Three Legs

Education PLUS training PLUS experience.  Think of the three component requirement as analogous to the familiar “fire triangle” or a tripod – take any one away and it doesn’t work.

Many people start their working life with a university degree, sometimes one with a clear relevance to their new job, though not always; however, few employers realistically expect their new graduates to become productive straight away. A degree demonstrates an ability to study and learn new ideas and, in a more limited way, also an ability to apply the new knowledge (limited because most applications will be within a controlled environment, not the real workplace). Education is valuable but, on its own, rarely demonstrates competence. Such education provides the background theory, an understanding of the fundamentals, a precursor to learning the application; success in gaining accredited qualifications also demonstrates an ability to learn.

Training (should) aim to instil more direct and practical skills, to apply the theory in the real world. It may be to use a software package, to operate an item of equipment, to apply a technique – I could have used the work “specific” in most of these. It might also be more general skills such as report writing or presenting ideas on a public platform. It’s not always possible to totally separate education and training as there are regular and necessary overlaps; however, the key point is to recognise their both distinct and complementary natures.

The final piece of the jigsaw is to gain experience in the application of the theory and skills and, most usefully, experience gained under the eye of somebody already deemed competent (else there may be limited assurance that the skills and theory have been applied successfully).

However, many of us change course in our careers, our experience opens opportunities to follow a new path and, here, we may find the theory we learned as a young student doesn’t fully address our new needs. It’s possible to spend many years in this new situation, not being fully aware of this as we seem to be successful; also, nobody around us knows any better and we can become the local expert. Being the one-eyed man in the land of the blind gives us an advantage there – but we will find it a different experience if we move into the land of the fully-sighted. Sometimes it’s necessary to bite the bullet (apologies if anyone is now suffering from metaphor overload) and return to being a student (probably part-time) and study, write assignments and sit exams, putting our knowledge and ability under the spotlight – and being prepared to accept we might not always be right (or, at least, as good as we thought we were).

Competence means being able to demonstrate the successful application of skills AND an understanding of why. Skill training will address what you know but only education will address what you don’t know – and allow a competence management of ignorance.

(Posted as a blog 6th September 2013)