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Labour market integration of foreign skilled workers in Canada and Germany

Comparative findings from the healthcare sector

This article investigates the issue of the extent to which migrants in Canada and Germany are able to use the qualifications and professional experiences they have acquired abroad on the domestic labour market. The information presented is based on case studies in the healthcare sector conducted in both countries. A related question is how the recognition process and the significance of occupational experience differ in the two countries and how these two aspects are determined. The results provide indications as to whether and in which ways the integration of foreign skilled workers in Germany and Canada can be improved.

Recognition of foreign qualifications and professional experience

The recognition of foreign qualifications in Canada is closely linked to migration policy. The primary consideration is that immigration is beneficial to the Canadian labour market and to society (cf. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 2018, pp. 5 ff.). Canada’s migration policy is primarily steered by a points system and by the respective labour market requirements. In Germany, on the other hand, the Anerkennungsgesetz [Recognition Act] is a political instrument for the improved integration of migrants. Like the Canadian points system, it aims to counter the existing shortage of skilled workers by supporting qualified migrants from abroad. The Anerkennungsgesetz allows an equivalence assessment to be made of a foreign qualification as compared to a German qualification for all occupations and professions (cf. BMBF 2014, p. 22).

The labour market integration of skilled workers from a migrant background is associated with challenges in Canada and in Germany alike. In Canada, such workers achieve an income that is lower in comparable terms. They are also more likely to be affected by unemployment, to experience devaluation of their qualifications, skills and work history and to suffer economic marginalisation (cf. e.g. PICOT 2004, THOMPSON/WORSWICK 2004, GREEN/WORSWICK 2012). Numerous research studies carried out in Germany also document poorer labour market successes by migrants as opposed to Germans (cf. inter alia MERGENER 2018, KNUTH 2012, BAUDER 2005).

An obligatory recognition procedure is in place for registered general nurses in Germany and registered nurses in Canada. All nurses need to complete this process in order to obtain the certificate necessary to exercise their profession. In both countries, the procedure comprises two essential stages. Firstly, the recognising body assesses all formal qualifications and professional experience solely on the basis of documents that must be submitted (cf. ANNEN 2012, pp. 144 ff.). Depending on any gaps that may have been identified in respect of the skills and professional experience required nationally, applicants subsequently have to complete formal refresher training (referred to in Canada as a Bridging Programme) and may also need to gather and provide evidence of additional professional experience.
 

Methodology, design and interview partners

The results presented here have emerged from six case studies conducted in three healthcare organisations (i.e. hospitals) in each of the two countries. Semi-standardised interviews were carried out with a total of 13 skilled workers (registered general nurses in Germany and registered nurses in Canada) and with 13 employer representatives responsible for recruitment (hereinafter referred to in abbreviated form as recruitment managers) (cf. Figure). The latter are generally employed in the hospital’s Human Resources or Nursing Management Department. They organise and implement the recruitment process. All skilled workers interviewed (with the exception of one refugee in Canada) migrated for professional or personal reasons and have completed their entire training (except for adaptation training or “Bridging Programmes”) abroad. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically coded. The results presented below focus on the subjective perspectives of the respondents with regard to the following three aspects:

  1. Structure of the recognition process
  2. Significance of formal qualifications and statutory standards
  3. Significance of professional experience and system knowledge. The main emphasis is placed on personal experiences, behaviours and decision-making criteria.

Figure: Characteristics of the interview partners

Commonalities and differences in recognition and recruitment

STRUCTURE OF THE RECOGNITION PROCESS

The skilled workers all agree that the (additional) professional experience they acquired during the recognition process was useful in terms of becoming familiar with Canadian or German work culture and the healthcare system. Some interviewees, especially those from countries which are less medically developed, were also assisted in adapting to medical equipment in Canada and Germany. By way of contrast, respondents tend to take a critical view of training within the scope of the process because of the many repetitions of material they had already learned in their home country.

One major difference between Canada and Germany is that the Canadian skilled workers all describe their recognition procedure as being very difficult, protracted and sometimes extremely expensive. In some cases, Canadian respondents had to pay to complete a full formal course of study once again (Canada requires registered nurses to hold a bachelor’s degree). This took years. Unlike in Germany, they did not generally receive any form of support from the hospitals.

