Rules for description of competence: a discussion (1)


In my opinion a universal definition of competence is undesirable and even impossible. Nevertheless, I see companies and governments utilise them despite an awareness of the dynamic environment they must respond to. Variations in the organization of ‘production’, continuing responses to the dynamics of the environment, variations in the balance of between self of intrinsic organisation and extrinsic organisation or control seem to be not account for. But, if diversity predominates the question arises how to control this aspect of HRM and vocational education.

If you compare expressions of competence you will notice various principles for descriptions with several options. These are basic rules, considering factors influencing the expressions of competence. They offer choices for options and clear the way for dogmas for the expressions: maxims or instructions for description of competence for HRM or VET. Dogmas are instruments for control. Together they form a fussy logic, a theory of practice. An open discussion about the principles and viable options reveals arguments of stakeholders. Doing so, the character of the consultation also transforms from a debate to a discussion with mutual respect. The result is a shared vison on competence.

This is a series of contributions concerning dogmas creating expressions of competence. This one is about uncertainty for HRM and VET caused by technical and economic developments. The next will focus on the organisation of labour, on perspectives for description, aspects of competence, autonomy and finally, functions of descriptions.

Dealing with uncertainty

If you’re faced with the task to develop or modify notions of competence, ask yourself how long these remain valid. Because, under dynamic circumstances there’s always uncertainty causing a need for a response with modifications or complete new notions of competence by companies or a VET system. Uncertainty is caused by a dynamic environment. Responsiveness is an adequate reaction on the speed of developments in economy, technology, customers’ needs and changes in organisation, and the competition. Again, and again, with the efficiency, effectiveness, knowledge conservation and development and the competence of workers in mind. For competences, the main issue of this blog, several strategic options are possible.

An exploration factors causing uncertainty provides the opportunity to reveal arguments for a dogma about general features of competence and to make decisions. These factors are the degree of competition, the speed of technological, economic developments and needs of customers, the company organisation with its production concepts. Decisions concern the employability, the initial level of knowledge and the experience or expertise of workers. My analysis reveals 4 possible dogmas. I think that you can find more.

·        Companies with no or little competition, a low speed of technological and economic development and slight variation of customers’ needs can opt for a profound structuring of work processes and a stable organisation. Companies choose for immediate employability (no in-company training) and for knowledge conservation (a function of knowledge production).

·        Companies with mild competition, fast development of technology and economy and development of customers’ needs opt for some structuring of work processes and a flexible organisation. They opt for a fixed or flexible workforce (by the draw on a network of self-employed workers). Both groups work independently by direct or indirect instructions of the managing staff of the company. For the fixed work force the company opt for broad employability, flexibility, based on initial training, experience and knowledge development (expertise).

·        Companies with severe competition, slow development of technology and economy but a high development of customers’ needs opt for a flexible project organisation. The company opt for broad competence of workers (no specialists), as a condition for flexibility, based on initial training with extended knowledge and knowledge development (experience).

·        Companies with severe competition, fast economic and technological development and implicit customers’ needs opt for a flexible organisation with a focus on mutual knowledge development in partnerships of customers and autonomous experts. The structuring of work processes is more heuristic than algorithmic. The company opts for a high but small competence (experts in a small area) well experienced and extended knowledge development. Above that these workers are strong in communication and creating enduring partnerships.

Remarkable is a recent advice of Dutch researchers to the VET community. They advise stakeholders in Dutch VET to utilize the options for expressing competence described above instead of a universal one as is customary nowadays. A category of employers wants workers for production, another category wants workers for a broad scale of processes and products; a third category wants specialists in their fields. The research and advise doesn’t focus on tactic and operational matters. 

This dogma concerns strategic options for competence and employability in a company or society. Notice that uncertainty by dynamics of the environment is incomparable with unpredictability of work processes by unexpected circumstances, technical problems and changing needs of customers (see the next contribution). Uncertainty is a more tactic and operational problem.

Company configurations, production concepts and characteristics of labour (2)

In part 1 of this contribution we described models for organising companies, economic activities, structuring organisations and production concepts. They all effect the needs for competence. But, these models are just a part of the reasoning to come to demands for employability. Utilizing a model for labelling labour, provides us with information about the character of work. The whole set of models supports the transformation of task bundles and a specific production concept to the needs of competence. In this second part I present this model of labour labelling and relate these with production concepts. The result is a model of competence concepts.

Characteristics of labour
The scale of productions concepts, mentioned before, shows variety in various aspects of a production organisation. E.g. numbers of ‘products’, involvement in one or more phases of production processes and the chosen balance between structuring of work, leadership and independence of workers. Each configuration of the work demands on specific competence. The question is how we can model this diversity. What we need is a possibility for transforming variations in production organisation into characteristics and after that into demands for competence. Damme et al (2005) distinct several characteristics in relation to production concepts.
Quantitative task requirements: “the amount of work to be done, the speed, time pressure etc”. Some workers must produce as much as possible, breaks are undesirable. Others on the other hand, don’t experience this pressure.
Autonomy: “the independency in planning work order, working method and working rhythm”. It’s about controlling the work: I think that more aspects are involved in controlling the optimal or even perfect performance. For these factors look at the model for micromanagement.
Possibilities for contacts: “the collegial contact and support opportunities in the job”. Workers ask for help, discuss performance of the work or solve problems. Others may not and must consult with their supervisor. It’s about knowledge production and learning on work places.
Cyclic character of the work: “the involvement in the phases of the work processes”. A company decides this involvement by choosing a configuration and a production concept and division of labour. Doing so, the decide about the involvement in phases as design, planning, production and control. The more phases the more a long cyclic character of the work and the more knowledge and insights are needed; workers need a higher level of competence.
Skill opportunities: ”the possibilities to develop expertise and to learn of innovative solutions”. Indicators for a need of skill opportunities are increasing complexity of the production, an enlarging cyclic character of the work, the unpredictable character of the work and an enduring uncertainty caused by economic, technological and organisational dynamics. Knowledge production is a more systemic approach of a learning company and creating skill opportunities.

Production concepts and characteristics of labour: competence concepts
Several times I stated relations between the organisation of labour and characteristics of the work and needs for competence. These needs vary with the production concepts. I present the name of the production concept and a brief description of the variations of the characteristics.

Old crafts shop.
The quantitative task demands vary with the orders on hand and with the complexity and numbers of the products. Autonomy vary with the ranks in a company. Masters-owners are fully autonomous; craftsmen are autonomous between the lines of the design by the master; apprentices aren’t even independent; they must follow the orders and instructions of the craftsmen. Possibilities for contacts are minimal and mostly within the company. Occasionally masters and craftsmen contact others about technical problems. The cyclic character of the work differs by the rank. A master can conduct all the phases of the production cycle, a craftsman mostly is involved in the planning, production and control. Apprentices must follow detailed instructions to develop the skills and drills of the trade, to practice these up to the level of automatic mechanisms; their work is short cyclic. Skills opportunities are restricted within the company.

