For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Understanding of Work: The Basis for Competence Development"

by Sandberg, Jörgen (2009)


Developing competence in organisations has received increased attention among both practitioners and academics during the last two decades. This chapter aims to investigate what constitutes competence development at work, that is, what makes competence development possible. Different theories of competence are outlined as a precursor to exploring what enables competence development at work. Based on that review, it is argued that understanding of work forms the basis for competence development. This chapter investigates what understanding is and how it operates by drawing on the phenomenological hermeneutic theory of understanding. It suggests that understanding is constituted by an inevitable circularity, in the sense that developing an understanding of work presupposes that it is already understood. Finally, the implications that this circular nature of understanding has for the way we develop competence at work are discussed.

Key Passage

Based on findings from interpretative approaches, it was argued that understanding of work, rather than attributes, constitutes competence at work. Drawing on these interpretative findings, it was suggested that understanding of work is not only the basis for competence at work but also for the development of that competence. In an introductory analysis of how understanding constitutes the development of competence, it was shown that understanding of work not only stipulates the competence that is developed at work but also the specific ways in which it is developed. Finally, by drawing on Heidegger’s phenomenological investigation of being, it was argued that competence development is constituted by our pre-understanding of work. More precisely, this pre-understanding consists of a three-fold structure in terms of fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception, constituting an inevitable circularity of understanding and, thus, of competence development. The most central contribution emerging from the analysis is a more general and, at the same time, more precise framework for what to focus on when developing competence by taking understanding of work as the point of departure. (p.18)


Skill, Heidegger, Competence, Development, Phenomenology, Hermeneutic



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