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Exploring the Dangers and Benefits of the UK’s Permissive Competence-Based Approach: The Use of Vocational Qualifications as Learning Artefacts and Tools for Measurement in the Automotive Sector

By Lorna Unwin, Alison Fuller, Daniel Bishop, Alan Felstead, Nick Jewson and Konstantinos Kakavelakis


This working paper is Research Paper No. 15 of a series produced for Learning as Work: Teaching and Learning Processes in the Contemporary Work Organisation, an ESRC Teaching and Learning Programme (TLRP) Phase III funded project (2003 - 2008). It is available from paper presents evidence to show how vocational qualifications act as\ud boundary objects in the stimulation of learning at work and how they, in\ud turn, become the catalyst for the creation of artefacts that have a purpose\ud and existence beyond the life cycle of an accreditation process. The\ud context for the paper is the UK’s automotive manufacturing industry, a\ud sector that has undergone considerable change over the past thirty or so\ud years and has been under intense pressure to improve standards. The paper\ud presents evidence from case studies of two companies that produce parts\ud for global car manufacturers. These companies have introduced\ud competence-based approaches in order to audit and assess the skills of\ud their workforces in response to demands from the companies they supply\ud that they can prove their employees are working to the required\ud international quality standards. The competence-based approach, which is\ud contested in the academic literature, has enabled employees to gain\ud National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), which, in turn, are still\ud controversial some twenty years after they were first introduced. The\ud paper argues that a competence-based approach can be beneficial to both\ud organisations and individuals, but the ambiguities inherent in the NVQ\ud model of competence create tensions and opportunities for restrictive as\ud well as expansive forms implementation

Publisher: Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

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