Gütersloh , Germany

MySkills to Job Skills: Competence Cards for Occupational Assessment

Bertelsmann Stiftung

April 8, 2019

Using visual cards, a competence-based tool for skills assessment is designed with, not just for immigrants

The Bertelsmann Stiftung is working with labour market stakeholders to create a new system where job seekers, employment support services and employers can take a competency-based approach to hiring.

For employers, evaluating job seeker skills has typically meant reviewing education and certification credentials. Critical labour shortages create conditions for employers to think more creatively about how they recruit and hire talent. Germany anticipates skilled labour shortages to increase by 30% between 2015 and 2020. Given this outlook, employers are opening up to new ideas about how to assess worker skills and credentials, in particular among migrant groups.

According to Bertelsmann Foundation Board member Jörg Dräger, learning by doing is becoming the most important source of competence for working people. However, the increasing importance of informal learning presents a dilemma: illustrating skills developed from this learning is the most difficult to prove.

How could immigrants and refugees better document their expertise and skills to help German employers assess their competencies?

Focus on competencies

In 2013, the Foundation began their project, Further Education for All, to provide employment and migration counsellors tools to assess immigrant and refugee clients’ workplace competencies.

The Foundation found no standardized instruments for determining the potential of immigrants. Counsellors working with them found the existing assessment landscape confusing and overwhelming. The Foundation started working on new tools that were practical and easier to use for the counsellors.

Working with government, employment and migration partners, Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Careers via Competences Project created Competence Cards to speed up the recognition and utilization of immigrant qualifications and experience. The cards identified a core set of transversal or “21st century skills” (related terms include applied skills, cross-curricular skills, cross-disciplinary skills, interdisciplinary skills, transferable skills, transversal skills, noncognitive skills, and soft skills), and provided employment counsellors with an easy-to-use visual tool they could use with the client to identify labour market skills. From social (e.g., teamwork) to technical (e.g., pipe-fitting) to process/methodological skills (e.g., planning), the Competence Cards gave both the client and the employment counsellor a starting point for a conversation about occupation-specific skills. Using visual cues, clients could easily identify and self-assess whether or not they had such skills, regardless of their formal education and training.

The Competence Cards were immediately popular. Counsellors found the tool effective, quick and easy to use with clients. The project originally anticipated disseminating 800 card sets to migration counsellors across Germany. Today, they are available for free in ten languages. It should come as no surprise that, to date, over 12,000 Competence Card sets have been disseminated to a wide variety of employment, migration, education, social service and other organizations that support migrants.

Scaling up success

The Foundation recognized they had an opportunity to do more. Their experts consulted with employment counselling partner organizations and began creating profession- and occupation-specific cards. Instead of animated drawings, like those on the Competence Cards, the Career Cards use real pictures, illustrating specific job tasks to show a newcomer what the profession looks like in Germany. They created 48 cards outlining professional fields, and 30 occupation-specific cards, outlining jobs with high demand in Germany, where refugees could find employment opportunities. Dr. Martin Noack, a Senior Expert at the Foundation in the Learning for Life Program, says that each career card was created in consultation with assessors, educators and certification providers, employers and trade masters. Six to ten people per profession worked together to identify competencies that are required on the job.

For example, a career card for a Specialist in the hotel and restaurant industry would have an image of a front desk clerk, depicting the skills important to be successful in the role. Competency cards associated with the Specialist role would be on-hand to demonstrate the attributes of an ideal candidate. If a refugee could identify skills they already have, it would be easier to connect them to a suitable job right away.

The idea, says Noack, is that a worker can identify all of their skills, whether gained through formal education, on the job, through volunteer work, or through life experience. From a quick initial assessment, they could be directed to the required upgrading and education to access a specific employment opportunity.


The Foundation realized that to make the process work, they needed more images for each occupation. In December 2017, they scaled up their analog of Competence and Career Cards, creating an online self-assessment of vocational skills. Eight occupations (with 22 more in development) are available in six languages, with 20 to 40 images per occupation, each representing a specific job task or competency. The My Professional Experience Counts  tool is available from the Bertelsmann Stiftung program page where it provides access to a competency self-assessment anywhere at any time.  From there, the client  can visit the MY SKILLS website, an attractive, dynamic platform available in 6 languages that offers clients information, FAQs and a video orientation to the full in-depth assessment overseen by registered employment counsellors.

Those who work with employment counsellors can use the assessment as a stepping stone to the more formal My Skills test, which Noack says has greater credibility with employers. The computer-aided test is run by the Federal Employment Agency (BA) and was developed in cooperation with the Foundation. Clients are referred by employment counsellors and undergo a four-hour test, which more rigorously assesses their competencies in the specific job tasks in their identified occupation. Participants answer complex questions that relate to everyday situations in one of 30 training occupations. The questions are supplemented by explanatory pictures and videos. Noack anticipates in the next year German Public Employment Service counsellors will refer over 120,000 clients to My Skills.

Employer buy-in

Noack says that big companies in Germany, such as Ernst and Young and Google, have shifted to competence tests in their initial recruitment and hiring practices. However, eighty percent of Germans work in SMEs, which don’t have the HR and personnel department capacities of these big employers. They hire on the basis of formal educational achievement, with the hope that workers have the required skills. Hiring risks are perceived to be higher in absence of formal education.

The Foundation’s competency-based approach offers a way for employers to reduce this risk. For those labour market sectors with critical shortages, employers cannot wait until they have fully qualified workers, but they can assess and hire people who are partially qualified. Once they know a worker’s competencies, they can provide the on-the-job training needed, or work with education providers to quickly get their workforce up to speed and fully qualified. Employers are starting to see the potential. Chambers of Crafts, which oversee the professional education and certification of German occupations, are slower to come on board.

Shifting the landscape of how competencies are recognized and workers are hired is a large project. As more potential workers assess their competencies, more German employers will see the value of competency-based employment assessments. These numbers can gradually provide 1 million refugees more pathways to greater economic integration, benefiting the entire country.

Originally published by Hire Immigrants.

Making it Work for You:

  • Bring simplicity to complex issues. The Foundation found a simple way to introduce competence-based assessment tools for employment counsellors, while surveying and working with employers to identify how the recruitment and hiring landscape needs to shift. With an expansive stakeholder analysis, they were able to craft a simple solution to meet a variety of needs.
  • Keep the tools simple. Because the Foundation’s Competence Cards were built with simplicity in mind, they were easily adapted to various newcomer and refugee settings.
  • Scale your solution. Once the Foundation found a huge demand in their paper, analog Competence and Career Card system, they scaled it up into a digital format, making it more widely accessible.
  • Find opportunities, consult and create. Bertelsmann Stiftung is not a labour market focused foundation, but is focused, in part, on shaping the future and strengthening society to help individuals reach their full potential by developing the resources needed to achieve their goals.
  • Simplify an emerging model in order to make it more accessible to all stakeholders - democratize the system! In this case, competency-based assessments became available for smaller companies that lack the internal resources to do it themselves.

For this Good Idea contact:

Dr. Martin Noack, Bertelsmann Stiftung
Gütersloh, Germany,
33330 Gütersloh

Recent Good Ideas

Leamington, Canada
From Survival Jobs to Rich Harvest
Highline Mushrooms  

Brandon, Canada
Industry Leaders Connect to Recruit Newcomers
Maple Leaf Foods  

Halifax, Canada
Welcomed in Halifax
Halifax Regional Municipality  

Toronto, Canada
Eliminating Barriers for Displaced Individuals
WES Gateway Program  

Kuopio, Finland
Encouraging Cities to Bring Locals and Immigrants Together
City of Kuopio  

View all