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Transfer knowledge, share experiences, learn from each another - From the German ProfilPASS to the Pasos kompetencija in the Western Balkan countries

Brigitte Bosche
Valoda: EN
Document available also in: DE HR

Reading time approximately 13 minutes – read, like, comment!

Original language: German

People often have more competencies  than they think. This especially applies to things which they learned outside of school and formal training, for example via voluntary work, as a hobby, in the family or as a result of particularly challenging life situations. The ProfilPASS has existed in Germany since 2006. It helps people to systematically identify and document what they have learned during their lives. Trained advisors assist them in identifying their individual strengths. When the process is completed, they receive a competence record and are also in a stronger position to plan their future. To date, over 300,000 adults and youths in Germany have used the ProfilPASS.

The ProfilPASS has also gained increasing recognition outside Germany, thanks to international joint education projects as well as dissemination activities carried out by the Service Unit ProfilPASS at the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE).

With support from the German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), and thanks to the special commitment shown by local colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ProfilPASS is  now well established in the Western Balkan countries. In the following interview, Amra Muratovic (GIZ) and Brigitte Bosche (DIE) report on how the transfer was achieved and what both sides learned from the process.


How did it all begin?

Amra Muratovic: My country Bosnia and Herzegovina faces major economic and socio-political challenges when it comes to shaping transformation processes in society, particularly with respect to European integration. The country suffers from high unemployment (39% in 2019) on the one hand, and a lack of skilled workers on the other. Emigration of the labour force is also a major issue. The education and training system is not designed to meet the challenges of globalisation and the modern economy. In addition, many men and women, partly due to the war (1992–1995), have only a low level of formal education or have no school leaving certificate at all. The education system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is decentralised and divided into federal and cantonal areas of responsibility. On the national level, there is an education department in the Ministry of Civil Affairs, while both entities (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska) have their own ministries of education, as do the Federation’s ten cantons. Due to the complex political structures, legislative and strategy-building processes are thus a major challenge on the national level.

In order to reduce the gap between supply and demand on the labour market and to improve the employability of men and women, my employer, the German development agency GIZ, supported various programmes and projects from 2011 to 2019 whose aim it was to promote adult learning which focused on the needs of the adult population and the labour market. The emphasis was less on formal school leaving certificates and qualifications and more on the recognition of competencies which people have acquired in various areas of life, including non-formally and informally.

As an employee of the GIZ, I was very drawn to this idea of re-evaluating informally acquired skills and competencies. After all, I too am from the generation which had to interrupt its schooling during the war. It took great effort on my part to complete my school education after the war and to go on to study.


Why did we decide on the ProfilPASS for Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Amra Muratovic: While doing research on the recognition of informally acquired competencies in 2010, I stumbled on the German ProfilPASS and spent hours reading up on it. With a certain longing I thought: “A tool like this would be perfect for my country, for Bosnia and Herzegovina...”. At the time, I had no idea that ten years later this tool would be well established in three Western Balkan countries. I also could have had no idea that very fulfilling and challenging years lay ahead of me on a professional level, years in which I would play an active part in establishing a ProfilPASS system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

For us at the GIZ, the ProfilPASS was and remains an ideal tool for reacting to this paradox of a lack of skilled workers and very high unemployment. This tool gives unemployed adults and youths the chance to make a record of their skills, abilities and competencies and to no longer rely exclusively on their formal qualifications. The ProfilPASS thus allows, for the first time, non-formal and informal learning to be seen as an important and inseparable part of an educational biography. This is coupled with a paradigm shift in the education system towards a greater focus on competencies, which in turn has effects on the labour market and employers.  Employers will have to decide whether to select applicants based on their formal qualification – which comes from an outdated, and after the war, highly corrupt, education system – or whether to focus on potential employees’ actual competencies, for which, however, they lack a diploma or certificate.


