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Competence or Qualifications?

Competence or Qualifications?

Are qualifications important, relevant, or even needed? For some people they may be a useful confidence builder which proves achievement in a particular subject. But there are problems when we attempt to use qualifications as a proof of competence. Because competence doesn’t always correlate with qualifications.

Competence can be described as the combination of training, skills, experience, and knowledge that a person has and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. Popular synonyms are capability, proficiency, and expertise.

Someone who is competent, not only knows what to do but also how to do it, efficiently & safely. Take the example of a taxi driver. Not only would you expect them to know the quickest way to the destination (that’s the what-to-do part) but also excel at driving the vehicle efficiently & safely, and ensure you have a comfortable ride (that’s the how-to-do-it part).

Alternatively, qualifications are defined as passing an examination or test. Or completing a course, especially where certification, diploma, or licence is gained.

A qualified taxi driver has acquired some sort of licence by means of taking a course and succeeding at some sort of test, which makes him a qualified taxi driver. However, it doesn’t tell us anything about the capabilities of the driver. The qualified taxi driver might, in theory, know the rules of the road, but may decide not to abide by them, which could bring himself and others into danger.

Is It Better to Be Competent or Qualified?

Unfortunately, some industries continue to place very high importance on qualifications. The main reason for this is because competence can sometimes be difficult to measure. So, qualifications are misused as a tool to define a person’s competence. However, there is a flaw in this logic. As we have established, qualifications do not automatically correspond to competence.

What is needed is a way to measure competence directly, without needing to substitute qualifications as a determining factor for it. So how should competence be assessed without the use of qualifications?

Competence can only be assessed when putting a person into action. This means, following appropriate training & instruction, we must give people a chance to prove that they are competent in a particular area and observe & assess them directly in that work situation. This can be supplemented by considering experience and practical knowledge gained.


Putting the emphasis on qualifications may mean that actual work-based competence can be overlooked. Achieving a certificate may give some the idea that they have attained competence. But as previously discussed qualifications don't equate to competence.

This sort of entitlement destroys any chance of a market deciding which products or services are going to succeed. If markets do not have the chance to auto-regulate and let the good products and services naturally succeed and the bad products and services die, then you get externally regulated markets, which ultimately lead to a lack of innovation, lack of variation, lack of quality and ultimately lack of progression. And the market is always right.

The EMPI Awards Occupational Competence Assessment (OCA) is a completely new & different way of addressing competence without the need for regulated qualifications. They are based on National Occupational Standards (NOS) and can be used as proof of competence. There are a range of achievement grades, which allow for continuing progression and development. Get in touch to find out more about EMPI Award's approach to competence assessment and how we can provide your business with innovative and adaptable competence solutions.

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