Untangling the Competence Dilemma


Capt Richard Teo

Continues from previous issue

Employability Skills

Delivery of Training Programmes

Having discussed some of the principles that govern competency based approach to learning, we now address the key learning process.

How must we deliver learning programmes that are actually standards (goals) based? What are we trying to achieve when we say standards-based? The STCW convention maintains that the STCW code is standards based. The standards that are stated are ignored by many learning providers. Many continue to push heavy loads of content, subject by subject, topic by topic with little or no reference to the learning outcomes, i.e. the standard of competence. Why is this so? Let us examine why. In accordance with standard practice, we must have a standard qualifications framework that shows exactly what the learning pathways are to attain a particular qualification. The STCW code attempts to do this in their publication as amended to 2010 (Manila amendments). What this code does not do is provide or describe thoroughly the universal competency based learning, embracing outcomes based education standard of delivery, namely,

1. Volume of Learning for each level aligned and specific to the standard of competences. The use of syllabi does not fulfil this task and serves no purpose as none are aligned nor specified as performance criteria to the outcomes or standards.
2. Manner in which learning is strategically planned, conducted, delivered and facilitated at institutions, work places and other learning spaces. The latest modern educational techniques are employed and executed to the advantage of learners and teachers. All learning has moved from pedagogy to andragogy/heutagogy. The shift in paradigm from traditional knowledge based to competency based learning has become dominant in the fields of Higher Education, Vocational Education, Professional and academic degrees and Continuing Professional Development in a lifelong learning environment of learning and doing.
3. Manner in which Assessment tools are designed.
4. Manner in which assessments are conducted.
5. Measuring instruments to judge competence.
6. Manner which assessments are validated.
7. Qualifications and training for teaching staff.
8. Qualifications and training for assessors and examiners.

The STCW leaves the quality of HR development, training and qualifications to each respective jurisdiction. Unfortunately, other than a few countries that seriously went ahead to develop competency based education and training, most really had no conception of what CBETA is or what it could do for competence development and the management of competences. This inadequacy is reflected in many “training programmes” and compounds the error in HR development. These vendors seriously cause incompetence in many instances. In this paper, the Australian New Zealand model of Training Packages is used as the example of how advanced and sophisticated CBETA and OBE has become. It has minimised the skills shortages of both countries in a very short period and proven its value as a socio-economic tool when the workforce is highly skilled and competent.

Quick tips for ensuring delivery meets the standards

It is of the utmost importance that you are qualified in the competency based learning approach and have become fully conversant with the following:
1. How we learn
2. Principles of adult learning
3. Learning styles – Kolb’s learning inventory
4. Barriers to learning
5. What is competence and how should it be applied as standards?
6. What learning activities and methods suit the competences
7. How to produce a learning guide?
a. Competency based approach, not knowledge based
b. Qualification by qualification with specific competences
c. performance criteria for each competence
d. expectations in learning and preparing for learning events
e. delivery by single competences or skill sets

8. How to produce an assessment programme?
a. Design and nominate assessment tools for each competence or group of competences (skills sets)
b. Ensure Open and transparent assessment programme
c. Ensure rules of assessment applied and maintained
d. Ensure rules of evidence applied and maintained
e. Plan and execute Validation processes.


The assessment processes and procedures are vital and must be conducted ethically and fairly. Assessments are conducted regularly and is part of the process of learning and doing to the specific standards. Memory examinations do not fulfil the needs to assess competence.

Learning & Assessment Strategy

Maritime Education and Training (MET) has been very slow in shifting from traditional approaches to training to a focus on the application of learning through assessing competency. This shift from a training activity to a focus on performance entails generating a significant increase in:
 Awareness of how people learn and trainers and training developers must do to encourage effective learning
 Understanding and being able to apply assessment as a pivotal role in the learning process
 Capability and capacity to develop and deliver competency based training
 Expectations by organisations that training professionals will direct their attention beyond the training activity to improve or enhance performance (an outcome)
 Awareness and conceptualisation of what skills and knowledge must be acquired and practised with the ability to perform as exemplary trainers, training developers/producers and assessors in a competency based learning environment.

