Transnational Skills Partnerships between Ghana and Germany: A “triple-win” solution?

Introduction

by Stefan Rother, Susanne Schultz and Mary B. Setrana

In 2015, the Valletta summit action plan recommended to “develop networks between European and African vocational training institutions, with a view to ensuring that vocational training matches labour market needs”. The EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, moreover, proposes “talent partnerships” as a solution to match labour and skills needs in EU Member States with the relevant institutions in key countries of origin to eventually  support mobility and migration schemes for labour and training purposes.

World leaders at the 2015 Valletta Summit. Photo by the European External Action Service via Flickr

Transnational Mobility and Skill Partnerships (TMSP) that contribute to fair migration have been high on the migration policy agenda for several years now. The conceptual groundwork, first laid out by the economist Michael Clemens, has been widely discussed, and the adoption of the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration (GCM) has brought further attention to the issue. Objective 18e of the GCM explicitly commits to: “Build global skills partnerships among countries that strengthen training capacities of national authorities and relevant stakeholders, including the private sector and trade unions, and foster skills development of workers in countries of origin and migrants in countries of destination with a view to preparing trainees for employability in the labour markets of all participating countries”.

However, these high aspirations have not resulted in many concrete projects, much less larger scale approaches. The focus of the few existing partnerships so far have been mostly on nurse training and employment, with some promising programs – such as the German GIZ Triple-Win-Program – supporting their fair recruitment from countries such as the Philippines and Tunisia . Beyond nursing, the GIZ started a German-Moroccan Partnership for the Training and Recruitment of Skilled Workers in 2019, which seems to work with some success. Moreover, a number of small pilot projects on “Legal skilled migration”, Nigeria with Lithuania, Morocco with Belgium and Spain; as well as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt with France,  have been launched under the Mobility Partnership Facility, providing first lessons learned. What is still missing, though, are firstly, a broadening of programmes to include further sectors of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and employment; and secondly, an implementation of programmes that benefit all sides. To push this discussion forward, we have conducted two exploratory studies proposing a project which works towards a partnership that could support the migration of construction workers between Ghana and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), as a joint development of skilled workers taking the benefit of all sides into consideration.

Transnational Mobility Skill Partnerships (TMSP)

Photo by Mary Setrana

There are different forms of multi-stakeholder TMSP. The most ambitious and complex approach (Type 3) is based on investment in the educational sector of the country of origin and seeks to establish a two-track programme. Students can choose between the home track, where they receive training for the domestic labour market, and the abroad track, which qualifies them for labour migration to a specific destination country. This approach promises to relieve the country of origin of the cost of training of the workers who leave the country, while still being cost effective for the destination country. Such “Type 3” transnational qualifications and mobility partnerships (Azahaf 2020) have not been put into practice yet, not least as it requires an integrated approach of multiple stakeholders and the long-term investment needed to build up trust, and develop convincing and sustainable business models. One major hindrance so far has been the gap between the skills training systems of the country of origin and the requirements of the country of destination. More common are partnerships where training received in the country of origin is “adjusted” in the country of destination (Type 1); and partnerships where migrants acquire language skills in their country of origin while the vocational training takes place in accordance with the specific standards and regulations in the country of destination (Type 2). The Head of Monitoring and Evaluation, NVTI-Ghana, summarises the interest of his organisation in these kinds of transnational partnerships this way:

“Training could be done in Ghana before students leave Ghana or training could be done when they arrive in Germany. We can also identify specific institutions that can incorporate German language into their system”

Head of Monitoring and Evaluation, National Vocational Training Institute, Ghana, Dec 2020

Why Ghana?

Photo by Mary Setrana

Ghana is considered to be a particularly suited partner country due to its young workforce, democratic and economic stability as well as high regard for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). So far, the construction sector is much more developed compared to other TVET measures for a transnational skill partnership. Meanwhile, it is highly informalized due to low levels of education, which increases the unemployment of skilled workers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a decrease in employment by government projects, which used to be the biggest employer of construction workers in the country. This recent downturn is coupled with the debt-stricken nature of the construction industry: contractors are not paid for long-lasting projects by the government, rendering contractors unable to fund their projects, which results in a decrease in the amount the government spends on infrastructure while the cost of construction increases. These gaps in the construction sector could be addressed through a global skill partnership: training and upgrading skills that could contribute to the industrial sector of Ghana and of other countries as well. To this end, all the relevant stakeholders such as the Ghanaian National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI), the Council for Technical and Vocation Education Training (COTVET) and other technical institutes) engaged in the exploratory study in Ghana expressed the willingness to collaborate with Germany.

