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How qualities are not being measured by qualifications

TOWARDS A COMPETENT WORKFORCE Bob Mansfield and Lindsay Mitchell Pounds 45.00 Gower. Wendy Nash reviews four new books about vocational awards, from the simple to the specialised

This is a well-organised, thorough work which points out why the vocational qualification framework is not yet achieving its objectives. There is a refreshingly honest preface to which most hands-on practitioners will readily relate. The authors examine why the concept of a "competent" workforce has metamorphosed into a "qualified" workforce, which is not the same thing at all.

They question whether the qualifications on offer are providing the qualities we need to achieve a competent workforce, or whether they are simply confirming what candidates can already do.

There is, unfortunately, no mention of the personal development that can occur, even through confirmation of existing competence - self-motivation, self-confidence, raised self-esteem - which can then often be the springboard to further development. The argument, however, is clear and powerful and deserves to be noticed.

The authors highlight the changes that have occurred over the past few years, in products, services and systems, and they emphasise the need for multi-skills.

They go on to stress the need for a workforce that is ready and able to adapt to new demands and to offer a flexible approach by gaining new skills when necessary to respond to market needs.

They make the important point that the "flatter" organisations value and involve the staff, encouraging their contributions and seeking their views on solving problems. The team-working, with managers taking a turn on the shop-floor, leads to a more positive approach and a less hierarchical institution which values all its people and moves with the times.

There is an overview of how we came to be where we are and suggestions as to what we can do about it. The job competence model is examined in depth with sound examples of why flexibility, adaptability and transferability of skills are so important.

This leads in to the second half of the book, which looks at how we can try to put things right through the process of functional analysis.

The thrust of the argument is that occupational standards should reflect expectations of performance, state what work should be like and anticipate future function and grade, with good examples of why high-grade performances are useless unless suitable for a particular function. This illustrates the point well: that we should look at what should happen, notsimply at what does happen.

The book gives step-by-step guidance on how to analyse a work role and why. A series of examples are given to clarify the explanations. There are also warnings! The value base is also given a great deal of emphasis. The constant message is the need to move away from task to role, with a strong rationale forso doing.

There are detailed appendices at the end of the book, including glossaries, functional maps and a comprehensive bibliography which will be of great value to those carrying out further research.

The book is somewhat specialised, but it makes valuable points and should be a recommended text for all those who develop standards and who care about the future economic strength of this country.

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