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Nobody needs to be afraid of this work

In this interview, Stefan Gustav from the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts and Trades (HWK) discusses experience from practice and the role of vocational experts in the skills analysis.

Stefan Gustav is responsible for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications at the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts and Trades. In the interview with Constanze Küsel (HWK Koblenz), he talks about his experience of the skills analysis (QA), the role of vocational experts in the process and about how Ahmad Khazaal, a Lebanese motor vehicle mechatronics technician, was able to gain recognition with the help of a skills analysis.

Mr Gustav, you have just returned from a skills analysis. What was your impression of Mr Khazaal from Lebanon and of the skills analysis in general?
Stefan Gustav:
The skills analysis went very well. Mr Khazaal, who completed his training in Lebanon, completed three very complex tasks with no problems at all.

What was the reason for giving Mr Khazaal the chance to participate in a skills analysis?
Stefan Gustav:
Mr Khazaal presented us with two end-of-year certificates from his school-based vocational education and training in Lebanon. However, based on the certificates, we were not able to identify with complete clarity what he had learned during his training. For example, the content needed for comparing this training with the German training regulations was missing. Also, Mr Khazaal already had seven years of professional experience, four of which had been gained in Lebanon. We did have confirmation that he had worked there, but we had no proper certificate. We also had the same situation with his employment as a vehicle mechanic in Germany since 2017. A skills analysis was therefore the right way to go.

What result did the skills analysis produce?
Stefan Gustav:
In this case the outcome was partial equivalence. The participants had to solve three problems. The first was a mechanical task for which, however, systems expertise also had to be demonstrated. The second task was a problem relevant to safety on a brake system. Finally, he had to find an electronic fault on a vehicle and eliminate the cause. He solved all these problems with flying colours. In the professional discussion, however, we then found out that he lacked competencies in the area of high-voltage technology. This is why, as part of inter-company apprentice training, he will soon be attending the course “diagnostics technology for high-voltage systems” in order to acquire the missing knowledge. After this he will then have full equivalence. 

In the skills analysis process, there is also the so-called exploratory discussion as well as the professional discussion. What is the difference?
Stefan Gustav:
You mustn't equate a professional discussion with an exploratory discussion. The professional discussion is a tool of the skills analysis. The exploratory discussion provides the opportunity for a professional expert to have a discussion ahead of the procedure with the applicant, to explore what they know and to initially explain how everything works. This is important because our experience has frequently shown that applicants have no idea at all about what comprises an occupational profile in Germany, and what is part of the training.
We recently had a participant who believed he could become self-employed as a tile and mosaic layer. We started by conducting an exploratory discussion with him at the journeyman level. From this it emerged that, while he certainly could apply tiles to the wall, he did not, however, have any competencies beyond this. The skills analysis was therefore completed at the exploratory discussion stage.

A moment ago you mentioned vocational experts. What is a vocational expert?
Stefan Gustav:
Our vocational experts are experienced master craftsmen and women who also work on a daily basis in the crafts and trades sector. They know the current requirements. Our training regulations are formulated to be technology neutral. This means the training content is always guided by the latest technology. Today, a metal worker who is “only” able to work with a hammer and anvil would fall a long way short of what was required. This is because today's metal workers also have to be able to work with computer-controlled machine tools (CNC systems), with hydraulics, pneumatics and in the area of electrical engineering. Besides experience as examiners, our vocational experts also have to have intercultural competencies and need to know about the competency assessment process. They are trained in advance for this. They are therefore highly qualified people. 

And what do vocational experts have to do besides this? What do their tasks involve beyond supporting applicants in the skills analysis?
Stefan Gustav:
The vocational experts are responsible for organising a skills analysis; this means preparing all of the content, all of the examination tasks, conducting the professional discussion and ultimately also approving the assessment. In the training, they learn about how this functions in terms of the formal processes involved and the content. So, nobody needs to be afraid of this task.

