Discourses and practices of competency-based training: implications for worker and practitioner identities
From the perspective of a social theory of learning, this paper explores discourses and practices associated with competency-based training (CBT) in industry. Drawing on data from a national evaluation of competency-based training in Australia, implications for the formation of identities of workers (or trainees) and vocational education and training (VET) practitioners are discussed, particularly in relation to an increasing recognition of the importance of lifelong learning for workers, and knowledge-making and innovation within enterprises. It is argued that discourses surrounding CBT relate particularly to the importance of developing 'procedural, technical knowers' rather than 'reflective problemsolvers', and 'standardized, adaptable workers' rather than 'innovators' or 'initiators'. Thus CBT often seems to precludes the kind of transformative learning that could potentially lead to social and technological innovation in the workplace and enriching personal and cultural change. Moreover, while some discourses surrounding CBT relate to 'empowered, committed workers', it appears that the lived experience of working life may sometimes contradict these claims. In relation to training personnel, some VET practitioners do appear able, using CBT as a springboard, to exercise professional judgement and creativity and instigate transformative and, indeed, critical learning programmes. However, for others, identities as 'deliverers' of a standardized curriculum seem to have been formed, potentially an experience of deprofessionalization. Some discourses and practices associated with CBT, then, appear to be neither in the best interests of workers, practitioners and the community, nor of individual enterprises and industry as a whole. A rethinking of arrangements for, and conceptualization of, competency-based training in the workplace is discussed.