How did we proceed in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Amra Muratovic: Many years’ experience at the GIZ and research into the transfer of education systems have shown that just because a product works well in one country there is no guarantee that it will prove useful in another. In the case of the ProfilPASS, in Bosnia and Herzegovina it has to contend with skilled workers who have been trained differently, a differently structured labour market and an education system that traditionally places little value on competencies.

It was thus clear from the beginning that simply translating the ProfilPASS into the local languages would not be enough. Instead, it was necessary to adapt the questions and biographical examples contained in the ProfilPASS to the economic context of Bosnia and Herzegovina. To ensure that the product would be accepted by advisors and used by people, the GIZ involved stakeholders in the process of adapting the ProfilPASS from the very beginning of the project.

From March 2012 to August 2013, a highly diverse working group (see info box) worked on adapting the tool and tested, evaluated and developed the various versions with focus groups in several phases. Whenever we faced a new challenge, I phoned Brigitte for advice. I asked her about her experiences in Germany and these conversations always provided me with fresh ideas as well as renewed energy to keep going.

Brigitte Bosche: After briefly getting to know each other when Amra visited our institute at the end of 2012, we discussed the adaptation process primarily by phone and email. My experiences as a systemic advisor were very useful to me in this respect, as they had taught me the importance of questions when it comes to finding solutions and that the key thing – also in the case of the ProfilPASS – is to have faith in the resources of the participants. For example, I asked Amra what was already working well, provided feedback on the different perspectives in the working group and stressed the importance of thinking in a goal-oriented way rather than focusing on causes and the past. Amra’s enthusiasm for the tool was strong from the very beginning and remains so today. As a result, I too was regularly reminded of the potential of the ProfilPASS for the most diverse target groups. When, in 2013, we carried out our first EU KISS project to transfer the ProfilPASS to Spain, Ireland, France and Slovenia, we invited Amra to the first project meeting. She shared her experiences with us there and her enthusiasm gave long-lasting motivation to the entire group.

Amra Muratovic: In October 2013, after almost two years of development work, we finally held our “competencies passport” in our hands. In our language it is called the “Pasos kompetencija”.

Advice and support are an essential component of the ProfilPASS system. In Germany, people who are qualified as advisors or can provide evidence of experience in an advisory role receive training over several days. Competencies as an advisor are thus a prerequisite. The education system in Bosnia-Herzegovina does not provide any formal or non-formal training for advisors. The challenge we faced was to both teach people how to use the Pasos kompetencija and to give them some basic training as advisors. As the working group’s 18 members lived in very different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the plan was to begin training the new advisors in early 2014, we launched an online forum for the development and used it to work intensively together over the following six months.

By April 2014, after this intensive period of work, we had developed training consisting of five modules for future competencies passport advisors and written two manuals and a toolkit for the advisory sessions. In this instance, too, we were able to build on the advice offered by Brigitte. For example, specific experiences from the training of German ProfilPASS advisors informed our own training programme.

In May 2014, we offered training to 74 future competencies passport advisors in five different cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Additional training sessions took place up to December 2017 which were informed by the experience gained in the previous training sessions.

After these positive experiences, we worked with Brigitte to lay the groundwork for adapting the ProfilPASS for young people for use in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On this occasion the adaptation process was faster, as we were able to draw on the experience gained in the previous years. An additional manual for working with the tool was developed, as was a new module for the training. Alongside this, the previous five training modules were adapted based on evaluations and feedback from participants after each session was completed. We also grew as a development team while adapting the two types of competencies passport by developing our own competencies. It was possible to carry out the first advisory sessions with the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Pasos kompetencija for young people in early 2016.

Since then, more than 2,100 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have benefited from advice in relation to the competencies passports, including students, job seekers, the long-term unemployed, employees in search of a new challenge, orphans, and young people seeking vocational orientation. At the request of some employers, advice was also provided to employees with the aim of identifying continuing education requirements. Advertisements and videos on television helped to raise awareness in the country.


Further dissemination in Serbia and Kosovo

Amra Muratovic: In mid 2017, we were able to obtain new funds from the German government’s special programme “Perspektive Heimat” and thus began a new stage in disseminating the Pasos kompetencijaes in the Western Balkans.

