Competence development

What is it?

We spend a lot of time talking about it. And to be honest, in my opinion, not very much time actually doing anything about it.

Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

It follows logically, that when you develop your competences, you will, afterwards, be able to do something (successfully) that you were not able to do before. Or you will be able to do it more efficiently, ie better or faster.

Usually it is not enough to acquire a skill. “Use it or lose it” they say. I was actually speaking pretty good german when I was 15. Today I’m anything but fluent, and struggling with Duolingo to regain the skills I had 28 years ago. I do read technical german pretty well. And that testifies to the fact, that I have used the part of my “german competences” that relates to technical texts. Whereas I have not used the part that allows me to speak or understand spoken, german.

It’s the same with the skills you need at your job. You may acquire some skills at a course, by reading a book, by getting peer-training. But if you don’t use them afterwards, you loose them.

Far too often we spend time attending a course, get back to work, and not use the things we learned. The net result is that we wasted the time and money spend on the course. Noone made sure that we had the time to use our new skills. Or that procedures in the organization was changed accordingly. Maybe we learned skills that we don’t really need.
It would be fun to learn to weld. And even better if my boss would pay for it. But I would never get to use that skill at work. Or at home. So it would be a bloody waste of time! It would probably be bloody in a literal sense as well…

That is one problem. Developing skills and competences that are not actually useful. Or used. I have had it happen to me several times. I’ve even paid for useless courses and activities out of my own pocket.

The other problem is labelling.

We all agree that competence development is positive. We want more of it. It is nice, and necessary. Therefore it is not surprising, that we would like to label activities that does not really develop any competences, as developing competences. I have been required to register, as competence development, giving an introduction to ebook readers. I agree that the participants in the course, the colleagues subjected to me talking about ebook readers for 1½ hours, had their competences developed. Or at least I hope they had.

But how is giving that introduction developing my competences? As an academic I am able to argue for, or againts, anything, sometimes even at the same time. But my competences regarding ebook readers were definitely not developed. I might have gotten slightly better at giving introductions. But I did not learn anything new about ebook readers.

Why do I care? Well. First of all I abhor newspeak. If something is not developing competences, dont claim that that is what is happening. It might be interesting. It might be beneficial. But if competences are not developed, they are not developed, and please do not claim that they were.

Secondly, it generates the impression that we are spending a lot of resources on developing competences. That is a problem if that impression is false. We will wake up some day, and wonder why we did not learn what was necessary to survive in a changing library landscape. It will be a mystery to us, because we thought we were spending a lot of time developing all sorts of competences. But in reality we did not develop anything.