Modern crafts shop
The quantitative task requirements vary with the orders on hand and with the complexity of the products. Also in this model, autonomy varies with the ranks. The owner/co-worker has full autonomy even as the fully qualified workers. Contacts for expertise are colleagues and suppliers of machines and materials. Sometimes the work is long cyclic, but in cases of great series the work is divided in small production steps and, by definition, short cyclic. Skills opportunities are incorporated in the production: its learning by earning producing new or renewed products.

Mass production
In the workshops for mass production are the quantitative task requirements very high. There’s no autonomy because the work is fully structured. By implication the possibilities for contacts are hardly necessary and the work is short cyclic. Even skills opportunities aren’t necessary, new skills will be trained as part of the transition to a new production.

Mass customization production
The quantitative task requirements are as high as for the mass production. There’s no autonomy because the work is fully structured. By implication the possibilities for contacts are hardly necessary and the work is short cyclic. Even skills opportunities aren’t necessary, new skills will be trained as part of the transition to a new production. But the difference is that the repertoire of skills is broader than for mass production due to the variety of parts of the production.

Small series or flexible production
The quantitative task requirements are high because the machines (robots) are very expensive. In brief time machines must be altered to new products. Workers keep control of the production and are responsible for the logistics of materials and finished products. The work includes more phases as at mass production but is nog long cyclic. There is some autonomy because workers are responsible for the adjustments to new products. Skills opportunities are of paramount importance due to the variety of products, updates of machines and the setting, operating and servicing machines.

The quantitative task requirements are high, but the work is not completely to plan because of the variation in products and services and unpredictable conditions. So, it’s clear that workers have some autonomy, but within the boundaries of the ‘technical’ problems and within the boundaries of the protocols for their work. Possibilities for contacts are important due to the uncertainties of the work, but become of less importance by the learning software consulting the workers. The work the work includes multiple phases by the variations in products and services and the uncertainties of the work. So, the work is long cyclic. Skills opportunities are also of paramount importance due to the ongoing technological development and the expanding range of products and services.

Professional production
Even in a professional production concept the quantitative task requirements are high because hours must be declared. The difference with the former production concept is that this is a part of the responsibilities of a professional. Their autonomy is high, except in the fields of professional care and health. There structuring of the work by protocols is necessary to be effective, efficient and to reduce the costs. Possibilities for contacts are very important and the work is divers and unpredictable. InterVision is necessary to develop expertise. The work is long cyclic; professionals are responsible for all the phases of the work processes. Skills opportunities such as (compulsory) schooling and training to keep in pace with new insights and methods and to stay competent are important.

Learning and development
Even in this production concept the quantitative task requirements are high because hours must be declared. The autonomy of the experts/professionals is very high. Notice that a good interaction with the client is an absolute condition for the joint learning process. Possibilities for contacts is extreme important; the learning process of the expert and the client speeds up by the utilization of similar learning experiences and insights. The labour is long cyclic: the entire process is under control by the professional. Skills opportunities are essential for a superior performance in the mutual learning and development.

I have my doubts about the validity of the quantitative requirements. I think this is not distinctive enough, all the companies (profit and not-for-profit) and workers must perform well. An operationalization that is in line with the characteristics of the production concept is necessary. I suspect this characteristic intervenes with the cyclical nature of the work: the more phases the slower the work looks, there’s less repetition but is often mentally much more intensive.

The model of characteristics of labour support the indication of demand for competence and employability. They also indicate of variations per production concept.

Resilience and personal psychological factors

In an uncertain, dynamic, and unpredictable world in which real and alternative facts are barely distinctive, resilience for citizens and workers is of the utmost importance. The original safety net of government, associations and businesses disappears through financial setbacks, political folds and changing mentalities of individuals. Citizens and workers are now responsible for getting and maintaining health, finances and work, supported only by their personal networks. The fact that citizens and workers experience stress in these times is not surprising; it becomes harder to achieve the personal goals and to control life and work. Certainly, if dramatic events take place that will destroy their existing security. Resilience or robustness is necessary to continue living and working every day. But unfortunately, a part of the population lacks this ability due to insufficient relevant personality characteristics and, by implication, unsuccessful controlling at times of setbacks, developments and unpredictable events. Recently, the Dutch government received a scientific advice on citizen’s resilience. The core of the advice concerns a more realistic and less rationalist government. In my opinion a ‘good’ government assumes that there are citizens who hardly cannot of not at all can direct themselves living and working. Not every citizen is fully self-reliant and able to participate actively and fully in a society with a reticent government. Such advice is not an impulsive action, but a response to longer living dissatisfaction Not every citizen is fully self-reliant and able to participate actively and fully in a society with a reticent government. Such is not an impulsive action, but is a response to an unprecedented dissatisfaction over a strictly and almost inhuman government. The ideal of working together for a safe pleasant world and fun work disappears; just solve it yourself. The general tendency is to get more and more afraid of so-called ‘wads of cotton wool’ and strive for robust citizens and workers: ‘hard as diamonds’. Working together they form a gorgeous necklace.

The call for resilient and robust workers sounds longer. The WRR-advice is in line with numerous developments and measures in vocational education and HRM to prepare for the uncertainty and unpredictability of work. But not for the more psychological aspects. So, let us address stress as a result of uncertainty, reliability, robustness and, in particular its development.

People experience stress if the demands of a situation or a happening exceeds their possibilities. These can be acute threatening for a worker, others, machines or installations. They also can be threatening for a planned work process and/or the result or for the aims of life. Being aware of threats makes workers insecure and causes stress. This makes it difficult to realize desired goals. Resilience is important to overcome these threats or uncertainties and, to reduce stress by thinking and doing, perhaps with support of others. ” Resilience is the total of abilities of an individual to achieve his goals and to maintain himself in live” (WRR, 2017). Delahaij distinct categories of abilities: global, contextual and situational (Delahaij, 2007). The extent varies per situation. The notion that the demands of situations can exceed the abilities makes workers uncertain. The distinction into categories situations causing acute, discontinue and continue stress can be very helpful. Perhaps is restlessness a more appropriate concept for continue stress.
In acute stress situations threats endanger the safety of workers or others, a proper operation of machines or installations. Workers ought to curb their emotions -they stay calm, don’t panic, overcome their fears or bring themselves to rest- analyse the situation and act adequate. In military situations soldiers seek coverage and communicate, in chemical industry operators press the emergency button and alarm the plant, in hospitals nurses alarm their colleagues and start reanimating the patient. In short, these workers take the right measures. So, a process starts of taking care of themselves, overcoming fear or anxiety, weigh or estimate the severity of the threat or challenge for profit or growth, call for help, taking appropriate actions based on a repertoire of skills and drills and grow by reflexion and reflection. They are robust and hard enough to act according the situation with a repertoire of skills and drills; they continue their assignment and stay alert: they are resilient.
Occasional stress situations. Sometimes stress arises while working, caused by variations in products or services because the company focuses on small series or unique products or services. Or, caused by occasional unexpected deviations arise from the planning (process specifications), the result by circumstances or expectations of customers. Mostly, workers must adapt immediately their planning to circumstances because from the usual planning, specs, means (materials and tools) not present. Workers should consider the different interests of the company, the customer and own. A lack of knowledge expertise also can cause stress. The process of adaptation begins with curbing the emotions, gathering information about the situation, the desired products, circumstances or resources. Next, the (re) planning of the work processes and the results, execution and evaluation. Resilience is important for renewing and adapting work to conditions. Reflexion is important for developing expertise. Reflection is important for learning about their reactions. Workers direct themselves during work so they continue. A prerequisite is that they are robust enough to seek independent or autonomous solutions or ask advise to colleagues or their supervisors.
Workers have aims for their life such as self-fulfilment, a good income, having and taking care of a family, being important for the those loved etcetera. And they have notions of their role in work processes. Unfortunately, this all is under pressure. Mostly by changes of the work, because nowadays companies are very dynamic. A lot of features of the work will change. E.g. changes of work processes, materials, machines (robots), products of services, reduction of production and organisational structures. They also can cause chances in the balance between independency and control or decreasing employability due to innovations of the processes. Being aware of the treats for your relations with the company a worker should take measures to decrease his employability under changing circumstances. All these changes cause stress. An adequate reaction is to curb emotions, gathering information, adapting career plans, taking actions (training, career switches) also when meeting difficulties. A network of friends good willing acquaintances can be supportive for gathering information or reflecting on aims, motives, abilities and personal characteristics. Robustness and emotional wisdom are the main prerequisites to handle the dynamics, adapt to changes or even anticipate them. Because the dynamic is an ongoing process, I call these continuing stress situations.
Analysing the three processes I see many similarities I conclude that a metamodel is possible. It consists of several phases.
• Immediate adequate reaction to stress causing situations (acute and occasional);
• Gathering information about the situations, causes and possible actions and communication with others if necessary and possible;
• Planning of adapting plans for action;
• Realizing plans;
• Controlling the processes, persisting while meeting difficulties;
• Reflexion on the plan and the realization and reflection on personal grow.
Now we can focus on absolute necessary personal characteristics to be successful in coping stress situations such as robustness or resilience.

