Validity of validation

Reinhold Weiß

Dear readers,

Under the banner of “Recognising competences”, a new initiative is announced in the coalition agreement. Competences that are not documented with formal certificates will be made transparent, and granted recognition as far as possible. Procedures for doing so will be developed and piloted.
Importantly, this announcement can be taken as the coalition partners’ response to the EU Council Resolution whereby Member States have undertaken to introduce national strategies for the validation of informal and non-formal competences by 2018. Its aim is to foster permeability and create a pathway which enables working people without formal qualifications to attain a vocational qualification.

Requirements of validation procedures

As long as the aim is to make existing competences transparent, descriptions, self-assessments and informal assessments by others are suitable procedures. If the aim is to achieve recognition of qualifications, however, procedures are necessary that incorporate a credible and legally robust validation of competences.
In other words, access entitlements, partial recognition of qualifications or statements of equivalence with existing qualifications call for a procedure that meets the same criteria and requirements as the standard admission and examination procedures embedded within the education system.
The issuing of “carte blanche” certificates of equivalence serves nobody, certainly not the applicants.
If the word spreads that qualifications and certificates are easier to obtain in this way, their value is soon eroded. Routes for the recognition of informally acquired competences already exist.
The most important are the “external candidates” system for admitting mature candidates to the chamber examinations taken by apprentices, and the recognition of qualifications obtained abroad within the framework of the Federal Recognition Act. The external candidates’ examination is a recognised instrument, take-up of which accounts for approximately six per cent of each year’s examination participants.
Informal evidence can only be used to gain admission to the final examination; the examination itself must still be taken. In other countries, in contrast, there are instruments and procedures permitting direct assessment of equivalence with recognised vocational certificates.

Learning from other countries’ experiences

In Switzerland, for example, it is possible to obtain partial or full recognition of a vocational certificate by means of a special validation procedure. This might be a model and an example that Germany could follow. Regarding the level of take-up, however, expectations should not be pitched too high.
Although the potential target group – individuals without vocational certificates – is large in numerical terms, relatively few fulfil the criteria to take advantage of the opportunity to gain recognition for competences acquired outside the formal system. This is partly due to the demanding requirements, but also the fact that employment in unskilled positions offers limited opportunities to acquire competences in the sense of occupational proficiency. Experience gained in other countries points to the necessity for institutional embedding of the procedure. Any recognition of informally acquired competences should best be undertaken by the same institutions as are responsible for, and experienced in, the recognition of informal competences. In Germany, these are the competent bodies pursuant to the Federal Vocational Training Act. Establishing a parallel structure of institutions would be neither efficient nor conducive to the acceptance of the certificates issued. At some point, there will also be a need for a statutory base.
Meanwhile, support programmes and pilot projects are creating a suitable framework for gathering and evaluating experience.

Deputy President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) and Head of Research

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 5/2014): MARTIN STUART KELSEY, Global Sprachteam Berlin