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Recognition in nursery occupations

Ulrike Benzer is co-author of the “Early years education situation analysis”. In the interview she summarizes the results of the current IQ study on the recognition of early years practitioners.

What does the “Early years education situation analysis” cover?

Ulrike Benzer: We have taken a look at how persons with foreign training in Germany can work as skilled workers in children's day care organisations. How does professional recognition operate in this area and where is there scope for improvement? To support this, we have collated the experiences in particular of IQ experts who advise on recognition for early years practitioners or who train them. We have also analysed additional data and sources.

How do the procedures currently work? Where are the challenges?

Ulrike Benzer: One specific feature is that the professional titles differ from federal state to federal state. Those working as childcare assistants in Baden-Württemberg are referred to in Hamburg as social education assistants. The work of social care assistants in Germany is in part identical to this, but their training also involves more of a focus on supporting and caring for people with disabilities. And for around 10 years we have also had early years teachers who complete academic training. However, there is still a lack of awareness of this occupational profile and in practice a great deal of overlap exists between this and the occupation of nursery school teacher. This does not make it easy for those seeking recognition when trying to determine the right reference occupation for them.

When compared to other occupations, applications for recognition in early years education very often result in a negative decision or in a decision requiring compensation measures. In this respect, practice differs depending on the federal state. However, in order to be able to work as a skilled worker in a nursery, successful recognition is essential.

What opportunities are there for foreign skilled workers who do not achieve full recognition immediately?

Ulrike Benzer: In theory, those seeking recognition can choose between an aptitude test or an adaptation period to compensate for substantial differences. In practice however an aptitude test is often not possible. This is either because no reference is made to these in the recognition notices or it's due to a lack of appropriate preparation and examination options. In most cases, those seeking recognition themselves prefer adaptation periods. During these they usually complete a combination of practical phases at an early years education institution and theoretical units at a trade and technical school/university of applied sciences. In the course of this they are able to make contacts to support them with employment at a later stage. Adaptation periods, however, are not available everywhere. This is because cooperation and coordination between stakeholders is not always effective if, for example, there are staff shortages or a lack of time.

Because communication has a key role to play in these occupations, the language skill requirements for foreign skilled workers are very high. Gaining the necessary German language skills is therefore also a particular challenge. The reason is that language courses for work purposes are also not available across the board. Appropriate offers have also been developed in Network IQ because for this specific occupational group, the Federal Government’s job-related German language support courses are not yet available.

Are there other ways of working as a foreign skilled worker in the nursery?

Ulrike Benzer: Besides professional recognition there is, for example, so-called provider recognition. This refers to approval from the competent supervisory authority (in most cases the local youth welfare office) of a specific position, of the provider or of the respective federal state. In this respect, options also vary depending on the federal state. The application is basically made via the provider. There are no costs involved for the foreign skilled worker themselves. Quite a lot of skilled workers take up this route. Some also do it initially to gain professional experience in Germany, to improve their language skills and in order to be able to tackle professional recognition at a later stage. 

How could the professional recognition situation be improved?

Ulrike Benzer: A requirement for regular coordination between federal states would be helpful in order to create greater consistency and transparency with regard to occupational profiles and procedures. The competent authorities clearly have a key role to play in this. Exchange across federal states could harmonise procedures, as would the use of sample assessments from the Central Service Center for Professional Recognition (ZAB). The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Youth and Family Affairs (JFMK) and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) could advocate a clearer distinction between occupational profiles and greater standardisation of assistant occupations.

A more targeted expansion of training offers focused on the needs of skilled workers also seems to be urgently required. Online formats would be especially ideal for rural regions, as would modular offers and courses which can be completed alongside work.

A number of questions still remain. How effectively is the target group of those seeking recognition in the early years sector being reached? What are skilled workers doing who do not initially obtain recognition? What is the value of alternative pathways to recognition and what professional prospects do they offer?

The interview with Ulrike Benzer took place in April 2022. She is co-author of the recent study “Professional recognition of early years practitioners with a professional qualification required abroad – a situation analysis from the perspective of Network IQ”. Since 2012, Ulrike Benzer has worked as a research assistant at the Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (f-bb) for the IQ Competence Centre for Advisory Services and Job Training of Migrants (and its predecessor projects). The work of the competence centre includes the supervision and support of IQ regional networks and subprojects in the areas of advice and training as well as combining practical experience of specific issues with academic expertise, and transferring this knowledge to the expert community and the general public.

Key information about responsibility for, and details on, the recognition procedure, e.g. for the reference occupation of “childcare assistant” or “social education assistant” is provided in the Profi-Filter here in the professional section and in the Recognition-Finder in the Skilled workers section of “Anerkennung in Deutschland”.

Study cover image shows children in nursery.
IQ Competence Centre for Counselling and Job Training of Migrants, 2022

Early years education situation analysis

The study examines the experiences and challenges of professional recognition of early years practitioners from the perspective of Network IQ.

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