Necessary personal characteristics
With seemingly simple questions you can check if workers are employable in the company: “Do they know enough?”, “Are they able to do enough?” and “Do they have the right personality?”. An analysis of knowing a doing is eased with a description of activities, tasks or responsibilities of a worker as a reference. The necessary personality is harder to analyse. Therefor I utilize Damme’s model of the model of features of labour (2007), and a mix of Delahaij’s model (Delahaij, 2007, WRR 2017) making a distinction between global, contextual and specific characteristics influencing coping stress. With Damme’s model (2005) you can predict stress during work situations and their character: acute, occasional and continuing stress.
Global characteristics are powerful predictors for coping stress: the robustness of hardness (resilience) and goal orientation of workers predict the reaction under stress. Of course, everyone has a setback of becoming scared. But, this is not a reason for sitting down, waiting the emotions are gone. It’s a trigger for actions as getting information. Robustness and hardness are needed to overcome the scariness. This means mean that workers are used to work under stress or stressful conditions. Goal orientation means that a worker wants a perfect performance or sees stressful events as a possibility to learn and grow. This developmental focus is important for dealing with stress; it’s an attitude of ‘being who you become”. Didn’t Nietzsche said “what doesn’t us kill, makes us stronger”? The global characteristics are linked to the three forms of stress.
Contextual characteristics concerns knowing, directing and controlling yourself, and grow. Coping-self-efficacy, is the confidence of workers of their abilities for working under stress. Coping style is the way workers handle stress: a goal, a performance or avoidance directed approach. Metacognitive awareness is the degree of insight in their own stress reactions and conscious regulation of future behaviour to function better under stress. The less the work is structured, the more stress you will experience and the more you have to grow. Again, the importance of knowledge production is mentioned.
Specific characteristics influence the responses, the actions and the stress at the moment. Notice a link between solving the stress causing problem, the necessary expertise, earlier processed experiences and the repertoires needed for adequate reactions under acute, occasional or continuing stress.
Organisational characteristics influence the coping of stress and the processing of experiences. There’s evidence that a learning organisation promotes resilience; workers learn of mistakes made. Knowledge production is a necessary feature of learning organisations. A more repressive organization emphasizes the perfect execution and punishes errors. Workers and organizations don’t develop.

Assessing personal characteristics
We are able to assess the resilience of future workers. Instruments for known and evidence based instruments are available. Global characteristics can be assessed with the Utrecht Proactive Coping Competencies instrument (UPCC). Contextual characteristics also can be assessed: coping style with the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations; coping self-efficacy with Delahaij’s instrument; coping appraisal with the Stress questionnaire and the process of coping with the Coping Inventory for Tasks Stressors.

Learning and developing personal characteristics
Not all the researchers are optimistic about the development of necessary personal characteristics concerning coping stress. Some workers are gifted, others hardly have any of the necessary characteristics. But that’s nature. The question is how nurture can bring some development of characteristics or progress by education, training and interventions by HRM.
Coping acute stress caused by life and/or goods threatening events is trainable. The goal of the training is the development of a repertoire of ‘skills and drills’ and the utilization in many (simulated) threatening situations. E.g. the military training of combat troops, the training of nurses and doctors for the emergency unit or the operators in chemical industry. Notice that a sharp selection is part of this training; not all the workers have a sufficient level over personal characteristics.
Coping occasional stress caused by unpredictable situations is not only a matter of training a repertoire. Planning and methodical action based on knowledge of theories, methods and designs is also important. The ‘curriculum’ is built on a stepwise increase of problem spaces (4CID) together with instruction and utilization of relevant knowledge and repertoires. The gradual increase in stress is important. But without coaching is this pointless. Coaching supports the reflection and reflection and is based on the meta model for dealing with stress. The special is that the coaching is withheld. This, evidence based, strategy forces workers to cope stress caused by unexpected situations.
Coping continuing stress by environmental dynamics, causing insecurity and stress, threatening careers and life aims isn’t simple. It’s about developing a sensitivity for changes of the labour and the company. And it’s about systemic approaches for maintaining employability and career planning and about developing career concepts, career anchors and labour values. A worker needs a network of friend to support reflexion on employability and reflection on the concepts, anchors and values and about a personal S.W.A.T. analysis for a strategic plan.



Reasoning about production concepts (1)


In my experience, economic and technological innovations lead to debates about the definition of competence for VET and HRM. It seems a debate about a comprehensive definition of competence in directives. What really is something other than the necessary competence at a given moment in a particular company. The debate is about the wrong issues. This is not a search for a comprehensive definition but a debate on reasoning that leads to definitions of competence of employable workers and, at a later date, one on the VET and HRM Guidelines.

In establishing the necessary competence of employable workers in an organisation features of labour in relation the way the production is organised should play a role. It’s a different angle, with benefits in an in-depth understanding of competence. The usual task description offers a rather ‘flat’ description, functional for the division of labour, but not for training, selection and assessment of competence.

An origin of production concepts

We all know several ways of production. Don’t confuse them with company configurations of functions as production, design and management; each function has a specific production form or production concept. My hypothesis is that demands for competence varies with these concepts.

In time, many production concepts have arisen.