In contrast to the German situation, the Canadian skilled workers describe the practical activity that mostly takes place at the end of the recognition process as being extremely important in terms of becoming accustomed to the role of a registered nurse in Canada, which is associated with a more far-reaching degree of responsibility compared to many other countries. They also deviate from the responses provided by their German counterparts in frequently describing a further major problem. During the course of the recognition procedure, which can often be of several years’ duration, they lose a considerable amount of their abilities because they are not usually permitted to exercise their profession (fully) whilst completing the formal education programme required and indeed mostly do not have the time to do so.

The recruitment managers interviewed in Germany report that they often find that the decisions made by the competent bodies lack transparency and are difficult to understand. They also frequently perceive such decisions to be inconsistent because there is commonly a divergence between the practical deployability of candidates and their success in the recognition procedure.

By way of contrast, the trust placed in the process by the Canadian recruitment managers is significantly greater. One reason for this may be that they are not integrated into the procedure and only get to know candidates at the end or after completion.

SIGNIFICANCE OF FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS AND STATUTORY STANDARDS

Both stakeholder groups view formal qualifications as essential in order to work as a registered general nurse or registered nurse. Alongside the relevant legal provisions that exist in both countries, respondents are of the opinion that professional experience improves professional effectiveness, although the necessity for VET also depends strongly on the position aspired to. Because of medical progress, the skilled workers in particular underline the importance of continuing education and training. Two German skilled workers describe the significance of formal and non-formal qualifications in the healthcare sector as follows: “I think that is very important because we work with people, and it is very important that we are formally qualified.” (Interview 20). One Canadian nurse also highlights the importance of formal qualifications: “I couldn’t even say how important it is, because it is mandatory to get in. You can’t even do anything until you pass your credential checking and then get the exam and then the licence. So I would say it is very important, because otherwise you can’t work, it would be illegal to work as a nurse without a qualification.” (Interview 44).

The recruitment managers do not perceive the statutory stipulations as being the only basis for the absolute necessity of a formal qualification. They are also of the view that this is an important standard for human resources planning because it permits all employees to assume the same responsibilities. A German recruitment manager describes the importance of this standard: “A standard is also required in order to be able to guarantee patient safety.” (Interview 14). A Canadian recruitment manager puts the significance of formal qualifications and professional experience into context: “I would say work experience is somewhat important, not essential. So that is the starting point of getting into healthcare is having formal qualifications. After that everything else is a bonus.” (Interview 42).

SIGNIFICANCE OF FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS AND STATUTORY STANDARDS

Both stakeholder groups view formal qualifications as essential in order to work as a registered general nurse or registered nurse. Alongside the relevant legal provisions that exist in both countries, respondents are of the opinion that professional experience improves professional effectiveness, although the necessity for VET also depends strongly on the position aspired to. Because of medical progress, the skilled workers in particular underline the importance of continuing education and training. Two German skilled workers describe the significance of formal and non-formal qualifications in the healthcare sector as follows: “I think that is very important because we work with people, and it is very important that we are formally qualified.” (Interview 20). One Canadian nurse also highlights the importance of formal qualifications: “I couldn’t even say how important it is, because it is mandatory to get in. You can’t even do anything until you pass your credential checking and then get the exam and then the licence. So I would say it is very important, because otherwise you can’t work, it would be illegal to work as a nurse without a qualification.” (Interview 44).

The recruitment managers do not perceive the statutory stipulations as being the only basis for the absolute necessity of a formal qualification. They are also of the view that this is an important standard for human resources planning because it permits all employees to assume the same responsibilities. A German recruitment manager describes the importance of this standard: “A standard is also required in order to be able to guarantee patient safety.” (Interview 14). A Canadian recruitment manager puts the significance of formal qualifications and professional experience into context: “I would say work experience is somewhat important, not essential. So that is the starting point of getting into healthcare is having formal qualifications. After that everything else is a bonus.” (Interview 42).

