Analyses of potential – to what amount is requirements-oriented alignment permitted?

Carolin Kunert

Analyses of potential are the first module of a vocational orientation process which begins in Years 7 and 8. The main focus is on the children and on their abilities, wishes and interests. In the light of growing matching problems on the training market, some are questioning the usefulness of this subject-based approach and wondering whether the young people should be shown prospects which are more clearly aligned to the future skilled worker requirements. The present article investigates this issue and is informed by views which have emerged from two guided group discussions with education professionals.

Analysis of potential – paving the way for successful vocational orientation

The analysis of potential takes place at a time when most pupils have only vague ideas of occupations. They know little about job requirements and activities and existing training pathways. For this reason, their career wishes are usually still hazy and alter depending on the situation. The abilities and competences of young people are also sometimes still subject to drastic change during this phase. The figure shows how the analysis of potential is integrated into the overall vocational orientation process within the scope of the Educational Chains Initiative of the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) [Federal Ministry of Education and Research], the Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales [Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs] and the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (BA) [Federal Employment Agency].

The analysis of potential is, therefore, often the first time that young people consciously address their own wishes and skills and the first time they encounter the requirements of the world of work. It is a building block which is followed by further measures and development stages. For this reason, including in the view of the educational professionals, it appears to be as inappropriate as it is unnecessary to channel influence during this early phase. The primary focus in this first module is to encourage self-reflection on the part of the youngsters to recognise areas of potential and to strengthen them so as to prepare the route to further vocational orientation.

The objective of the overall process is to foster career choice competence so as to lay the foundations for selection of occupation at a later stage.

Guided group discussions

The two group discussions involved 19 educational professionals from the vocational training centres which carry out analyses of potential within the scope of the Vocational Orientation Programme run by the BMBF. Those participating were required to have experience in the operational implementation of analyses of potential. The primary objective of the group discussions was to reflect upon the pedagogical concept of the analysis of potential with regard to the permissibility of an approach based on needs and requirements. The discussions were recorded and transcribed, and their contents were then evaluated.

Promotion of self-assessment competence

Choosing an appropriate occupation requires someone to have knowledge of his or her strengths and weaknesses, personal interests and goals (cf. DRIESEL-LANGE. et al. 2010). The analysis of potential seeks to achieve this by fostering self-assessment competence. This takes place during phases of reflection and in particular via closing appraisal sessions, during which the pupils and the education professionals exchange views on the results of the analysis of potential. This comparison of self-assessment and external evaluation encourages the youngsters to think about themselves and gives them a feeling of how they are perceived by others. The results of the analysis of potential serve as a basis for tackling the subsequent phases of vocational orientation in an autonomous manner. Wishes and dreams are very important to this process, and a sensitive approach is required to avoid demotivating the young people from the very outset. The young people need to be able to identify themselves positively with the outcomes.

Addressing career wishes?

Not all the education professionals involved in the discussions address the topic of specific career wishes in this phase. If such desires are mentioned in the appraisal session, they can be considered jointly against the background of the competences shown.

If young people believe that the hurdles standing between them and their preferred occupation are too large, there are perhaps other occupations with comparable activities and topics of which they were hitherto unaware. At the same time, this expands the career choice spectrum. Only some of the education professionals make reference to good chances on the (regional) training market during this initial phase of vocational orientation and do so only when such opportunities relate to the competence profile observed and if the matter is addressed in a transparent way. Other providers within the Vocational Orientation Programme explicitly do not accord any priority to the topics of career preferences and the training market until the workshop days (cf. Figure). This enables young people to draw closer to their aim of finding a suitable occupation on a step-by-step basis.

Figure: Modules of vocational orientation

Role and remit of the education professionals

The education professionals, who are from extra-school training providers, face considerable challenges in the implementation of the analysis of potential. Particular relevance is accorded to the analysis of potential and the concluding appraisal session by all sides (policy makers, the school, parents and the young people themselves). Also, the analysis of potential occupies only a small scope in terms of time compared to the overall process of vocational orientation. This means that the analysis of potential initiates procedures which afterwards (may) no longer lie within the area of responsibility of the extra-school training providers conducting it. In formal terms, the overall task of (early) vocational orientation rests with the general schools. Within the life world context, parents also play a particularly important role. Some of the professionals who participated believe that getting teachers and parents “up to speed” is part of their remit. Alongside the provision of guidance and information on the topics of vocational orientation and the training market, this also involves relativisation of the expectation that children will conclude the analysis of potential with fixed career wishes and aptitudes.

Stipulations made at too early a stage are not productive

Even if one of the aims of vocational orientation is to cover the skilled worker requirements of trade and industry, considerations of utilisability cannot be the main driver of actions undertaken within the scope of the analysis of potential. The best way of helping to avoid mismatch can be to promote career choice competence within the framework of an effectively functioning overall system of vocational orientation which stipulates individual process support for all young people. A one to two-day analysis of potential conducted in Year 7 or 8 constitutes a snapshot, and only a combination of the various vocational orientation modules can make a useful contribution towards avoidance of mismatch.

It should always be borne in mind that harmony between the training place selected and a person’s own interests and abilities is a major prerequisite for satisfaction with the apprenticeship on both sides. As part of the vocational orientation process, the analysis of potential provides the first step towards the development of career choice competence within this context and thus, in the best case scenario, can also indirectly assist with the avoidance of mismatch.


DRIESEL-LANGE, K. et al.: Berufs- und Studienorientierung. Erfolgreich zur Berufswahl. Ein Orientierungs- und Handlungsmodell für Thüringer Schulen [Vocational and higher education study orientation. A successful route to career choice. A guidance and action model for schools in Thuringia]. Bad Berka 2010 – URL: www.bildungsketten.de/_media/ThueBOM_Broschuere.pdf (retrieved: 20.06.2016)

Research Associate in the “Transition into VET and into Work, Vocational Training Orientation/Vocational Training Orientation Programme” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2016): Martin Kelsey, Global Sprach Team, Berlin