At the end of the 18th century Adam Smith describes a more effective and efficient alternative for the craft process. A process for products in which each step is described, structured and standardized. Workers are responsible for one step, not for the whole process anymore. This concept is suitable for a fully predictable production process for standardized products in which workers carry out fully structured actions. It’s mass production, the opposite of the craft processes in the guilds. The time spirit also plays a part. Needs for higher production and standardized products are growing. Above that, governments abolish the system of guilds due to unwanted administrative and economic side effects. Mass production displaces the craft form of labour. A development enhanced by mechanization, automation and robotization of routine operations in the years after until now. The role of knowledge and expertise evolves with. It’s functional for the design of production and the production processes, the division in small production steps and the description of routine operations. Once structured, the body of knowledge is limited to supervision, supply of materials and maintenance of machinery. Workers are reduced to ‘functions‘ of production processes with a restricted repertoire of skills and drills.

Economic effects of mass production are clear. Goods become accessible for many. Craft products, unique single products, on the contrary, are accessible the few with means. This offers them an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the masses. The advantage of mass production is the low cost of products due to the very high production. Disadvantages are the limited variation of products, capital intensity, and costly transitions of workshops when chancing products.

During time, new production concepts, new ways of organizing companies arise influenced by economic and technological developments and changes in the needs of customers. All these affects the needs in competence of workers.

Production concepts and characteristics of labour

The idea of production concepts is not new; many before wrote about the subject. In these concepts factors as division of labour, independency of autonomy in an optimal balance between management, control and structuring. In addition to these, I take the scale size of the ‘production’ and the possibility of structuring and standardisation as important factors.

The old craft shops. This is characterized by small-scale production and long cyclic work processes for journeymen (mates) and master; the division of labour is low. Apprentices work under the supervision and develop repertoire of the craft such as actions and results or skills and drills. The companies of the guild make small ranges of products in low numbers, largely manual without machines of applying parts made by suppliers.

The modern craft shop is characterized by small-scale production, low division of labour with long cyclic production processes for journeymen and masters. The old formal hierarchy of masters, journeymen and apprentices is gone. These companies make a variety of products in low numbers, interact intensive with their customers, using modern means of production and a network of suppliers for parts of the products.

Mass production is characterized by the production in large numbers, per principles of Taylorism, a strong division of labour with short cyclical processes. The whole production process has a high internal complexity because of the many production steps and intensive bureaucracy to control the organization. There is control of all workers, work processes and results.

Mass customization production has almost the same characteristics of the former concept. Small variations of parts of the products lead to somewhat different products. So, the products differ slightly, not the labour.

Small series or flexible production is characterized by varying numbers of products, long-cyclic work and independency or autonomy of workers. Because workers are involved with several production steps of a production run. With modern, automated of robotize means for production. The difference with the modern craft concept is that series of multiple-treatment of materials in one run instead of a step by step process with machines. Workers are responsible for all almost all the steps. Drawings and specs structure the job to be done. So, the division of labour is low. The balance between structuring, management and control and independence is more in favour of the latter; the control is about the speed of the production and the quality of the products.

Services. The concept applies for (parts of) companies with maintenance and small services as their goal. The work be problem solving in a ‘technical’ problem space. Maintenance or services are well known; workers take care for a perfect solution or smooth operation of e.g. machines, mortgages or cars. Planning is a separate function in the company; a specialized worker is responsible for the planning and control; others solve the problems of customers: independent or even autonomous. They work systematically, although there are always uncertainties. Managing the problem is remote, due to the protocols and checklists structuring the work. Workers solve the problems autonomous, asking for backup by colleagues in case of insufficient knowledge or expertise. The work load is high, as many of the cases (problems or services) should be finished at the end of the day.

Professional production or professional problem solving is characterized by low numbers of products, long-cyclic work and autonomy of workers. A high and broad level of knowledge and expertise is an absolute condition; well-known products are examples; in practise the real features depend on the needs of customers, the theoretical basic-design, and a professional answer to the needs and professional quality standards. So, the theoretical and professional standards structure the products, interaction with clients and the work processes. The work consists of certain and uncertain elements. There’s almost no division of labour.

Learning and development’ of consultancy as a production concept is characterized by almost no material products but by (learning-)processes, interaction with clients, long-cyclic work and autonomy of workers. A very high, broad, level of knowledge and expertise of both the problem and strategies for learning and development of individuals, groups and organisations. Past experiences are used to find analogies with the new issue. There’s almost no division of labour.


Not every worker is a soloist, working in splendid isolation; many are team members. Teamwork is an addition to the production concepts.

Team-oriented production concept is characterized as a group of workers; freedom is limited to the division of work on the team. Aspects as the structuring, standardisation and the balance are the responsibility of other in the organisation.

Socio-technical production concept is characterized as a group of independent workers; frequently interacting about issues of the work. A team leader is responsible for the planning and functioning of the team. Result-responsible units (with independent workers) are autonomous in the planning of the work and the quality. The (financial) result counts.

Knowledge production teams concept consist of independent and autonomous and soloist workers with the obligation of knowledge production. Professionals in these teams develop expertise and new knowledge about the profession. It’s an absolute condition for certification and registration of professionals.

Economic aims

Concepts like the ‘old craft’ and ‘modern craft’, ‘mass production’, ‘mass customization production’ and ‘small-series production’ are based on production and trade of material good in so called ‘value chains’. Others, like ‘services’ and ‘professional production’ focus on problem solving for customers; they are based on utilizing knowledge in so called value shops. The concept of ‘learning and development’ is based on both professional knowledge and on expertise and knowledge of learning and development processes of individuals, groups and organizations; it’s considered as value development. I think that value chains, value shops and value development are categories of economic goals for enterprises.


We learn from this overview that we can distinct categories of economic aims of companies. And we learn about the consistency of  a company’s organizational form, with its distinctive features and business segments, with its aims. Next that we can visualize that each business segment has a specific production concept and characteristics of labour. We also are able to design a scale of production concepts, based on division of labour and independence / autonomy and a need for structuring and standardisation. The scale also indicates increasing uncertainties in the work and need for knowledge and expertise of workers: the scale also indicates the extent and nature of the competence of workers.

Ask yourself either we must persist in defining competence with bundles of tasks; or to use the characteristics of labour and the uncertainties in the work. And if so how we could do this.

I also realize that gradually a fuzzy logic originates from this book and blog for transforming characteristics of companies in organizational forms, production concepts and characteristics of labour. This logic supports the determination of necessary competence of employable workers.

Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (2)

Focus on learning processes

1st revision


In the first part of this contribution I stated that workers and companies have their own and mutual responsibilities for learning and development. It is a form of responsiveness and a strategic choice[1]. Even for workers is learning and development a strategic choice[2]. If one states that the ability to learn and develop is important an explanation is necessary.

A learning and development attitude is an absolute condition if companies will survive in a dynamic environment. It’s an instrument for direction and control. First, I’ll focus on the learning and development of companies, then the mutual processes and last the learning processes and competencies of workers.

Learning and development of companies

When economic or technological developments urge companies to adapt their production and services, they start strategic learning processes. They need to seek answers about de strength of the competition, economic or technological changes and changing needs of their customers. Instruments as benchmarks, SWAT-analysis, and CRM are applied and cause rethinking of goals, products, services and structure of the company. The search is caused by the fundamental investigating attitude of the company. In my opinion learning and development are instruments for the direction of a company and also over the work to be done. These fit in the forms of direction and control earlier mentioned.

