More than 50% of the 5.3 million asylum seekers who arrived in OECD countries between 2014 and 2017 were 18-34 years old. The OECD’s new report Unlocking the potential of Migrants uses practical examples to highlight the advantages of vocational education and training (VET) for the inclusion of young migrants in European society.

The analysis, published on 26 September 2019, draws on international policies and practices. It offers detailed examples from Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, but also explores data from other countries. The report provides guidelines for governments and other stakeholders on how to help young humanitarian migrants by placing them in vocational education and training.

The report sets out the benefits of VET: apprenticeships and work-based learning seem to be one of the most effective ways to integrate young migrants and refugees into society and the labour market. The report also investigates the challenges that migrants face in accessing upper-secondary level VET and what support they need.

The data show that the share of young migrants entering upper-secondary VET programmes has been rising in recent years. There were increases of 6% in Germany (2009-17), 5% in Sweden (2011-17), and 3% in Switzerland (2012-17). However, in Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden a lower percentage of young migrants attend upper-secondary VET than native students and they are less successful in completing their VET. In Finland and Germany young migrants are 8% less likely to finish their VET than their native school mates, while in Norway and Sweden the gap is 16-18% . The reasons are various. For example, they might begin the course with weaker skills, might lack relevant social networks, and might face discrimination. There is sometimes a shortage of apprenticeship placements that they can take.

The OECD report suggests that countries could help young migrants and refugees by offering flexible VET provision, such as modular, shorter or longer programmes. Governments also need to give schools and companies clear information about the legal status of humanitarian migrant students and apprentices. Some countries are promoting intermediary bodies to build contacts between young migrants and employers. Such efforts can challenge discriminatory assumptions from employers, while giving migrants a chance to build social capital and a better understanding of employer expectations.

Nevertheless, it is also important to keep in mind that the cases presented in this report only show countries in which VET is successfully implemented. Many other European countries do not have the same standards or reputation when it comes to VET. The ETUCE therefore calls for sustainable investment in VET as mandated by the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights: the right to quality and inclusive education, training and life-long learning. This way all learners, including young migrants and refugees, can have access to quality learning under fair and decent conditions.

What is more, teachers and trainers in the VET sector need support to teach in multicultural classrooms. This includes professional training to provide individual support to young migrants and refugees who have faced trauma and live in challenging circumstances.

ETUCE and its member organisations are committed to the inclusion of migrants and refugees in education. See, for example, this Resolution adopted at the 2016 ETUCE Conference: Education Trade Unions on the Refugee Situation in Europe: Promoting Education as the Key to Integration and Inclusion.

Read the full OECD report Unlocking the potential of migrants.