And will the vocational expert have to deal with loads of paperwork? 
Stefan Gustav:
No, it's not a lot. However, despite this, we can't get away without any forms at all. We document the progress of the entire skills analysis using observation sheets for the process and results sheets for the result. If there are objections, the applicant has the opportunity to exercise their right of appeal. Without this documentation we would lose in an appeals procedure.

There are certainly costs connected with a skills analysis. What are the costs, and do the participants ultimately have to pay themselves?
Stefan Gustav: Skills analyses obviously cost money. The staff need to be paid, as does the workshop in which a skills analysis normally takes place. This can really result in significant costs. For the skills analysis with the motor vehicle mechatronics technician, we needed six hours in total – still a relatively small amount of time. We recently did a skills analysis with a vehicle varnisher. In this case the drying times also had to be taken into account. Across the full range of occupational fields, a skills analysis may sometimes take two to three days. And this can then certainly result in costs of up to €2,000. The employment agency or the job centre will cover the costs for those who have no work. Those employed as unskilled workers in general do not earn a sufficiently high income to cover this. The option of financial support through the skills analysis special fund is therefore available thanks to the Federal Ministry of Education. It is therefore not possible to argue against a skills analysis on the basis of costs. 

What advice would you have for young people who want to participate in a skills analysis? 
Stefan Gustav: In our experience, it makes a lot of sense to prepare yourself for a skills analysis and to also take the exploratory discussion very seriously. In some circumstances it's a good idea to work for a year or two in Germany before then tackling a skills analysis. However, this is all dependent on the individual. If work cannot be found for the intervening period, then we are able to advise on this. We are happy to support everybody in identifying a path which leads to integration in the German labour market over the medium term and in a meaningful way for the individual concerned. 

The interview was conducted by Dr Constanze Küsel from the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts and Trades on 15 September 2020. Ahmad Khazaal's skills analysis took place on this date and he then successfully passed the subsequent refresher training and has achieved full equivalence.

Key information about responsibility for, and providing details on, the recognition procedure e.g. for the reference occupation “motor vehicle mechatronics technician” is provided in the Profi-Filter and the Recognition Finder in this portal.

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My vocational recognition is confirmation of what I'm able to do and opens up opportunities for me. 
My name is Ahmed Khazaal and I’m a motor vehicle mechatronics technician.

In Lebanon, I trained and worked as a motor vehicle mechatronics technician.
Luckily, when I came to Germany in 2015, I was able to start work straight away with my uncle in the garage

In Germany, you can work as a motor vehicle mechatronics technician. 
The occupation is not regulated. But then you can't go anywhere else in terms of your career.

I definitely want to progress and complete my master craftsman qualification to maybe later run my own garage. 

Recognition of the occupation is a requirement for admission to the master craftsman examination.

My wife and I found out the information on the internet and from the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts and Trades.

Mr Khazaal submitted his papers to us from Lebanon. However, these didn't clearly describe his qualifications.

Following my qualification, I worked for 4 years in Lebanon and 3 years in Germany.

We therefore suggested a skills analysis.  

That was great. I was able to show everything I was capable of. I was a bit nervous but that went away very quickly.
To start with, I sat down with Mr Khazaal for a preliminary discussion in order to get to know him. 

It helps if the people assessing me know me a bit and I know them.
In the practical element, he passed the mechanical task with flying colours. This also required systems expertise.

My task was to change a cambelt. I had done that many times before.  

We also considered a task on a brake. And he then had to find an electronic fault. 

Luckily I was also familiar with this from work. I slowly became more relaxed.

We then conducted a professional discussion in order to check theoretical knowledge. He did it very well. 
However, it was evident that he still had some catching up to do in the high voltage area.

I then gained this knowledge in the refresher training. I'm now fully recognised and have received the notice saying that my training is fully equivalent to the training in Germany.

And we look forward to seeing Mr Khazaal again on the further examination preparation course. 

It's time to get started on the master craftsman examination. I want to further improve my German for this.
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