Learning and development consist of various processes:

1             Specification as condition for quality assurance. Companies and customers want guarantees about the quality of processes and outcomes. Above that, companies or departments learn by means of specification, monitoring and comes to modification in order to produce more efficient and better outcomes. This is the aim of methods as the PDA-cycle. But I doubt that this is enough. To determine the cause of inadequate performance or bad products its necessary to know the conditions of adequate production processes; the model for micromanagement can serve a frame work for analysis. This method is not a solution for all the cases. A full, detailed specification of processes and condition is only possible for predictable circumstances. Uncertainty makes a full specification and control almost impossible. In these cases it seems wise to specify the problem space, the degrees of freedom to act and the necessary expertise as a base for communication and account for the processes and outcomes. Communication about the quality is also a form of uncertainty reduction. For companies, both methods are examples of the third form of direction and control.

  2           Consolidation by standardisation is similar to descriptions of processes and outcomes. However, the goal differs. According to Bron (2012) it’s a possible response to severe competition in an environment with a stable technology, economy and customer’s needs. The motivation is keeping the competition position. Mostly, consolidation leads to awareness of habits and to think about processes and results, with, paradoxical enough, consequences as optimization and improvement. Consolidation also is an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

3             Optimising is a learning process from the question whether processes can be more effective. Workers and managers evaluate the efficiency of each step or activity;  the implementation is the order, though the result remains the same. Optimisation rises above quality assurance: the costs of processes are scrutinized. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

  4             Improvement also is considered as a learning process aiming  for a higher efficiency and effectiveness. Workers and managers evaluate each step with the interim outcomes and the final result. The aim is an equal product for customers and more chances for profit. Improvement is the result of description, analysis and redesign. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the first, second and third kind.

5            Innovation of the production processes and/or the results is a result of strategic learning about development of economy, technology, customers’ needs and a reflexion on the efficiency an effectiveness of the production. If the company decides to enter his markets with new products of services a new learning and development process starts. In a joint undertaking the company transits to a next level. Innovation is caused by description, analysis, and design and is an instrument for direction and control from the first, second, third and fourth kind.

Companies and workers

Knowledge production, as a term, is a construct that comprises various learning and communication processes. It leads to a better performance of the company and adaption of changes in the environment. These processes between workers and between workers and management and between business units are intended to specify, consolidate, optimize, enhance or renew the production. The management organises the knowledge production and divides these processes about business units and workers. How one organizes these learning processes, ultimately it comes down to the competence and the learning and development of employees under uncertain circumstances.

Competencies, learning and development of workers

Learning and development of workers is vital for their employability due to dynamic circumstances and unpredictable elements of the work on hand. Dynamic companies, with knowledge production as part of their strategy, need such workers. The question is which kinds of learning are necessary. I’ll present here a ideal model. It’s based on the, probably romantic, assumption, of an intrinsic attitude for learning and development, an absolute condition for labour in dynamic or uncertain situations.

Learning and development workers from falls or stands with reflection on work in progress. This means that workers look back on the course and the result of the work with the goal to improve themselves and the work efficiency. They process their experiences, develop rules of thumb for the efficient performance, enhance their problem solving skills and develop a personal practice theory or expertise. It’s a kind of reverse self-control. This reflective way of working contributes to continuing development of competence: learning at a workplace. Undoubtedly they encounter on deficits in their ability. They fill these deficiencies to communicate with colleagues during or after work per mobile or on internet forums, find additional information on the net or in reference books or communicate with suppliers. Reflection on work in progress is a kind of learning at the workplace and also direction of the forth kind.

The need for compensating these deficiencies is to be considered as a trigger for a reflection on competence and expertise. Workers wonder whether their body of knowledge is adequate for a profound performance of their work. Recent research, in the Netherlands, reveals that many believe that they are ill-equipped for their work. They find their competence inadequate and feel less employable and therefore vulnerable. Sustainable employability is an issue for workers, at least should be.

There are workers who deepen their professional competence, in addition to the supplement of deficiencies (casually). They acquire new insights, theories and designs of their field. Partly because of this they are able to structure and solve more complex problems in the technical problem space . There are also workers who broaden their professional competencies and improve their employability. It leads to widening the potential job bundle. Training we call this.

There are also workers who wish to develop outside their field. For example by social activities or actions that lead to personal development. Now it has been found that the welfare of workers partly depends on their will to develop their selves in general and to be busy outside their work. Those who do this, remain generally healthy for longer than the very passive. Employability and personal well-being evidently depends on the ability and the willingness to follow developments and to react in operational, tactical and/or strategic ways.

There are times workers reflect, from their experiences, on their personal goals and working conditions. They wonder what the work means to them, why they do it and if it is still in line with their ambitions. This happens often around their thirtieth.



Learning and development of companies and workers depends on the interaction between both parties. The company organises, facilitates and direct these processes; workers are responsible for  the processes mentioned above: reflection on the efficiency, the personal body of knowledge, the values and goals for labour, broadening and deepening the body of knowledge and by that the (sustainable) employability and their welfare. Workers and companies both are responsible for knowledge production: consolidation, optimisation, improvement and innovation are mutual responsibilities. Companies are responsible for the strategic learning processes: learning from quality assurance, the improvement and innovation cycles and monitoring and analysing the developments in economy, technology and customer’s needs in order to respond adequately.

[1] Some companies don’t make efforts for learning and development. Instead they replace their personnel for new for new production of services. At least they have a network of flex workers as a condition for responsiveness. Building and construction is an example; the composition of the teams vary every order.

[2] Some workers choose for a professional life without learning and development, expecting this is sufficient enough. They get a rude awakening. Their competence and employability devaluate fast in a dynamic world and they will loose contact with the reality of their profession.

Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (1)

Focus on learning and development of companies and workers


Companies join changing circumstances; therefore they develop constantly. No doubt they expect their workers also develop and therefore have learning ability. Therefore, learning ability is a part of competence of companies and workers. Regularly calls sounds to put learning ability at the agenda of VET and companies. In earlier periods much attention was given to learning organisations. Now, again, calls sounds for upgrading learning ability of workers due to increasing dynamics for companies. Earlier, learning should benefit the durable employability of workers. On ‘LinkedIn’ I responded  to such a call that it concerns to functions of knowledge production so that companies and workers learn, improve or innovate their production. It’s a response that demands clarification.


This blog (in two parts) aims to initiate a discussion about approaches as regards to abilities to learn and develop as professionals. The assumption is that this is distinct from the more general abilities to learn and develop of students. Then I posit the argument that workers and companies are jointly responsible.


Learning ability in relation to a profession has a history. It is a condition proved to be the transition from a simple to a smart economy and adequate measures for connection to a dynamic environment. The history of the Dutch VET makes this clear. After World War II Dutch Vocational makes a gradual transition through consistent with the development of the economy. Characteristic changes mark the development of a broadening vision of competence.

