Competence Cards: 7 languages and an image bridge the gap between guidance systems for VPL


Dr. Martin Noack

Senior Expert

In Germany's fragmented guidance system the Competence Cards ( open the path to a learner's successful VPL journey from migration counseling to employment services and beyond.

The successful integration of the more than 1.3 million new asylum applicants across Europe last year into our societies starts with their integration into the labour market. In order to achieve this, immigrants need to learn new skills, especially their host country’s language. But they also need to get the chance to put their existing skills to work. For this, it is crucial we provide the means to help identify, document and certify their professional competences. Bertelsmann Stiftung has worked on VPL for five years now. We have asked ourselves: How can we identify and document the competences migrants and refugees and other learners possess in a quick and easy manner? And how can we bridge existing gaps between the different guidance systems in Germany, so that the VPL journey is as successful as possible.

Our Competence Cards, which use a language free key visual to visualize each competence and are accompanied by a translation of the competence in 7 languages provide one answer to that question. The Cards are available in English and licensed as open content using CC BY SA 4.0, so they can be adapted easily to different contexts. The presentation with shortly present the cards and their development process, which involved actors from the three major guidance systems for migrants in Germany.

Target group, content and methodological approach

The 46 Competence Cards offer a flexible and low-threshold entry to competence analysis. They are designed for migrants but can be and are used in other contexts as well. They paint a picture of people’s social, personal and (in parts) professional competences. Offering a graphic representation of the respective competence as a first impression, the cards differ from more complicated and text-based instruments that migrants are often unable to fully understand. Furthermore, the translation of each competence in several languages and a description of the trait in simple language helps to gain a deeper understanding of which competence is referred to by a particular card. Together with 11 cards that provide insight into participants’ interests, the competence cards can be used for professional orientation, for the preparation of job applications, as a facilitator in the profiling at public employment services,  as well as for the empowerment of clients in general. Feedback from practitioners also shows that when dealing with clients who suffer from  traumatic experience, the cards can break the ice in guidance sessions and have a positive motivational effect on participants.

Background and development of the Competence Cards

The Competence Cards were developed in the last 3 years together with migrant counsellors from the seven German welfare associations and experts of competence analysis. The aim was to build an easily accessible and standardised instrument that can be used in counselling sessions for migrants. Additionally, the cards are designed to support the transition of the client from counselling to labour agencies and thus also assist their competence-based job placement.

Duration and costs of application

The duration depends on how much time and experience the counsellor has, as well as on the purpose of the diagnosis. A short analysis is already possible in less than 15 minutes. For a complete analysis of professional potential a 1 to 1.5 hour timeframe should be anticipated. The cards can be downloaded for printing at Physical copies of the cards are available as a Toolbox in German for 19.- € (ISBN: 978-3-86793-779-5).

Results and validity

During the counselling sessions, the competences of the client are identified and rated in relation to their intensity. Questions on the backside of the cards help the counsellor to assess the plausibility of the client’s self-report. A survey of 60 migration counsellors showed that the visualisations and descriptions were almost always immediately understood by clients. A second survey of guidance practitioners (n= 202) after the first 6 months in the field revealed:

  • Guides got to know clients faster and better (65 %)
  • Better documentation of identified competences was possible (63 %)
  • Using competence cards prepares clients very well for profiling of PES (61 %)
  • More practical guidance is possible (57 %)
  • More flexible arrangement of guidance is possible (48 %)
  • Competence cards offer concrete support, e.g. for compiling applications or CVs (48 %)
  • More time-effective guidance is possible (40 %) 

Currently a third survey (n= 549) is being analysed, particuarly with a focus on the next stage: The development of "Profession Cards". Results will be presented also during this session.

Prerequisites for the application of the Competence Cards

A 10-minute video and a 2-page-instruction manual offer sufficient explanation for a guide to start working with the cards. With more experience, it becomes increasingly easier to detect even hidden competences and to connect them to the national labour market.

Linking the Competence Cards to labour market integration

Employment agencies were included during the development process of the cards and thus 20 of the 46 cards match the competences that are being used in their profiling process of the PES. These specific cards are identifiable by their red frame. While also including reference to clients’ central interests and hobbies, the Competence Cards can also provide assistance in the drafting of application letters and CVs.


Currently more than 9.000 sets of Competence Cards are in use Germanywide. They are used in migration counselling, in projects dealing with labour market integration, in public employment services, in volontary refugee initiatives, in youth welfare offices, with career guidance practitioners and even in VET Schools with slightly handicapped people. The Cards being licensed under CC BY SA have been adapted to a number for foreign languages as well. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in applying the cards in the context of your country.

Possible role in a national system of validation of informal and non-formal learning

Through the use of the Competence Cards refugees and migrants alike can be supported in taking the first steps towards validating their competences, which is an important entry ticket into the host country’s labour market. However, further instruments are needed which go beyond the identification and documentation of competences and are able to compare those to the standard of the formal education system. Our study “When competences become occupation opportunities” ( revealed that in Germany these structures still need to be established. In the meantime, instruments like the Competence Cards are becoming an established tool for any labour market and education guidances structure. Everyone profits from knowing more about their competences. Only if we put more effort into finding out what people can do and already did, can we become more certain in what way they can best contribute to society. And this not only helps to provide people with fair participation opportunities but also addresses existing skills shortages.