SIGNIFICANCE OF FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS AND STATUTORY STANDARDS

Both stakeholder groups view formal qualifications as essential in order to work as a registered general nurse or registered nurse. Alongside the relevant legal provisions that exist in both countries, respondents are of the opinion that professional experience improves professional effectiveness, although the necessity for VET also depends strongly on the position aspired to. Because of medical progress, the skilled workers in particular underline the importance of continuing education and training. Two German skilled workers describe the significance of formal and non-formal qualifications in the healthcare sector as follows: “I think that is very important because we work with people, and it is very important that we are formally qualified.” (Interview 20). One Canadian nurse also highlights the importance of formal qualifications: “I couldn’t even say how important it is, because it is mandatory to get in. You can’t even do anything until you pass your credential checking and then get the exam and then the licence. So I would say it is very important, because otherwise you can’t work, it would be illegal to work as a nurse without a qualification.” (Interview 44).

The recruitment managers do not perceive the statutory stipulations as being the only basis for the absolute necessity of a formal qualification. They are also of the view that this is an important standard for human resources planning because it permits all employees to assume the same responsibilities. A German recruitment manager describes the importance of this standard: “A standard is also required in order to be able to guarantee patient safety.” (Interview 14). A Canadian recruitment manager puts the significance of formal qualifications and professional experience into context: “I would say work experience is somewhat important, not essential. So that is the starting point of getting into healthcare is having formal qualifications. After that everything else is a bonus.” (Interview 42).

SIGNIFICANCE OF PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE AND SYSTEM KNOWLEDGE

Both the skilled workers interviewed and the recruitment managers are of the view that professional experience is necessary in order to perform the job in an efficient way. The recruitment managers conclude that the necessary professional experience depends on the respective position that needs to be filled. They state that degree of specialisation and level of responsibility are crucial factors in this regard. One German employee characterises the effect that professional experience has on her work: “It is much simpler for people to understand everything and act quickly if they have a lot of professional experience. This then makes it easier to work autonomously.” (Interview 24). A Canadian nurse gives a similar assessment: “If you apply in a big organisation for a certain job, your experience is extremely important. It counts as a seniority in a unionised environment. But also if you are younger and less experienced you can have some marketable skills, like for example experience in a special field. As long as it’s not a managerial job, work experience is important. For a management job it’s more the qualification.” (Interview 40).

One huge difference between the two countries is the major significance ascribed to domestic professional experience in Canada as opposed to in Germany. One Canadian employee describes this as follows: “If you are coming from overseas sometimes your overseas experience is not taken into consideration because the practice is different. (...) If you are coming brand new, it’s better to be exposed to it – could be a placement, it could be a volunteer where you get familiarize yourself with – I think it’s more around the laws and regulations.” (Interview 49). All recruitment managers interviewed in Canada explain that foreign professional experience is viewed as being equivalent during the recruitment process and that such a person will receive equal remuneration if appointed. This represents a certain contradiction to the statements made by the skilled workers. The German recruitment managers are also aware that medical standards differ in individual countries. Nevertheless, they are of the unanimous view that foreign professional experience is evaluated on an equal basis with domestic experience. All respondents characterise the labour market situation in the healthcare sector in Germany as being challenging with regard to the search for qualified workers. The shortage of skilled staff is forcing hospitals to lower their requirements in respect of the professional experience of applicants. “Of course, it is great if we have professional experience. Unfortunately, this is a luxury which we cannot afford in the fields of clinical nursing and patient care. We are heavily reliant on inexperienced applicants.” (Interview 13).

Although professional experience is also an essential factor in Canada and improves work performance, many applicants without such experience are afforded an opportunity to gather it. “It depends on the role, but we do hire a lot of new grads into nursing. And we do provide them with appropriate training etc. And we have a unit that allows these new grads to get exposure to various different areas of the hospital (...) like they have an opportunity to get exposure to different areas of nursing.” (Interview 46). The main difference, however, relates to the reasons for appointing staff without professional experience. In Germany, such recruitment is driven by a shortage of skilled workers. Canada is faced by a large number of young applicants who have just completed their training. This is, however, another area in which the differences between the German and Canadian education system and the different types of transition to the labour market become clear. Canadian employers consider a practical phase of induction to be normal because the education system, particularly in the healthcare sector, is aligned towards academic qualifications. In Germany, professional experience is a prerequisite for domestic applicants.

