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Reconciling activity-based descriptions of competence with professional work

Stan Lester (Stan Lester Developments, Taunton, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 13 November 2017



The purpose of this paper is to discuss the problems of applying competence standards to professional-level work, noting limitations in functional approaches and drawing on developments in professions and on a recent Erasmus+ project to propose a more adequate alternative.


An approach to describing competence based on previously reported developments in some self-governing, principally British professions was used to inform an Erasmus+ project that created competence standards for five higher-level occupations in different European countries.


The original developments in professions and further work through the project both endorse a model of competence that is based on standards of practice, applies holistically to professional or occupational fields rather than focusing on work roles and functions, respects contextual factors in defining competent action, and necessitates situational interpretation and judgement.

Practical implications

Descriptions of professional competence need to avoid being overly constrained by assumptions about the roles that practitioners might perform or the context in which practice takes place. They need to reflect the ethos and ethics of the field as well as more transversal aspects of professionalism. Descriptions of this type are likely to reflect factors that are also valued in higher education.


The model of competence that is proposed appears to have a good level of validity for high-level professional work, and provides an approach to describing practice that is not limited to particular national contexts.



ComProCom was a European Union Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project (2015-1-EL01-KA202-013960) comprising the Hellenic Agency for Local Development and Local Government (EETAA), Greece (the project leader); SBG-Dresden, Germany; the Irish Institute of Training and Development (IITD); the National Research Institute for Sustainable Technologies (ITeE-PIB), Poland; die Berater, Austria; and Stan Lester Developments, UK. The author would like to thank to the other members of the partnership who contributed to the developments discussed in this paper, in particular, Anna Koniotaki and Georgia Gonou (EETAA), Jens Hoffmann, Anke Menning and Sven Ebert (SBG-Dresden), Sinead Heneghan and Angela O'Donovan (IITD), Dr Jolanta Religa (ITeE-PIB), and Erol Koc (die Berater). ComProCom was supported by funding from the European Commission's Erasmus+ programme, via the State Scholarships Foundation (IKY) in Greece. European Commission support does not constitute an endorsement of the contents of this article, which reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained in it.


Lester, S. (2017), "Reconciling activity-based descriptions of competence with professional work", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 381-393.



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