Until mid 2017, both tools – the Pasos kompetencija and the Pasos kompetencija for young people – were only known in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The newly acquired funds allowed us to further develop and disseminate this wonderful and successful project. In two additional Western Balkan countries we identified partners who work with vulnerable groups and people returning from Germany (asylum seekers whose applications were rejected in 2014 and 2015). Together with these partner organisations, with the experienced experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina and with support from the DIE, we began to develop ProfilPASS systems in Serbia and Kosovo.

The Bosnian-Herzegovinian version of the Pasos kompetencija was translated into Serbian and Albanian and the content was again adapted to the particular political and cultural circumstances of each country. Once they had been translated, we were able to use the manuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina without further adaptation, as the education systems in both countries are based on the same system from former Yugoslavia. Training was provided to future advisors in Serbia and Kosovo and in early 2018 it was already possible to provide the first advisory services to vulnerable groups and people returning to those countries. The process was reported on in a television programme (without English subtitles).

Films were made to raise awareness about the Pasos kompetencija. In these films, participants from Serbia and Kosovo describe their experiences with the advisory service.

Alongside this process, we wanted to support regional cooperation between certified advisors for the Pasos kompetencija. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Network S.K.I.L.L.S had already been fulfilling the role of a service unit based on the German model since September 2017. We incorporated these developments in Serbia and Kosovo by providing advice and financial support. In addition, we wanted to ensure that the collaboration and dialogue between all advisors in the Balkans region continued beyond the end of 2019. 

This goal was important to us for several reasons. On the one hand, we wanted to promote professionalisation via dialogue and networking among the various advisors, and on the other hand, we considered it of great political importance to show that the stakeholders from various countries which were at war for several years in the early to mid-1990s both wanted and were able to work together. The external perspective offered by the DIE and Brigitte’s many years of experience were very helpful in promoting the process of regional collaboration in the Western Balkans.

© Imrana Kapetanovic

Brigitte Bosche: In order to get closer to our goal, we jointly organised and moderated two-day conferences in Belgrade in June 2018 and in Sarajevo in September 2019. In our own talks and as moderators we drew attention to both the value and the possibility of cross-border collaboration. By way of example, I referred to the DIE-coordinated EU projects whose products are freely available for anyone to use. This cross-border collaboration was a new experience for the majority of the participants, as the wounds left by war in the Balkans are still far from healed. Everyone was inspired by the idea that people can do more than they think and that these competencies can be brought to light with the help of an advisor who draws on various methods and encourages reflection. At the end of the conference, one advisor hit the nail on the head: “The Balkans are divided. The ProfilPASS unites.” Personally, I was inspired by the high level of commitment shown by the participants, who managed to successfully integrate the Pasos kompetencija into their advisory work.



Brigitte Bosche: I have been working for more than ten years in the Service Unit ProfilPASS. It is a great tool because, with the help of advisors, it shows people that they are capable of more than  their certificates say. Reflecting on competencies boosts people’s self-esteem, and once the advisory process is complete they are better equipped to plan their future in a goal-oriented way. Evidence for this can be seen in a survey which we carried out at the DIE, as well in user surveys which Amra and her colleagues in the GIZ carried out. 

Infrastructure is needed to ensure that good products retain their long-term usefulness even after funding for a project ends. For this reason, in 2006, the Service Unit ProfilPASS was established to promote quality assurance, evaluation and networking among the community of advisors (see info box). As part of my advisory work, I therefore recommended that in all countries an organisation should be found or set up which can take on these tasks. This recommendation has already been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina by experienced advisors who set up the Association S.K.I.L.L.S. In Kosovo the two NGOs Environment and Community Development (ECD) and Domovik will be responsible for the tasks, and in Serbia the plan is for the Association MAPS, made up of advisors, to play a similar role.