Initially, training focus on the decisive action with a repertoire of professional activities and professional products. Then they focused on that repertoire and act systematically and methodically. The vision widens further; repertoire, systematically acting and working in the technical problem space is needed so that workers can handle variations effortlessly into production. Developments are ongoing. During the next phase the vision broadens to repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical problem space supported by task-relevant knowledge. The traditional subject structure is abandoned, knowledge in future is job relevant. Then, the vision becomes broader with the addition of another element: repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical and business problem space, job relevant knowledge and personal development. The expansion is accompanied by an increased focus on the development of learning abilities and career guidance as part of employability.

In brief, it means that the current vision of qualification for the Dutch vocational education focuses on: to act, to know, to be and to become. These developments obviously have implications for the curriculum and instructional design. Also this vision is an answer to the demands of a ‘smart’ economy.


Companies can behave in many ways under varying conditions; there are different learning processes. Which are appropriate will depend on the conditions. The example below, is based on the condition of competition and technological developments. In times of:

  1. stiff competition and low technological developments companies optimize or improve their production to preserve their efficiency and competitiveness.
  2. low competition and low technological development consolidation of the production to the return is sufficient.
  3. stiff competition and huge technological developments companies examine and innovate their production methods and products or services in order to strengthen their market position and entering markets with niches.
  4. little competition and huge technological developments companies improve their production in order to hold their market position.

This example does not describe the full set of factors and considerations; There are more (see Bron, 2012). The question of the consequences on the personnel should be stated directly thereafter. Companies then ask whether their workers not only now, but also durable can be employed. Continuity of the company is the starting point, a strategic consideration. All in all, companies have to make choices that all affiliated to the learning and development of the company and, of course their workers. For an overview, see the figure below.


    Technological Development
    Low Huge
  Low 2      Consolidation and optimalisation to reduce production costs. 4       Innovation of production to reduce productions costs.
Competition Stiff 1        Improvement of production.


3        Innovation by searching new possibilities for products and production.


Strategic choices under influence of competition and technological development (see: Bron: 2012)

This is just a starter for a logic. Let’s also remember that there are formal and practical laws that act as frameworks for the companies. They do almost everything to survive, to grow and uphold their profits. Workers must do as well. It is expected in the current time, that they have their opportunities to remain for the company. Apparently there are two parties, each with its own responsibilities. However, in multiple models of business configurations is the design and planning of the production or service is a matter of management and workers. Their expertise in necessary; apparently both sides can’t without each other. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common site of knowledge play a role in the continuity of the company. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common knowledge which plays a role in the continuity of the company. In this joint playing field is question of knowledge production. See the figure below.


  Learning and development  
Companies Companies and workers Workers
Varying strategic choices to respond to economic and technological development and changing demands of customers in order to maintain, to grow and enter new markets.


Learning organisation as a basic attitude.


Knowledge production by the company and its workers. Consolidate, optimize, enhance and refresh of production and develop new products.


Mutual responsibilities and cooperation as a basic attitude.

Development and/or expansion of expertise to remain in a employable in a learning and developing company.



Durable employability as a basic attitude of workers.

Responsibilities for learning and development in dynamic companies.

Direction and directors for competence 4

Focus on self-control


In part 3 I discussed creating a balance between management, and the independence or even autonomy of workers. Because full structured work is rare, workers mostly direct their work processes, partly or as a whole. By implication the work isn’t short cyclic as in mass production. In Europe, you’ll find hardly mass production; mass-customization and small series production are more frequent. In small-firms you’ll find other, more long cyclic production concepts in which workers direct and control themselves. Self-direction, handling degrees of freedom or problem solving is important for workers. Let’s discuss about self-directive and self-controlling workers in relation with the features of labour.

Definition of independency and autonomy

I think that self-directive and self-controlling workers are independent and sometimes are autonomous, in some way. Independency means to me that workers consciously do and adjust their jobs, according to uncertainties so that the work processes are efficient and effective, without interventions and/or control of managers according to the specifications of the job at the beginning of the processes. Autonomy means to me that workers define the job themselves in interactions with customers. Autonomous workers direct and control themselves and account for the quality of processes, results and customers satisfaction  with the professional community and their managers.

Analysis/conceptual framework

Self-direction, as a condition for independence of autonomy, has rational and psychological elements.

Self-directive workers operate within problem spaces[1] in which decisions have to be taken. We expect that they are competent in problem solving. If workers are responsible for an proper execution of the work, according to the specifications of the company of a supervisor, then the problem space is limited. Degrees of freedom are almost absent. The problem space increases as workers care for a proper implementation in unpredictable circumstances in which workers adjust processes and results for an efficient and effective operation. The problem space is large if workers care for a proper specification of processes and results in an interaction with customers. Independent workers operate within the companies’ framework, the companies organisation, the production concept of the unit and the features of labour. No doubt this work is knowledge based.

Prerequisite conditions

Knowledge is a prerequisite for operating in problem areas and problem solving. This is the rational aspect of self-direction. Problems can be solved in a rational approach. I would like to distinguish levels of knowledge according to levels of codification. Knowledge of the first level is based on the habits or theory of practice of the company or the workshop as well as the specifications of the work order. At the second  is not only the specifications and the habits are relevant but also the workers’ theories of practice and expertise are relevant. Communication about the work is the start of the codification and rationalisation of even standardisation. At the third level codified knowledge of designs, methods or heuristics[2] and/or scientific theories are relevant for problem solving.

Self-direction has psychological aspects or prerequisites. The utilisation of knowledge in problem solving needs cognitive abilities. For example, reasoning whilst approaching uncertain and unpredictable processes or reading situations by means of expertise and knowledge. Self-direction has its methodological or systematic approach.

Reliance is the psychological prerequisite for working in problem spaces. Workers motivate themselves using the right cognitive tactics. It concerns responsibility, independent  or autonomous action, problem solving, coping changes and motivation.

Hierarchy in direction and control

Reflection on my blogs about direction and control brings me to a structuring and ranking of levels based on the coverage of its instruments.

  1. Creating a company with a configuration of functional units, each with an appropriate production concept with specific features of labour. The coverage concerns the whole company.
  2. Balancing direction and control with degrees of freedom to act accordingly to uncertain circumstances. Balancing means finding an optimum in structuring the work and the workplaces, the tasks and instructions for a sound production, with account for uncertainties by unpredictable circumstances in which workers can’t wait for instructions and decide about processes and results. The coverage concerns the rationale for workers and managers for longer times. It’s a rationale for the relations between workers and the management about independence and control. The revised IPO-model point out many factors influencing the balance.
  3. Specifying processes and result(s) within the framework of the balance. Work orders or specified tasks are instruments for direction and control. The coverage concerns a task or a work order.
  4. Knowledge-based and reasoned implementation, customization, design or execution of assignment or task, within the frame of a production concept, the balance and the allowed degrees of freedom. Heuristics, models, theories are means facilitate reasoning. The coverage concerns a specific work order or task.
  5. Mental self-control and self-direction during structuring problems and facing unexpected difficulties. The coverage concerns a worker at a specific moment performing a task.


Notice that the levels 1-3 mainly, not always, are the responsibility of the managers; the others are the responsibility of workers.

[1] Degrees in freedom to act is a competence requirement from the perspective of the employer or manager; that is the complement of problem space within which workers operate: the perspective of the worker.