Major factors influencing integration and potential for improvement

Various effects of national labour market conditions on the integration of foreign skilled workers can be identified in both countries. Unlike in Canada, such workers are favoured in the application and integration process in Germany because of the labour market situation (requirements effect). The high degree of regulation in the healthcare sector initially makes it more difficult for foreign skilled workers in both countries to exercise their profession (regulation effect). The difference between the liberal structuring of the Canadian labour market in contrast with the occupation-based organisation of the German labour market (governance effect) does not come into play because the statutory stipulations in both countries make formal qualifications highly significant. Occupational positions, professional roles and areas of responsibility are not internationally standardised and comparable in the healthcare sector. National health systems and their structures exert a strong influence on the labour market (branch structure effect). Finally, the status of development of medical technology in the country of origin is highly significant in terms of determining the relevance of professional experience gathered. In the healthcare sector, this may lead to problems for skilled workers from countries which have no or only restricted access to such technologies (technology effect).

The differences between the German vocational education and training system, in which registered general nurses are trained, and other education systems represent a major problem for the recruitment of skilled workers in Germany. Although many applicants have the necessary theoretical knowledge, they are not in possession of the practical skills required by employers. The structures of the Canadian healthcare system (particularly the comprehensive area of responsibility assumed by registered nurses) are problematic for the recruitment of foreign skilled workers and for the success of such workers on the labour market compared to other countries. This means that applicants in both countries are mainly confronted by systemic hurdles (system effects).

The results show that integration of foreign skills workers onto the labour market is rendered more difficult by a series of effects but that these effects are frequently not located within the recruitment process of companies. It is also clear that only a few of these effects can be changed without the instigation of far-reaching measures. Systemic differences between the countries of origin and the country of immigration and certain characteristics of the healthcare sector are frequently inescapable. Nevertheless, continuous improvement of the recognition process could act as a major determining factor for better integration of foreign skilled workers. According to the information provided by the respondents, such integration is currently more problematic in Canada than in Germany. The primary explanation for this is the different labour market situation. Further more detailed studies of the quality of the recognition process and of the role of the recognising bodies are required at this point. These would permit the identification of specific areas of potential for improvement with regard to the points of reference, duration and costs of the recognition procedure.

Literature

Annen, S.: Anerkennung von Kompetenzen. Kriterienorientierte Analyse ausgewählter Verfahren in Europa. Bielefeld 2012

Bauder, H.: Institutional Capital and Labour Devaluation: The Non-Recognition of Foreign Credentials in Germany. In: Intervention. Journal of Economics 2 (2005) 1, pp. 75-93

Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF): Bericht zum Anerkennungsgesetz. Berlin 2014

Green, D.: Worswick, C.: Immigrant earnings profiles in the presence of human capital investment: measuring cohort and macro effects. In: Labour Economics 19 (2012) 2, pp. 241-259

Knuth, M.: Berufliche Anerkennung und Erwerbsintegration von Eingewanderten. In: Bolder, A. et al. (Eds.): Beruflichkeit zwischen institutionellem Wandel und biographischem Projekt. Wiesbaden 2012, pp. 127-151

Mergener, A.: Zuwanderung in Zeiten von Fachkräfteengpässen auf dem deutschen Arbeitsmarkt. Einflussfaktoren auf die Beschäftigungs- und Rekrutierungschancen ausländischer Fachkräfte aus betrieblicher Perspektive. Bonn 2018

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration. Ottawa 2018

Picot, G.: Immigrant Patterns and Deteriorating Labour Market Outcomes 1980-2000: The Canadian Story. In: Statistics Canada: Business and Labour Market Analysis Division (Eds.): Analytical Studies Branch research paper series. 11F0019MIE – No. 222. Ottawa 2004

Thompson, E.; Worswick, C.: Canadian Research on Immigration and the Labour Market: An Overview. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Ottawa 2004

SILVIA ANNEN
Dr., Research Associate in the “Commercial, Media and Logistics Occupations” Division at BIBB, currently a visiting researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, Canada

 

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2019): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin