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Establishing transnational skills partnerships

Sustainable results in acquiring skilled workers from abroad can be achieved only if the interests of the destination countries, the countries of origin and the migrants themselves are all taken sufficiently into account. In line with this triple-win perspective, the Bertelsmann Stiftung has been conducting research into the transnational skills partnership approach since 2015. The concept of transnational skills partnerships describes a novel form of migration centered around work and vocational-training opportunities, and is used as a generic term for transnational models that link development-oriented migration policy with (vocational) education policy, and thus aim at a fair distribution of the benefits associated with the migration of skilled workers.

In instances where skills partnerships begin at the skills-development phase, rather than later with the recruitment of skilled workers, they have the potential to strengthen the pool of skilled labor globally. They also help generate the necessary balance of interests between all parties and reduce harmful effects of labor migration such as brain drains. In this way, countries of origin no longer derive gains solely from the remittances sent home by migrants, but also benefit from a vital boost to their domestic vocational-training systems and labor markets. Germany also benefits by gaining access to skilled workers from abroad, and can steer the urgently needed migration of skilled workers into orderly, regular and thus secure channels.

Contact Persons

Foto Najim Azahaf
Najim Azahaf
Senior Project Manager
Foto Susanne U. Schultz
Dr. Susanne U. Schultz
Senior Expert



After researching good practices, conducting empirical feasibility studies in potential partner countries, and engaging in an ongoing exchange of knowledge and experiences with experts and practitioners in the field, we have presented our findings in international forums such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)and at the

United Nations (UN)

. The approach’s inclusion in the

U.N. Global Compact on Migration (Goal 18e)

has placed it on a new legal footing and raised its profile within the international community. In the future, it will be important to explore the transferability and potential for scaling associated with such partnerships across a variety of migration corridors, for example on the African continent.

In order to further strengthen this development-oriented perspective for the acquisition of skilled workers in Germany, we will:

  1. Continue to expand the knowledge base through practical, application-oriented studies and expert opinion papers, and present the results in national and international forums;
  2. Test scaling strategies by participating in pilot projects of various types;
  3. As part of our non-profit mission, network with and help strengthen stakeholders from the policy, business and civil society spheres, through platforms for learning and dialogue.

1. Studies and Expert Opinion Papers

In the context of a well-designed research program, we want to investigate how skills partnerships inspired by the triple-win concept can in the future be established on a broad basis and in a variety of different regions around the world. Our work analyzes the conceptual foundations; systemic hurdles; and policy, legal, economic and social bottlenecks. We additionally use empirical case studies to examine the feasibility of the approach within specific potential partner countries.

Policy Brief: Fostering transnational skills partnerships in Germany
This foundational-level policy brief presents a typology based on concrete case studies. With a view toward systemic hurdles to scaling, it formulates a set of key recommendations as to how the skills-partnership approach can be advanced in the context of Germany’s new Skilled Immigration Act. (Download DE | ENG)

Study: Transnational Skills and Mobility Partnerships (TSMP)
To date, there has been very little empirical analysis of specific skills partnerships. This study by Michael Sauer and Jurica Volarevic Abhilfe remedies this situation by conducting an analysis of skills partnerships, using experiences in the Republic of Kosovo as a particular focus. It carries out an inventory of the conceptual discourse and practical experiences, and proposes a typology that can help better order the field’s existing empirical diversity, thus making it easier to grasp conceptually. (Download DE | ENG)

Feasibility studies on a skills partnership between NRW and Ghana

Partnership approaches are also being pursued in Germany at the federal-state level. The federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the country of Ghana have maintained a partnership since 2007, which has generated both civil society and economic links. Two exploratory studies examine the underlying conditions and possible points of departure for a transnational skills partnership in this context:

The Transnational Skills Partnerships between Ghana and North Rhine-Westphalia study, conducted by the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute (ABI) in Freiburg and the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) at the University of Ghana in Accra, and coordinated by the Stiftung Mercator, examines underlying conditions in Ghana and potential starting points for a skills partnership between that country and the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the construction sector. (Download ENG)

Another exploratory study examines specific potential starting points among companies and key actors in North Rhine-Westphalia – focusing especially on a possible partnership training skilled workers in the construction sector, again with a focus on Ghana. It is available only in German: Innovation durch Kooperation: Ausbildungspartnerschaften im Bausektor. (Download DE)

The policy note Transnational Skills Partnerships between Ghana and Germany: A "Triple-Win" Solution? summarizes the potential inherent in cooperation of this kind for both sides.

2. Participation in Pilot Projects

In order to gain practical knowledge and test scaling strategies for future vocational-training projects, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is participating in specific pilot projects of different types in a number of countries and regions of the world.

Nursing skills partnership with the Philippines

This project is being conducted jointly with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). In it, a long-term skills partnership is being established in which the qualifications necessary within the German labor market are granted directly at a university in the Philippines as part of the regular course of training there, thus enabling immediate recognition in Germany following the completion of studies. In addition, in-depth language skills and specialist skills are taught, and intercultural modules prepare students for life and work in Germany. To this end, content from the German training curriculum is integrated into the partner institution’s existing curriculum, and a skills lab is being equipped to support the practical aspects of the training program. These additional offers are also open to students who do not wish to leave for Germany after completing their studies (through the so-called home track). The knowledge they acquire benefits the country of origin as well as employers in Germany.

More information on the program can be found (in German) in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Change Magazine (pp. 12 – 19).

Nursing skills partnerships with South Africa

The new Skilled Immigration Act (FEG) in Germany has opened new immigration-based paths into the German vocational-training system. Allowing foreign workers to undergo a full vocational training program in Germany also facilitates the acquisition of skilled workers in line with the triple-win concept. The advantages of this approach are that the countries of origin do not lose qualified skilled workers (brain drain) or the associated human capital investments (fiscal drain). Rather, new skilled workers are trained to meet the specific requirements of the German labor market. In order to better investigate the potential of and limitations to this type of skills partnership, we have provided financial and non-material support to uNowanga, a start-up in South Africa. Working jointly with the Order of St. John, uNowanga places stipend-funded nursing assistants in German long-term care facilities with the ultimate goal of training them as nursing professionals. This relieves pressure on the South African labor market, opens up new opportunities for the young South Africans, and at the same time contributes to overcoming the nursing-care shortage in Germany. Find more information on the project here.

3. Learning and Dialogue Platforms for Stakeholders

In order to communicate existing knowledge and experience in the area of transnational skills partnerships, and to share strategies and concepts with the potential to improve the current conditions, we are establishing a platform for dialogue between relevant stakeholders (e.g., ministries, social partners, chambers and trade associations, companies, foundations, etc.) in the German-speaking countries. The participating stakeholders are thus provided with an opportunity to network more effectively with one another, and are made aware of the triple-win paradigm and the goals of the UN Global Compact on Migration.