, which is currently applicable to only 30 vocational occupations and has been used by less than 600 people to date, and MySkills, which is not meant to be a tool for the validation of skills. These proposals seem insufficient to allow a significant number of individuals to increase the visibility and value of their skill-sets.

Further analysis is needed to develop detailed recommendations for a German approach to validation. As a first step, Germany should consider developing a nationwide legal framework. Relevant laws exist in some specific areas, such as the Vocational Training Act (BBiG), which regulates access to an External Students’ Examination (Externenprüfung) without prior formal training, and the Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (Berufsqualifikationsfestellungsgesetz, BQFG), which regulates the recognition of foreign qualifications. Germany should now consider developing a full legal framework for the nationwide recognition of non-formal and informally acquired skills. Ideally, this framework would be included in the new German CET law (see Chapter 3) setting out an individual right to validation, as well as set standards for validation procedures, including their outcomes.

It is worth noting that countries with similarly strong dual vocational training systems, such as Austria and Switzerland, also lack comprehensive legal frameworks on validation (Box 4.1).

Scepticism towards validation in countries with strong dual vocational training systems is the result of a strong attachment to formal qualifications, a specific concept of professions (Berufskonzept), an expressed desire to uphold the quality standards of these vocational systems, and vested stakeholder interest in the formal award of qualifications. Other OECD countries with more developed approaches to the validation of prior learning typically regulate these in law (see Box 4.11).

Partial qualifications and the modularisation of the VET systems have been important policy trends in many European countries over recent years (Cedefop, 2015[48]). Germany, with its strong tradition of lengthy and comprehensive formal training – whether to achieve initial or continuing vocational degrees – lags behind other countries when it comes to modularised CET provision and partial qualifications. The fragmented landscape of partial-qualifications is confusing for individuals, employers and institutional actors. Opponents are worried that modularisation will reduce quality and enable people to gain very limited skills, rather than well-rounded qualifications.

Some of these concerns are valid and warrant further discussion, but it is clear that adults with low skills are less willing to participate in lengthy training than high-skilled workers (Fouarge, Schils and de Grip, 2013[63]). There is consensus in the NWS that partial qualifications should be strengthened as an alternative, more accessible pathway towards a professional qualification for semi- and unskilled workers over 25 years of age. Rather than achieving a full qualification in two or three years of training, partial qualifications could be completed step-by-step according to individual need.

While existing efforts are heading in the right direction, Germany should raise its ambition for partial qualifications. In the medium term, partial qualifications should be consolidated as a structural feature of the German CET landscape rather than continuing their development as project-funded initiatives with limited scope. This will require speeding up the efforts to increase standardisation and making partial qualifications available nationwide. In the long term, Germany should establish partial qualifications as a pathway for all target groups and towards different qualifications in the education and training system, not only limited to vocational education and training and adults with low qualifications.

In combination with good guidance and validation processes, partial qualification can facilitate entry into the labour market for people with non-formally and informally acquired skills and work experience. For low-qualified workers, partial qualifications have the potential to be a stepping stone towards a full vocational qualification and the improved employment opportunities that come with it.

Examples from other countries show that modularisation and partial qualifications can make CET systems more inclusive by providing flexible pathways for adult learners (see Box 4.12).

Each of the policy areas of guidance, validation and partial qualifications should be developed further as outlined above. At the same time, stakeholders must establish connections between them. Considering these policy areas together is not an entirely new concept in the German context, but it has yet to be implemented for the population as a whole. For individuals with a migrant background, the initiative Integration through Qualification (Integration durch Qualifizierung, IQ) has linked guidance, validation and (bridging) qualification measures since 2005. Other OECD countries have developed joined-up solutions for all adults (see Qualifica in Portugal above).

Germany should now consider establishing a time-bound working group of key stakeholders involved in shaping policy on career guidance, validation and partial qualifications. Partial qualifications, in this context, should be considered more ambitiously beyond their current use as up- and reskilling measures as modular ways to achieve a qualification. The working group would explore linkages between the different policy areas, develop a systematic approach and issue recommendations to the German Government on further actions to be taken. This group could include relevant public administrators from BMAS, BMBF and BA, representatives of the Länder and municipalities, social partners, chambers, professional organisations, education providers, relevant associations, research institutions and academics.


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← 1. www.arbeitsagentur.de.

← 2. e.g. ihk-niederrhein.de or rostock.ihk24.de.

← 3. INQA – Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit (Initiative New Quality of Work).

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