Theorising Competence Development

It was a great pleasure to give the webinar on October 27 for the around 45 experts who are interested in the work of REAL (the Institute for Researching Education and Labour) of WITS University in Johannesburg, South-Africa. The webinar would originality address competence theory, research and practice, but it was turned into ‘The Challenge of Theorising Competence Development: A Focus on the Public Sector’, because most questions were about that. Thank you Presha Ramsarup for the invitation and facilitation. Thanks Kate Mlanzi for your introduction, and I am sorry you lost connection, and could not finish. I am sorry Stephanie Allais for the bad connection and that you could not make it. REAL recorded the webinar, and will put it on the YouTube channel of the Institute. That way, interested colleagues who were not able to attend can see the recording. Here you can download the PPT.211026 Theorizing Competence

Various questions were put upfront for which I prepared answers. One was about the theoretical value of the concept of competence. That was the same question raised by colleagues at the former chair group of Education and Competence Studies at Wageningen University, some 20 years ago. At that time, the answer on that question was not very clear yet. But during the last years, after more reflection. I came to the conclusion that the competence concept:

  • Explains variation in performance (see the AMO-model of Appelbaum)
  • Triggers motivation (see the CAR-model of Deci & Ryan)
  • Points at improvement potential (see the theory of worthy performance of Gilbert)
  • Articulates domains of teaching (based on job profile research)
  • Holds course of learning (see the core competence theory of Prahalad & Hamel)
  • Provides communication language (about learning and development priorities)
  • Defines expectations frameworks (for professions, educational programs, careers)
  • Includes application of knowledge in practice
  • Stresses the importance of the attitude dimension in education

There were also questions during the session. One question kept coming to my mind, which was the question about the meaning of competence in a country like South-Africa, with its history of apartheid and fundamental social injustice. This question reminded me to my work on future competence for the VUCA world, VUCA meaning Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. In my Farewel address (2016 Mulder – Farewell Address) in 2016 I elaborated on this.

However, whilst I am mostly speaking and writing about professional competence, there is a whole other reality than the VUCA world as just mentioned. What if VUCA would be the acronym of: Violence, Unjustice, Criminal, and Abusive? How many children, adolescents and adults are living in that world were they have to fight for survival, be smart to escape from that world (if possible at all), and/or shape a better life (if they can)? What would the meaning of competence be for them? In that discussion the human capability of Nussbaum comes in, which is stressing the rights people should be able to exert. For people in that other VUCA world, competencies can also be defined. There is a linkage between competencies for the future and competencies for challenging life circumstances. Discussions about these competencies should be embedded in narratives regarding the historical social-cultural developments of regions, nations and localities. Actually, discussions about world-wide implementation of the concept of professional competence and competence development, should also be held against the background of those historical social-cultural developments, and work cultures in organizations and the factors in play regarding the informal economy, creating livelihoods and small-scale entrepreneurship.