The debate about competences in the last 40 years has been related to the consistent transformation of qualifications system and organisational settings and work contexts, more flexible and less structured. The evolution of the concept of competence shows a holistic character, contaminated from different disciplines, as the European and international literature demonstrates, regarding approaches language methodology and instruments.
In this paper, we will not mention the huge number of definitions of competence in the specialized literature; we propose as work definition of our research group competence as “a process by which an individual, faced with a specific work context and its demands, become active, dynamic and aware of his/her own resources, like knowledge, competences, personal characteristics”.
Competence is a different individual mix of different skills that enable to combine knowledge, practical, operational, relational and emotional resources; different level of motivation and commitment (I want to act); capabilities related to context, organisational and social settings making possible for people to assume personal responsibility for tasks, lives and risks (Le Boterf, 2000).
The concept of competence is useful and necessary and it allows us to face the new forms of competitiveness and the increasing complexity of work situations, requiring not just technical skills but also personal qualities, making the difference by objective identical situations.
The integration between subject and context is therefore relevant to understanding, how do different people work and under what kind of conditions; which are the individual dimensions activated in every profession and activity so that it is possible to make hypothesis about the development of this interaction and to identify and then to certificate the involved skills.
Competence helps to understand, in a more dynamic way, the relationship between subject, learning process, thinking and action. Competence description is at the same time an achievement and an important tool to continue training and work through social recognition of individual knowledge.
It promotes autonomy, responsibility and personal growth of citizens and workers and takes account of creativity, capacity to change enhancing the “learning to learn”, supporting empowerment, and sense of self-efficacy, and the capacity to make professional and training project and to use what you have learned.
The terms “non-formal” and “informal” are defined by the European Centre for the Development of Professional Training (Cedefop, 2008) as follows: “non-formal learning means that the individual learns voluntarily in programmed activities (work or studies), but that this is not formally in terms of learning objectives. Informal learning, instead, is being acquired on an involuntary basis in everyday activities related to work, family or leisure and is not structured according to learning objectives”.
The topic of the validation of non-formal and informal learning is part of the European agenda since the beginning of the nineties under the heading of lifelong learning. There are references to validation since 2002 in the Communication of the Commission on lifelong learning, the Resolution on advanced cooperation in professional instruction and formation (Copenhagen Declaration). The key documents are the Common European Principles for the identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning (2004) and the Recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning (2012); the European Guidelines of Cedefop (2009 and 2015).
The Principles can be summed up in individual rights (among which the voluntary nature of the validation process), the duties on the parties involved, including the clause for the guarantee of the quality, the value of trust, the credibility and the legitimacy.
The Guidelines instead contain the rationale of validation. Until today, not all the member states have activation the construction of a system of validation at national level. European Commission and Cedefop formulate a clear process for competences validation.
The common method for the promotion of the validation of non-formal and informal learning is based on open cooperation, the exchange of national experiences and the dissemination of piloted experiences. In fact, the European Council supports the dissemination and exchange of good practices in member states collected through the European Inventory on the validation of non-formal and informal learning.
The European Qualification Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) has primary importance for the concrete exercise of rights by European citizens to have their formation periods recognised as well as their life and work experiences within the entire common territory. EQF is the joint reference point for describing and comparing qualifications (including those at higher level) and the certificates of professional formation (initial and continuous) that are being issued by the countries of the European Union.
Principle objectives are:
- to promote mobility and permanent learning by making titles, qualifications and competences transparent;
- to improve the quality of systems of instruction and professional formation;
- to promote personalised access for all citizens to instruction and higher education courses through the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning;
- to facilitate the transfer of results of learning from one system to the other;
- to define a common code of reference for the systems of instruction and formation based on the results of learning.
Therefore, member states have to establish the most opportune links between EQF and national indicators of education and training, qualification and the recognition of acquired competences; they have to implement and integrate all these instruments which, being aimed at the promotion of mobility and employability of citizens and employees, are inevitably linked to EQF:
- ECVET (European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training) for the recognition of educational credits in the field of vocational education and training;
- EUROPASS criteria for the recognition of periods of training spent in other EU countries;
- EQUAVET (European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training) for the guarantee of vocational education and training.
In terms of methodology, EQF is based on the results of studies undertaken 1997 by OSCE with the project DeSeCo (Definition and Selection of Competencies) with the aim of identifying key functional competences for employability and for an active citizenship to enable people to cope with current cultural, economic and social changes. These competences, seen in a holistic and relational sense, can be activated by people in an integrated way in specific contexts and can be classified in three kinds of abilities:
- how to use instruments for effective interaction,
- how to interact in heterogeneous groups,
- how to act autonomously and to take responsibility.
EQF is the pillar of recognition of qualifications on learning outcomes understood as the results somebody can demonstrate at the end of a learning process not only of formal, but also of non-formal and informal learning periods. Such achievements can be expressed as knowledge, skills and competences. The comparison and the classification of the various qualifications issued by member states is based on common reference points, relating to the learning outcomes and expressed in a structure of eight levels, which allows for their presentation from minimal to maximum complexity.
A further strengthening comes from the recommendation of the Council of Europe of December 2012 with which the member states are called upon to institute national systems for the validation of non-formal and informal learning by 2018. This has had the effect that the social and institutional recognition of experiential learning of all competence levels becomes a right, much more than in the past, which a person can spend as capital in terms of competences independently from the form in which they have been acquired. This is an opportunity to gain recognition in terms of educational credits for the acquisition of titles and qualifications, which traditionally are being issued by formal systems of education – a possession of knowledge, which belong to persons, enterprises, organisations and territories.
This is undoubtedly a complex topic in view of the multiple implications of a political, cultural, trade union and social nature and represents a clear innovation that has significant implications, but can also generate resistances. This makes it imperative to redefine the relationship between different actors involved in the collaboration.
To adopt an approach that centres on the concept of competence allows us to focus our attention on the capacity to mobilise the resources of every individual as a response to different contexts. In addition, it offers the possibility to present one’s own wealth of experience in a comprehensive language which can be shared by a wide range of potential dialogue partners, which can be agencies, educational agencies, institutions etc. and which allow for greater transparency in the communication.
The link between transparency and competence is evident when one adopts the perspective of personal services in order to improve the employability and the well-being of the person.
It is crucial to develop processes thanks to it is always more possible to “making transparent” different knowledges, skills and competences of professionals, first, and of people, with particular reference to young and NEET.