[2] For example, basic patterns for analysis, advice, (re-) design, manufacture or realization or operations. It is a meta-model for professional products expressing differences in the functions of research, development and application of knowledge. Later I talk about the treatment of knowledge production of companies.

Directions and directors of competence 3

Focus at possibilities  for direction and control by managers and/or workers

 In part two, I discussed the formulation of guidelines for defining and describing competence for employability. I was critical about the usefulness of task decompositions. I also discussed my preference for analysis and the definition of functional criteria and my disgust about a universal concept of competence for HRM and VET. The necessary competence for employability is mainly determined by the characteristics of the labour by means of a production concept. The analysis supports alignment of logics for the company goals, the production, the competence for employability and the control of workers.

 Production logic

When a company formulated her goals, organised the production and their workers know their tasks. the quest for efficient and effective work arises. Mostly an order is insufficient for the work to be done. Questions as what to do, how to do, with which means and what are the best conditions (the W-questions) seem adequate because the organisation and the planning are in order. Above that, workers must know what to do, be competent and motivated. They aren’t robots; competence, instruction and motivation must be in balance. These so-called W-questions apply fully structured and therefore predictable work at a well-designed workplace. This is only the case for short-cycle work in a workshop or on an assembly line. Others are responsible for stages of the production cycle as the design, preparation and planning.

The effect of expertise is undeniable; the W-questions would then no longer be held because the personal practice theory is sufficient. But still, these also can serve as a reference for long cyclic work in which workers are responsible for multiple phases and in unpredictable work conditions. Because, in unexpected situations workers adjust the work order so that the work is feasible and lead to effective results. In those cases there is some or even complete freedom of action of the workers. So, the influence of expertise on the balance between structure and freedom for the workers is undeniable. Experienced workers work on the automatic pilot in stable working conditions. But, in dynamic environment or unpredictable conditions work processes and activities have to be geared to the circumstances.

So the question is relevant or a complete structuring is possible and desirable. In dynamic or less predictable work environments  again and again all the decisions about the structuring have to be geared  to one another: by the company, the managers, the workers and the production logic finding the most efficient and effective way of producing. I focus on the reconciliation between the production logic and control logic.

 Towards a logic

My logic for direction and control is based on factors that influence the course of work. A revised version of the information-transformation model (IPO) provides an overview of factors affecting the efficient and effective conduct of the work. The model has a heuristic nature because it is useful for all levels of detail: some activities, series of activities or a working process, stages in the production cycle or even a chain of companies. Perspectives as the necessary conditions, or the balance in leadership and self-direction are possible. The model also provides linking factors for the (self-)direction of independent workers. The model does not support the analysis of the cognitive processes during the working process. But more on that later.

  • The model begins with the characteristics of the input (or materials information) and its quality, the description of the process, and ends with the specification of the result.
  • Afterwards follow screen instructions for the proper conduct of the operations or processes.
  • Then the necessary conditions are described e.g. competence, expertise and given freedom of action of the workers during the process.
  • Instructions serve the communication about the process, the results and the decisions  for acceptance of the product delivered and the improvement of processes.
  • Then the necessary conditions are described as competence, expertise and provided freedom of the workers during the process.
  • Sometimes rules are necessary for the interaction between customers and workers for decision making before, during and after production or services.
  • Uncertainties that interfere with decisions such as variations of the input, the unpredictable  circumstances, the information brought in by workers or their colleagues, variations desired by customers desired , and finally, changes in the opinions of the customers.
  • Don’t forget that motivation plays an important role!

This set of factors makes it clear that a full control is difficult, if not an unfeasible case.

 A fuzzy logic for the control of workers?

Could balancing control and independence become less complex by the introduction of models for the organisation of companies, features of labour and the features of production? I expect that the models offer rules of the thump for the instruments for control and the division of responsibilities between workers and managers. Integration of these models create a fuzzy logic for balancing and alternatives for HRM and VET. In addition, I propose to create a scale of production concepts, operationalized with the characteristics of labour, with increasing independence and decreasing control. After validation is a further functional operationalization of instruments to the order for HRM and vocational education.  All in all creates a set of instruments for the question of the competence for vocational education and HRM.

Direction and directors of competence 2

Approaches for pointing or description of competence

In part 1 several activities emerged from developing a strategy, creating a company and directing the competence of workers. Clearing the goals of the company and organising the production and/or services is one of these. Others are selecting a configuration of company units, their functions, production and competence concepts. Or the design of workplaces to ensure that the work is efficient and meets quality standards. Or the search for solutions to the tension between management control and independence or even autonomy of workers. And, finally, the search for solutions for the dynamics of the surrounding environment. Formulating guidelines for the description of tasks or bundles of tasks and also for the processes for development, expanding and transition of competence follows after the previous strategic activities. These guidelines have functions. In the case of HRM they are the referential framework for selecting, directing, coaching, and evaluations or workers. In the case of VET they are a framework for the development of training and exams. The question is what choices the developers have to make. The guidelines concern the transformation of the tasks of bundles of tasks into functional instruments for HRM of VET.


The division of tasks into detectable series of activities seems to be obvious, but is not. Because it is an implicit choice for a atomized of functionalized approach in which workers are machines instead of humans. Although this division contributes to efficiency and effectiveness, but ignores the fact that there is always a influence of workers. Other choices are possible and necessary. The final choice for an approach requires an information base.

  • The first step should be an analysis of the characteristics of the work and not a high degree of decomposition of the work. Decide first and foremost the amount of work to be done, autonomy in the choice of the work order, method, and the pace of work, the support of others and expertise. In other words, you clarify the set quantitative job demands, autonomy, contact opportunities and skill possibilities following Damme et all. Working with models of labour organisations, models for production and competence makes this easier. The development of a company, establishing features of labour and development of guidelines is also an tuning process for an optimal organisation.
  • The second step should be the determination of sets of criteria in order to create arrangements for selection and formative or summative evaluation and for education or development. A specific function for VET is a decomposition of de necessary competence into components for employability and absolute conditions, a prerequisite for curricular components.
  • The third step would be to determine the methods of measurement and decision rules for determining employability, contribution to company goals or to be developed competence; partly based on the characteristics of work.

 Assuming a universal competence concept for the guideline for many the easiest solution. I don’t think this is the best. The probability of non-valid tools for an adequate connection with the demand for employability will increase. In my opinion the characteristics of labour are not universal for any business or profession. Especially the production concept of the business units in the enterprise configuration defines the concept. Such a model, which is a production concept, summarizes many decisions about characteristics of labour. The detailed models can serve as evaluation tools for the assessment of all instruments for HR and VET. Guidelines for vocational miss such information, thereby creating a flat or naive interpretation of competence. Take in any manner whatsoever, production concepts in the guidelines. For example, as a compulsory feature of the educational and evaluative arrangements. Because the production concept affects the demands for competence, the balance between taking leadership and guidance, the freedom of workers and the extent to which the company or executives can structure the workplace. Naturally, the production concepts influence the educational and evaluative arrangements of vocational education. Altogether there are several strategic choices for businesses and vocational training.

 Strategic choices

Strategic choices for models of competence should be in line with the organisation of a company. This is hardly possible for vocational education for legislative reasons. Specific information about the organization of work in a company is missing; selection of a production concept as a reference is not possible. This hinders a direct link with the needs for competence. But in the Dutch constitution the government is responsible for the quality of education, including VET and takes several measures to compensate this lack of information in the models and the guidelines.