The challenge then is for MET providers to develop training and assessment resources that enables a person to transport the skills and knowledge learnt with the right attitudes to whatever situation they may find themselves in. At the same time confidence to do well in the current situation must be instilled. Gilbert (1996) explains that performance has two distinct elements; the behaviour or activity and the outcome or accomplishment. This may be seen as the delivery of training having an activity component (presenting or facilitating) and an outcome (participant learning). It is important to note that for training to support improvements in learner performance, it needs to connect with the learner’s experiences and current activities in a way that promotes transfer of learning.

Therefore, it is imperative to have qualification standards and what competences are required to fulfill the various qualifications. The STCW is intended to fulfill this role but lags in the actual description of each competency standard and the elements that are contained in the construct of each competency. Moreover, there is insufficient detail in the agreed performance criteria of the competence standards for providers to pinpoint with accuracy in a universally agreed manner. Each jurisdiction is then compelled to formulate their own interpretation standards. This has without doubt caused much confusion in the final delivery of learning and assessment strategies for learners to attain competence.

Best practice approaches to training are assessment driven. Assessment is used to recognise the learner’s current competence. Comparing this information with the laid down standards shows the gaps and then what learning and training is required to close or fill the identified gaps.

It is imperative that when designing learning and assessment materials, that there be self-assessment built in so that learners are constantly enfaced with what is missing and hence prepare for assessments more readily. The Australian Training Package design allows this to happen, thus saving considerable time for learners to be assessed only in what the process of recognition has discovered. This is what is called Recognition of Prior Learning (*RPL). This is quite similar to sea-time and job performance portfolios except that the current system in MET across the world has no benchmark nor standard processes in RPL. It is imperative that MET take on task this methodology. It is not new and many CoC candidates can remember appearing before the Master Attendant/Chief Surveyor- Examiner to take on the examinations without having to attend tedious months in school relearning stuff already in their experiential learning and doing portfolio.

This portfolio is not just a log book or record of on board activities as in a common journal. It must contain all the identified and agreed competences leading to the next Certificate of Competence per the STCW convention. It will describe the actual agreed activities that are aligned to the standard competences and assessed by at least three types of assessment tools and duly supervised by a qualified officer (supervisor) with proper and formal training for facilitators in competency based learning/OBE. It is this evidence of having performed to the specific criteria that can lead to final assessments for the issue of the Certificate of Competence (CoC) by the respective jurisdictions. In the past, sea-time fulfilled this pre-qualification to apply for “examinations” but the rigour of an apprenticeship no longer exists on most ships and most companies. Many learners have not picked up on any real knowledge and skills during their cadetship or when working as junior officer towards attaining the final Certificate of Competence at management level.

Much to be desired has also been the lack of correct attitudes in performing their work and duties responsibly and accountability. 

In competency based learning, this part of learning and doing is termed “work-based learning -WBL”. It has to be well structured in competency based learning methodology, not just a running record of what the candidate or learner has done without the critical mentoring and assessment by his/her supervisor.

Principles of Assessment

First and foremost, the assessment benchmarks must be published in its entirety for all to follow. This has to be universal and in detail and not in its present loose form per the STCW. This benchmark must have details on how delivery and assessments are conducted. In particular assessments must be guided by detailed guidelines, that provide types of assessment methods, materials that reflect the competences, performance criteria and critical aspects of evidence in an evidence guide that is duly supported. This is very important as assessors cannot make second guesses nor insist on activities or demonstrations that are secret and not delivered in the training programme. The process is transparent.

Local requirements by various jurisdictions should only be additional to the standard and agreed benchmarks. All assessors must be absolutely au fait with the competency standards contained in each qualification.

A quality training framework encompassing competency based learning and outcomes based education must be standardised for all jurisdictions. This is imperative to ensure best practice in learning and teaching for learners and institutions. There are too many institutions with their own versions produced from vendors’ templates that by and large are “double standards” and not suitable for the detailed high standard of performance required of institutions. This framework must be designed and produced to a standard required by law. It must be auditable and be a live document, reviewed and improved continuously, not periodically.

All institutions must ensure their teaching staff are duly qualified to deliver and assess in accordance with competency based learning and outcomes based education. IMO model courses are inadequate and remain knowledge based. Needless to say updating and upgrading these publications are imperative to attain success.

The minimum requirements for teaching staff (trainers and facilitators) and assessors are:
 Vocational competences at least to the level being delivered and assessed
 Maintain industry currency and how it is done
 A minimum recognised certification in delivery and assessment of MET courses and training. IMO model course 6.09 is insufficient as it not competency based praxis.

