Lack of Recognition of Qualifications

The 2011 Census revealed that people born in N Ireland were nearly twice as likely to have no qualifications as migrants from Central and Eastern European countries. Migrant workers, however, are often employed well below the level of their qualifications and in industries that are different from their area of expertise. Many migrants are confined to irregular and temporary work. Local research confirms that ‘underemployment’ contributes to poverty among minority-ethnic people.

Migrants may be happy to work below their skills level, for example while they try and improve their English, but it is still the case that others feel they are met with discrimination. According to the Equality Commission NI, many migrants have been prevented from registering for work with some recruitment agencies because they lacked English language skills, despite the fact they are recruiting for the type of work that would require very little verbal communication. Negative attitudes play a part. One group of researchers found that someone who had studied in South America was told that a qualification from a ‘jungle university’ was not acceptable.  There is also a lack of understanding about what different foreign qualifications mean (see below).

In some cases, it is clear that difficulty with language would prevent migrant workers from working effectively at the level of their skills and qualifications. However, some people are able to progress from job to job as their English improves and quite often there is a happy ending: ‘My qualification [from Poland] was in food technology. I started working in a chip shop in the village, then my English got better and I saw lots of opportunities to use my qualifications. I got a job as a quality control manager, what I always wanted to do in Poland.’

Checking foreign qualifications is time consuming, and it can be difficult to recognize the equivalency of foreign qualifications. Employers often lack the language skill to allow them to understand and accept foreign qualifications. The following information may help:

  • Employers can and should check qualification equivalencies through the National Academic Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).
  • There is a cost involved and there will be additional charges for the English language certification which most employers require.
  • The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) is licensed by NARIC, and several Jobs and Benefits Offices in Northern Ireland, as well as the EURES (European Employment Service) can provide you with comparison information and advice on your qualifications.
  • The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) makes it easier to compare the level of qualifications from different national within Europe. The EQF is coordinated jointly in Northern Ireland by the Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) (Northern Ireland) and The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) in England.