Interview with Ramona Lopez
The third biennale for Validation of Prior Learning (VPL) was held in Berlin in May 2019. Around 300 professionals, educators, scientists and other experts on VPL spent two days attending several presentations and workshops, both giving and receiving inspiration, new methods and, in the end, also formulating the Berlin Declaration on Validation of Prior Learning (which can be found here).
Ramona Lopez, a job-coach for refugees at ZBBS e.V. Kiel/ Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, presented the Career Cards and the website www.my-professional-experience.org , which support counsellors in their everyday effort to help refugees and other migrants with their occupational integration.
People with migrant backgrounds still suffer significant disadvantages with respect to educational and professional opportunities. However, many newcomers have valuable experience and qualifications. In cooperation with her partners, Bertelsmann Stiftung has developed Competence Cards and Career Cards (for transversal, respectively,vocational skills) and the online tool www.my-professional-experience.org (for vocational skills) to help immigration and job counsellors speed up the identification and utilization of skills and competences. Detailed information on all the tools can be found at the #showyourskills page of the foundation.
In her presentation, Ramona told her listeners how she works with both the Career Cards and my-professional-experience.org. How they make her and her colleagues able to turn an immigrant's blank slate-CV into something useful for the German labour market or educational system. And, not least, how the cards can help give immigrants the feeling that they and their competences are of value to the German society.
The cards are relatively simple to work with, and are purposefully designed to let each counsellor use them the way he or she finds best. There are no grand administrative tasks connected with the cards because, as Ramona says, "the counsellors are already busy with administrative tasks, where we have no freedom but to fill forms due to requirements of financing bodies." Therefore, the documenting of results is also an incorporated part of the cards. There are documentation templates with the cards, where the results can be listed, or the counsellor can simply take a picture of the selected cards and their ratings to add it to the documentation of the client.
So what is the aim of the cards? To clarify pathways to employment or education? Ramona replies that both is possible. She explains: "The Competence Cards help with extracting a person's gifts and talents. It helps in a counselling situation, to find suitable directions either into employment OR education like an apprenticeship.
In working with the Career Cards, I can very clearly present different job possibilities to the clients. And I have the full range of possibilities at stock as the cards inform about school or dual training as well as further training and higher education possibilities."
But the cards are not only for the labour market. It is also a valuable experience for the individuals who meet Ramona or her fellow counsellors. "A big plus for the individual is the empowerment that happens along the way. People see in front of them how many competences they actually have. And this often after a period of total loss of self-confidence. Many people hear that their qualities have no worth on the foreign labour market. But that is not the case.
Furthermore, people can also benefit if they double-check their professional plans or dreams against their competences. Sometimes the two do not correspond.
There is the possibility to prepare application papers with help of the cards or a preparation for job interviews. Again, the possibilities are manifold."
So how do the counsellors make sure, that the clients are honest in their replies? Well, in Ramona's experience the clients very rarely answer untruthfully. And if they do, it is often easy for the experienced counsellor to sense that something is not quite right. She makes sure that the client knows what exactly is meant and what the meaning of the respective card is.
So there is no doubt in Ramona's mind, that the cards work. They help the counsellors work more efficiently with clearer, better results. For the clients the process of finding out about their competences is entertaining and potentially builds up self-esteem.
She finishes our short conversation with one of many success stories from using the cards: "A Syrian engineer with acknowledged title had found support in the Competence Cards when we prepared the application papers.
Additionally, he could get a feeling of which competences were more important than others on the German labour market. With a first draft of the Career Cards we reconstructed the many different professional fields, where he worked in in the last 20 years (engineer, car mechanic, salesman, olive farmer) and build up his CV.
In using the website my-professional-experience.org we could break down his experience even more. After adding the detailed information about his professional experience to his application papers, a company invited him to an interview. Again, he prepared himself with the Competence Cards for the interview (Search for your 5 biggest strengths!).
He was invited for a 2-week internship and received a contract afterwards. One year later, he still works in the company and both the employer and the former client are satisfied with the situation.
This is an example that shows that labour market integration takes time and demands financing and manpower. It took three years and constant counselling to integrate a high qualified, acknowledged engineer with 20 years of experience, the ability to learn the language on a high level in a short time plus a great deal of motivation into the German labour market."
But the labour intensive procedure is not enough to make Ramona give up. The benefits of the cards and of validation of prior learning are worth way too much to ignore.
"We have good instruments and loads of work to do. Let´s get started!"