Assessment principles state that assessments must be valid, reliable, flexible and fair. Assessors must ensure that assessments decisions involve the evaluation of sufficient evidence to enable a judgement to be made on the student’s or learner’s competence. Grading or marks are insufficient evidence and not acceptable.
Validity refers to the extent to which the interpretation and use of an assessment outcome can be supported by evidence. An assessment is valid if the assessment methods and materials reflect the competence – elements, performance criteria and critical aspects of evidence and are fully supported by the evidence gathered.
Reliability refers to the degree of consistency and accuracy of the assessment outcomes; that is the extent to which the assessment provides similar outcomes for students/learners with equal competence at different times or places, regardless of the assessor conducting the assessment. The characteristics of reliability include;
 Assessing all the dimensions of competency
 Using a process which integrates required knowledge and skills with their practical application for a workplace task, i.e. holistic assessment
 Being based on evidence gathered on a number of occasions and in a range of contexts
 Covering both on the job and off the job components of training;
 Providing the recognition of competences, no matter how or when they have been acquired.

Flexibility refers to opportunities for students/learners to negotiate certain aspects of their assessment, e.g. timing, with their assessor. All students/learners should be fully informed, through the assessment plan of the purpose of assessment, the assessment criteria, the methods and tools used and the context and timing of the assessment.

Fair assessment does not advantage or disadvantage particular students/learners or groups, e.g language or culture and any undue constraints on the candidate in demonstrating the required competence due to health at the time etc.


Evidence collected may be direct, such as observation of workplace performance, indirect such as formal testing or supplementary e.g. supervised portfolio, employer(s) suitably qualified to make judgements, recognition of prior learning (RPL), credit transfer

Figure 7 – Types of evidence

No single form of evidence is better than another. Quality evidence is chosen appropriately for the student and context and must meet the rules of evidence.

The Competency based assessment is the process of collecting evidence and making judgements on whether competence has been achieved. This confirms that an individual can perform to the standard expected in the workplace as expressed in the STCW convention 1978 as amended and the respective endorsed national standards that comply with the STCW (where they exist), on competency standards developed by the relevant industry, enterprise, community or professional group(s). or on outcomes of accredited courses if there are no nationally endorsed competency standards.

It is vital that assessments are planned and conducted in a wellstructured manner and that all assessors should be using the same benchmarks and methodologies accepted by STCW.

Concluding remarks

This paper serves to introduce MET practitioners to the modernised methodology in providing competency based learning with outcomes based education techniques. The traditional pedagogy does not provide competency based learning in an institutional or work based The figure below illustrates factors maximising the integrity of assessment decision environment.

Figure 8 – Factors maximising the integrity of assessment decisions

It also does not provide the necessary transfer of knowledge skills and attitudes (i.e. competences) in the various modern learning spaces that digital disruption has brought to all of us. Delivery of courses of training, training programmes require currency in our knowledge and skills and authenticated by ensuring all MET practitioners are in date and revalidated, with evidence of
a. Periods of return to industry
b. Updates and upgrades in certification
c. Updates and upgrades of teaching staff in learning and teaching to outcomes based, competency based learning
d. Similar updates and upgrades of organisational HRD for personnel in training and supervisory roles.

Interested persons may write to the Executive Secretary or the author at GlobalMET Ltd. The address and contact numbers are found in each issue of the newsletter or directly at www.globalmet.org

References and Further reading

Guidelines for assessing competence in VET. (2012) 4 Ed Training WA, Government of   Western Australia.
Guide to writing Competency Based Training Materials, 2003 National Volunteer Skills Centre, Melbourne, Victoria.
Guide to developing assessment tools, (2015) Australian Government, Australian Skills Quality Authority.
Knowles. M.S. et. al. (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education. San Francisco, Jossey Bass.
Le Deist & Winterton J (2005), What is Competence? Human Resource Development International. 8/1 pp27-46.
Teo R. (2015) MET mentoring guidelines GlobalMET Newsletter issue 44.
CHED typology for Outcome based education OBE 2014.
Hiemstra R. & Sisco B.(1990)Moving from Pedagogy to Andragogy; Individualising instruction. San Francisco Jossey Bass.
Websites:http://www-distance.syr.edu/andragogy.html Moving from Pedagogy to Andragogy

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1 Comment

  1. February 20, 2018    

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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