  •  A compulsory apprenticeship when following VET bridges the gap between a more theoretical approach of school and real work in companies. National qualification standards a the responsibility of a national committee with employers and Schools for VET as partners working together in a legal framework. Schools for VET also have to interact with companies in their region and work together in planning, development, training and examination for qualification.
  • The  European and the Dutch qualification framework provide a link with characteristics of work and indirect with production concepts. They offer a classification of levels of VET and a range of curricular building blocks for defining competence per level, mental activities for integration of theory and practice included. indicators of the levels are the job size, complexity and the independence or autonomy of workers.

 The uncertainty in the real action is an aspect that is omitted in the typing competence by HRM and vocational education. In both the environmental dynamics, production concepts and the unpredictability of work lack in the guidelines and the descriptions. Therefore a revision of the guidelines and formats is necessary. Extra action should be taken for getting data about the characteristics of the organisations of labour, the labour self and the tasks or task bundles. Above that an analysis of the uncertainty or unpredictability is needed.

Direction and directors of competence 1

Mutual involvement of employers, workers and government is a special feature of the direction of competence. Above that, the nature of those relations is exceptional. The Flemish poet Elschot once sighed that between dream and action “… laws interfere and practical objections and also melancholy” (Elschot: the marriage). It concerns love and attraction. This poet seems to reflect on the problematic relation between a husband and his obvious eldering espouse, losing her attractiveness. But the sigh is also helpful in a reflection on the relation between employers and workers. To stay successful as a company the workers should be and stay employable. If not, the relation becomes problematic and a desire rises to continue with other, more promising, workers. Workers also have their demands: they want to become and stay happy with their employer. Therefore the employer must be and stay attractive. The relation between employers and workers is mutual. Both have to work on a good relation. Labour relations come about in a joint effort of workers, HRM and the government. Love and employability are matters of hard labour, communication and direction. This metaphor of creating and maintaining a relation, even a marriage, will be applied for the relation between employers and workers.

 Knowing what you want is an absolute condition for a director; and therefore an employer and his workers. Contract formation benefits from transparency. The imago, goals, products and services of a company express a need to survive, to make profits and even to grow. Workers commit their selves with and will come to a mutual understanding and commitment and to an exchange: effort for wages. Implicit formal and informal contracts are the basis of relations as in a marriage. Irritations occur when the reality not corresponds with the expectations or the contracts and the tolerance or mutual trust diminishes; the relationship comes under strain.

               Contract formation begins with an information exchange clearing the goals of both partners. Specific conditions, e.g. the company’s strategy, play their role. A company has an appropriate, functional and efficient  configuration of units, each with specific tasks and production concepts. Units create a structure of well-defined tasks or task bundles. An analysis of these and possibilities  for directing and controlling tasks give ground to the competence demands. It also clears features of labour and the conditional degrees of freedom of action for workers in the production cycle. Which are conditions for a sound balance between the directing and controlling the work and degrees of action for the workers. During the process (prospective) workers reflect on the results of the analysis and wonder they can contribute to the company goals, are competent, have the expertise and whether or not the exchange of effort and wages favours their needs in the short and long term. Defining the desired and necessary competence has characteristics of an iterative search process for an optimal balance between division of labour and production, the competence of workers and the features of the work itself. Important are the possibilities for structuring the work processes ad a sound balance between  directing and controlling the production and degrees of freedom in action for workers influence. The conditional competence can be retracted form this information. Realize that a number of variations are possible in this process of research and choices between many options. 

But there’s much more. A well organised workplace structures the job and attributes to the efficiency and effectiveness and by that the attainment of the company’s goals. Workplaces are organized in a way that workers can read them know what to do. These ‘affordances’ define the work. Compare it to the organisation of a house of a partnership: a well organised house is a pleasure to live in and attributes to a sound household. But what to do in the case a workplace can’t be organised in advance? E.g. a service mechanic working on many places with a variety of features of technical devices. Again and again the workplace has to be ‘read’ and the work and the tools adapted to the circumstances. Unpredictability is a defining feature of a workplace and competence demands. And what to do in case of technological innovations, chancing economy and customers’ needs and an adapting production organisation in a dynamic environment? A transition of the company and its workshops is needed in order to survive. In a marriage the partners have to communicate in order to adapt the developments in their environment. And companies and their workers? 

Responding to the uncertainty due to dynamics and/or unpredictability is possible by methods such as pacifying the distinguishing targets of workers and employers, negotiations about the changing bundle of tasks or by mutual learning processes  in order to develop new products or services. Ergo, contract formation is an ongoing process.


During contract formation the description of task bundles is an important fact in organizing a production and in the mutual contract formation. Don’t expect these descriptions always apply in a dynamic environment or unpredictable workplaces. On the contrary. task bundles are functional models of a reality and certainly in dynamic or unpredictable situations. Again and again a revisions of the contract are necessary in order to clear the needs for employability or ( in the term of our metaphor) the marriage going.


The metaphor of the marriage is not fully valid as a model; the partners in a job are not formal equal as in marriage. Firstly, in work relations there is a hierarchy between employer and worker. Secondly, contracts have to fit in the frame work of formal and practical laws fulfilling conditions for a sound contract formation protecting the rights of both partners. The need for protection has been proved many times. Thirdly, the idea of an endurable contract between employers and workers is considered inappropriate in a hyper dynamic environment and a violent global competition. The response is a flexible workforce on a basis of short term contracts: loose labour. In terms of a relations: mutual benefits in a short time for clear defined tasks. After a job done the company and the worker evaluate the contribution; a negative position results in a farewell. The loose worker looks out for new jobs. A condition is that the possibility of modularisation of the production (in toe phases of the product cycle) into defined jobs. In an ex-ante evaluation the prospective contributions will judged. Flexibility is a strategic choice of the employer and the worker; both expect a profit.

 Flexibility is possible if many conditions are fulfilled. Both, employers and workers, become director of their short term relation and both need specific competencies. In addition to the more ‘technical’ competencies workers must be able to analyse the offered jobs and value their competency, renew their competency in order to adapt new technologies and customers’ needs and to negotiate the contracts. Also workers need to market their the value of expertise and the prospective contribution to the company’s goals and maintain their financials. Knowledge production, acquisition, negotiation, finances and micro-HRM are areas of additional expertise. Employers must have the competence to organise the production for a flexible workforce, for ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of the competence: a more technical HRM. In short flexibility of production leads to wider competence than earlier stated.

 Apparently starts directing skill in formulating goals, designing products and services and develop a business configuration. That’s not all. The environmental dynamics requires companies to resume all of this and to adapt so that the objects can be achieved. Managing a business is an ongoing search and selection process. This has consequences for the workers needs no further discussion. They will also adapt the changes to keep de labour relation lively and profitable for both. It is not a unilateral quest, both, employers and workers, are directors of their labour relation and the work. The comparison of a labour relation with a marriage reveals that these are dynamic and profit from a good interaction. Above that, relations are not a matter of arrangement but a variety of processes such as learning and negotiation.