It was a rewarding experience for both me and the Service Unit ProfilPASS to see how the ProfilPASS could also have this positive effect in other countries. The process involved more than just translating a product and transferring its infrastructure. Rather, it consisted of a bi-directional transfer of knowledge from which both sides benefited enormously. This wonderful film from the Network S.K.I.L.L.S. offers a clear summary of the developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Pasos kompetencija

  • Job centres, ministries of education, chambers of skilled crafts, the Agency for Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education, as well as pedagogical experts, psychologists, economists and linguists were all involved in adapting and developing the German ProfilPASS into what became the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Pasos kompetencija. 
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina the Association S.K.I.L.L.S. is involved in disseminating and ensuring the quality of the Pasos Kompetencija. 
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina 11 “Pasos kompetencija” multipliers and 90 advisors have been trained.
  • In Serbia 35 advisors work with the Pasos kompetencija, while in Kosovo the number is 21. 
  • Around 2,100 users in Bosnia and Herzegovina have benefited from the advisory service.  
  • In Serbia and Kosovo advice has been given to 650 people (predominantly vulnerable groups and people returning to the country). 

Use and impact of the Pasos kompetencija in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In June 2017, the GIZ ran several information-based events for employers regarding the potential of the Pasos kompetencija. The results of a subsequent survey in which 74 SMEs participated showed that:

  • 89% of those surveyed were aware of the Pasos kompetencija.  
  • In the case of 55% of those surveyed, job applicants had included the competence record in their submitted documents.   
  • 82% considered the Pasos kompetencija beneficial in helping them select applicants.

In another survey carried out in 2017, 984 users from Bosnia and Herzegovina were asked about changes in their employment status: 

  • Almost one in four (23%) of those surveyed claimed to be actively seeking work. 
  • Almost one third (34%) were invited for a job interview after completing the Pasos kompetencija advisory process.
  • 9% made the leap into self-employment.  

While the project was running in 2018 and 2019, a total of 650 people in Serbia and Kosovo were asked about their employment status: 

  • 12.17% found paid work within three months of completing the advisory process. 
  • After receiving advice, 8.87% undertook various activities to promote their (re-)integration into society (for example, they attended continuing education courses or completed their primary education).  
  • 1.84% found better-paid work.   

ProfilPASS in Germany

  • The ProfilPASS system consists of a ProfilPASS portfolio and an advisory service which helps people to reflect upon their life and work experience and to identify their competencies. 
  • The ProfilPASS is available as a printed workbook and in digital format. There are also different versions for different target groups. It is supported by the Service Unit ProfilPASS at the German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE). 
  • The Service Unit lies at the heart of the ProfilPASS infrastructure. It is the main contact point for ProfilPASS stakeholders and is responsible for maintaining and continuing to develop the entire ProfilPASS system. Specifically, the Service Unit has the following responsibilities:
  • Coordinating and networking the ProfilPASS stakeholders
  • Quality assurance
  • Continuing to develop the academic aspect
  • Dissemination in Germany and abroad
  • In Germany, around 30 ProfilPASS multipliers train advisors in the use of the ProfilPASS. 
  • Around 30 ProfilPASS centres for dialogue help to support the work of the Service Unit, above all with respect to public relations and disseminating the ProfilPASS in Germany. 
  • Since 2006, a total of 9,631 advisors in Germany have completed the training, of which 1,138 are, as certified advisors, members in the advisors’ network. 
  • All stakeholders have been professionally trained and regularly undergo re-certification processes to demonstrate their ongoing suitability for the work. 
  • Since 2013, the DIE has carried out four EU projects as part of the Erasmus+ Programme and has worked with international partners to develop the ProfilPASS for additional target groups.
  • Further information:

Further information on the ProfilPASS and Pasos kompetencija 

You can find more videos featuring users of the Pasos kompetencija here: 

About the authors:

Brigitte Bosche (left) is a research associate at the German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in Bonn.

Amra Muratovic (right) is a project manager at the German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 



Additional EPALE articles on the topic:

Better counselling for new immigrants with the SCOUT toolkit

EPALE podcast: Interview with Brigitte Bosche and Anne Strauch from the German Institute for Adult Education [EN]


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