Country/region of destination perspective

In Germany, Federal States adopted the first resolution of their development policy commitment as early as 1962, affirming cooperation with African states and cities in 2017. The partnership between the Federal State of North-Rheine Westphalia and Ghana since 2007 strategically ties up with a multiplicity of pre-existing civil society initiatives with a focus on sustainable development, including transnational projects on skills training and exchange.

Photo by Mary Setrana

The construction sector in Germany has barely suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary, it is to be expected that the already omnipresent lack of skilled workers at all levels (KOFA, 2021) is likely to increase due to an aging workforce. Employers have already shown a significant openness towards recruiting foreign workers, offering skilled training for interested and engaged young persons, including people coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. Some construction companies have expressed high satisfaction and good experiences with workers with a refugee background in Germany in that respect. This need for skilled personnel in the construction sector has barely been addressed in the debate on skilled migration, but the sector seems ready for developing transnational skills partnerships. Since March 2020, the Immigration Act for Skilled Workers (Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz – FEG) facilitates legally entering Germany for skills training, which should make such initiatives easier to implement.    

Recommendations for a skills partnership

Based on our exploratory studies, we propose a type of skills partnership, where training is split between countries of origin and destination. In this “Type 2.5” approach, some fundamental skills (for example the equivalent to a German Bauhelfer, or construction assistant) could be taught in Ghana along with German language training embedded within the local TVET system, with the potential to access further specific training after migration to Germany. In a first step, training would likely be implemented as a full dual-vocational -training according to German standards following a preparatory year, with prospectively acknowledging further skills obtained in the country of origin. Drop-outs during the phase in Ghana would ideally continue their skills training in the TVET system with a sustainable job perspective in the local labour market. If participants in Germany decide to leave the programme, they would have acquired skills useful in the Ghanaian context. This “Type 2.5” approach could easily be integrated into the curriculum of the Ghanaian National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) or other training institutes such as the Accra Technical Training Institute (ATTC). German language training would be provided by established German institutions in Ghana. 

“we are confident that our students can easily fit into the German market, we are willing to provide German specific upgraded skills to our students”

 Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET) Representative, 2020

Photo by Mary Setrana

Our exploratory studies have also shown that there is significant will among stakeholders in Ghana and interest on both the German and Ghana sides. This is an essential condition for establishing a pilot project – the other one is obviously money, not least for ensuring a sustainable systemic implementation on the longer run. In the spirit of a transnational skills partnership, the training in Ghana needs to be financed at least partially by the destination country. This could be situated within the existing development cooperation as a case of “training the trainers”. Within the Type 2.5 approach, one could furthermore envision a public-private partnership for making a sound business case, which could be beneficial for all sides. The Ghanaian Business Association and the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Ghana (AHK Ghana) are relevant stakeholders in this regard. Existing German businesses in Ghana would be the longer-term financers, providing opportunities to students for gathering practical experiences and benefit from potential in-country employment in both countries.

We propose to work towards a type of partnership that aims to exploit development potentials for the country of origin, while the country of destination would benefit from the supply of skilled labour and the migrants themselves would benefit from (up)skilling and remittances. This model could provide the Technical and Vocation Education Training sector with further development in terms of standards, employability and balancing practical and theoretical aspects of formal education.

About the authors

Stefan Rother is senor research and lecturer at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute at the University of Freiburg. His research focus is on migration governance, social movements and migration and democracy. In 2019, he was convener of the International Fellow Group (IFG) at the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) at the University of Ghana.

Susanne Schultz is a Project Manager of “Making Fair Migration a Reality” at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German Think tank. She holds a PhD in Return Migration and West Africa and is an Associated Research Fellow at the Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development (COMCAD) at Bielefeld University.

Mary Setrana is senior lecturer at the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana. Her research focus is on Gender and Migration, Return Migration and Reintegration, Migration Governance, Transnational Migration and Diaspora’s. In 2019, Mary was a fellow at the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) at the University of Ghana.