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Finding your German reference profession

Most Indians migrating to Germany for work have an academic degree. But did you know that in 2019, more than half of all vacancies were for candidates with a vocational qualification, such as electricians, technicians and nurses? And that’s not a new situation. For years, employers have struggled to fill vacancies for vocationally qualified talent. Nonetheless, immigration laws favoured highly qualified immigration while restricting immigration of candidates with the highly sought-after vocational professions to a limited amount of professions. The amendment of immigration laws in March 2020 marked an important shift towards easier immigration of skilled workers. However, one important thing remained: the recognition of qualifications as a key prerequisite for a work visa.

Unlike in case of academic degrees, which often only require a download from the database Anabin, showing the comparability of vocational degrees is a bit more complex. This often starts with the very first question you should ask yourself when getting your qualification recognised: For which reference profession do you want to get your degree recognised?

First things first: What is a reference profession?

A reference profession is the German qualification or trade that corresponds to the profession you belong to in your home country. In other words: It’s translation of your profession to the German context.

In Germany, the professional system is based on a century-long tradition is clearly structured. In fact, it is so organised that the Federal Employment Agency maintains a catalogue of all existing professions, classified by aspects such as professional domain, area of activity, qualification level etc. Every working professional in Germany can be assigned to a particular profession.

This being said, a reference profession isn’t the same as job designations – with 30.8 million people working in 3.5 million businesses (plus another 10+ million self-employed professionals, civil servants and mini jobbers) across Germany, categorising and constantly updating all jobs would be an overwhelming undertaking. Instead, reference professions predominantly look at the required entrance qualification and typical activities that a job entails.

While reference professions with academic entrance qualification are often broader (e.g. both an accountant’s and a marketing professional’s reference profession would be “business administrator”), this often isn’t the case for reference professions with a vocational entrance qualification. The reason for this is that, in Germany, vocational qualifications are obtained through a dual apprenticeship. Apprentices comprehensively learn the hard and soft skill required for a job, from planning and execution to quality check and even customer and business management processes. This contrasts academic studies, where students gain knowledge of a particular subject (e.g. the domain electrical engineering instead of the job electrical engineer), which qualifies them for a range of jobs after graduation.

Considering the differences between the German and Indian professional education system, correctly identifying a reference profession may take a bit of research. But it is worth the effort.

Why does your reference profession matter?

Your reference profession plays an important role in three different ways:

  1. It decides the competent authority of the recognition process
  2. It influences the recognition result
  3. It defines the career paths open to you after recognition

Let’s start with the first point: In Germany, different occupations and qualifications are governed by different authorities. Overall, there are more than 2,500 recognition authorities.

Based on your reference profession, you can find out which one is the relevant point of contact for you.

Once you’ve applied, your reference profession – or more precisely, the curriculum of the qualification that enabled you access to it – serves as the evaluation basis for the recognition process. With it, the competent authority evaluates and compare your foreign qualification with regard to aspects such as the training duration, the content of subjects studied and scope of practical learning components. Accordingly, it awards the level of equivalency (i.e. full, partial, or no recognition).

However, the reference profession doesn’t only impact the outcome and further recognition procedure. Particularly for vocational qualifications, it also defines what kind of jobs you are eligible for in Germany. When completing their training, apprenticeship graduates will be able to work in the job they trained for or one in a closely-related field. If they want to go into a different job profile, retraining would be required. When recognising your vocational qualification, the same is assumed for you.

Being mindful about selecting your reference profession can give you a long-term advantage. Sometimes it may wise to target a partial recognition for a reference profession that suits your long-term career aspirations instead of achieving full recognition for your current reference profession. Of course, this is only possible in certain limits, since you can only get skills recognised that you actually obtained. In other words: If you have a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering and you wish to a baker, simply putting a different reference profession won’t get you very far.

So, how can you find out your reference profession?

There are various ways to identify the reference profession most suitable to you. The most popular is probably the Recognition Finder on Anerkennung-in-Deutschland.de. All you have to do is enter the name of your profession in English and choose from the given suggestions. Alternatively, you can also select from list of professions. Once you’ve confirmed your reference profession, the Recognition Finder also directly helps you find the competent authority for recognition with information on the recognition procedure.

Recognition finder on www.anerkennung-in-deutschland.de

Its only downside is that the finder can only work with professions it knows – and these are typically the translation of the German trades. For example, you won’t be able to find the trade of “Welder” in the English version. What you would be able to find is the trade of „Plant Mechanic“, which would be the correct reference profession. However, if you don’t know that a plant mechanic corresponds to a welder in German system, your research will probably get stuck at this point.

A deeper research is possible on the database BERUFENET (literally the “professions net”), which is the more detailed online version of the profession catalogue of the Federal Employment Agency. Unlike the Recognition Finder, BERUFENET provides various points to start your research, such as sectors, activities, entrance qualifications or regulation status. Each profession provides comprehensive details on entry requirements, job content and context, and career prospects, including reference to similar professions. Whatever information about German professions it is you are looking for, the answer is almost always somewhere on BERUFENET.


There’s just one catch: Unlike the Recognition Finder, BERUFENET and its search function is available only in German. Nonetheless, if you auto-translate the website, you may still be able to work with it fairly well.

And if it doesn’t: Just ask ProRecognition.