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More skilled workers for social occupations

ApaLe – a best practice example of adaptation periods supporting professional recognition in the area of special educational needs, social work and early years education. Interview with course head Prof. Meike Günther

Prof. Meike Günther, head of “ApaLe”, explains in the interview how the course supporting social service occupations in Berlin helps foreign skilled workers with recognition. 

What does ApaLe stand for? How long has this adaptation period been available and who is it aimed at? 

Prof. Meike Günther: The name ApaLe stands for “Anpassungslehrgang” (adaptation period). However, the word is too long and complicated for people who have just arrived in Germany. With ApaLe we've created a catchy acronym which sounds friendly. This is because we want to welcome people here.

ApaLe has been available at the Catholic University in Berlin since 2018. It is a course for all those people who come to Berlin with a degree from their home country in the area of special needs education, social work or early years education. With this bridging course we can help people to obtain the qualifications they are missing in order to receive state recognition here in Germany. 

What is special about the adaptation period? How is it designed and how long does it take?

Prof. Meike Günther: On the one hand, with ApaLe, people receive precisely the content they need for their professional recognition. But they also find themselves in a community where they are valued and where people support each other. They also receive support from us which extends beyond just the taught content. For example, through careers coaching. This means they leave the course in an improved position and see a positive future for themselves in Berlin.

The course takes between six and ten months depending on the gaps participants have in their knowledge. The shorter course is for those who have studied a curriculum in another country which is relatively close in terms of content to our course in Germany. These individuals might only need to complete work on the legal modules. People needing to make up for more missing content to obtain full recognition take the longer course. Both courses finish with a law exam. 

How does ApaLe make it easier for people to gain recognition of their foreign professional qualifications?

Prof. Meike Günther: Without ApaLe, people had to seek out courses themselves at universities for those individual requirements which the competent authority at the Senate department decided they had to meet to adapt their qualifications. This meant they had to sort things out for themselves, usually enrolling as guest students, paying for this themselves, putting up with having to wait and investing significantly more time. This was obviously very complicated. Most did not succeed due to finances, time or in terms of organisation . For this reason, they did not obtain their recognition which resulted in an extremely low recognition rate in the social service professions. Thanks to ApaLe and its public funding, all participants now receive a free course which is specifically tailored to them in each case. 

What requirements must be met to participate in ApaLe?

Prof. Meike Günther: Those wishing to participate in the course have submitted the degree they obtained abroad to the Senate Department competent authority for an equivalence assessment and from there have received a corresponding assessment notice specifying the requirements necessary for recognition. In this way we also find out which gaps the competent authority has identified and how these can be compensated for. Participants’ command of German must be at least at language level B2 and they must be able to produce a foreign degree and evidence of 100 days of gainful employment in Germany. Another very important requirement is that they regularly attend the course. We have a very strict in-person attendance policy for all modules.

How is the offer received by participants?

Prof. Meike Günther: I've experienced no other training course where people are so happy that the course exists. And so motivated. This is why everybody generally passes the examination and we've actually never had any problems such as course dropouts. 

Has ApaLe resulted in any further insights for the future? Are changes or similar courses planned?

Prof. Meike Günther: We would like ApaLe to be continued. ApaLe is currently funded through to the end of 2022. If ApaLe was continued, for example, we could offer a further additional course in order to meet the high demand. We would also like to highlight the importance of the offer in other federal states. And would also like to develop an alumnae network in which former participants could support new participants. 

The interview with Prof. Meike Günther took place in May 2022. She has been ApaLe course leader at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Berlin since 2018 Until 2020, ApaLe was funded by the Senate Department for Integration, Labour and Social Affairs via the Network “Integration through Qualification (IQ)”. ApaLe has been financed by the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family with funds from the Act on Good Early Childhood Education and Care since 2021. Contact for questions about the ApaLe best practice example: