When you see someone performing their work, can you tell if they are competent or not? If someone is highly competent in their work, most of us can recognise it right off. We don’t recognise it so much by what they do, or even by how they do it, we recognise it by their attitude. When they display an attitude like they know what they’re doing, we assume they do, but when they act unsure of themselves, we doubt that they know what they’re talking about.
This isn’t good enough for VET, which needs a more exact standard of competency to go by. In VET, being competent in something means being able to able to integrate one’s knowledge and skills for the purpose of applying them in a variety of work situations. That’s different than appearing competent, or even doing a task correctly; because someone could have the ability to do something correctly in one situation, but not in another. They aren’t truly competent unless they can do the task in a variety of realistic work situations.
Evaluating that level of competency is a challenge because it requires putting the individual into those situations, in order to see how they react to them. It’s not enough to just allow them to do the job by rote in the training room. That’s not realistic because it doesn’t properly simulate real-world working conditions.
The real world presents us with problems and irregularities. Everything isn’t laid out nice and neat like it is in the training room. Customers ask for changes, modifications, and revisions all the time, making the individual change things on the fly. To be competent, the learner must be able to handle those changes, without getting rattled and still get the task done to standard.
If somebody can’t handle change, they’re really not competent. That’s why assessment must present a variety of situations to the learner. They need to do the task in different locations, with different variables, having different problems and variations show up. Otherwise, there’s no way to tell if they are truly competent in the task. Being able to do the task under perfect conditions isn’t competency, being able to do it no matter what is.
There are four basic questions that need to be asked about competency:
- What happens when the person is placed in a new situation?
- How do they react when things go wrong?
- Can they cope with changes to the task conditions, and still get the task done?
- How well can they integrate the task into their other job requirements?
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But in reality, it isn’t it’s just being competent. You wouldn’t want to hire a plumber to work on your kitchen sink if they couldn’t adapt their understanding to your home’s plumbing. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to hire a mechanic to change the alternator on your Japanese built car, if all they could do was change alternators on American built cars. These tradesmen need to be able to apply their knowledge and skills in a variety of situations.
Likewise, your learners need to be able to apply their knowledge and skills in a variety of different situations to be considered competent. Otherwise, all they are is someone who can do the task by rote memory.