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Functional map of professional competences for EU socio-economic research


1. Occupational profiles in general

Since occupational profiles are an important instrument for assessment, but above all for the elaboration of vocational training, we expected an extensive implementation in all European countries. However, we could not find any information to confirm this supposition. In an overview of the policy in EU countries concerning the adaptation of vocational education, only a few countries mentioned the implementation of occupational profiles (CEDEFOP, 2000). Nevertheless, it would be too hasty to conclude that all the other countries do not develop or use occupational profiles. David Fretwell et al. (2001) state that many, but not all, developed countries use the method of occupational profiles in their labour market policies, but most of them have not institutionalised use of the method.

Although we do know some examples of European occupational profiles (eg the European Computer Driving Licence), we cannot say that it is common. Nor are there uniform European models to develop occupational profiles. In fact, there are several major methodologies for developing occupational profiles, all of which start with analysing what people in certain occupations actually do. In spite of this common basis, methods differ considerably, and so do the occupational profiles that result from the analysis. The fundamental change of economies and in the organisation of work in the past 20 years, is the major factor to affect the evolution of methodologies. Occupations have become more complex. Employees have more responsibilities linked with a broader range of competencies and less routine. In response to those changes, new methods for occupational analysis are being developed, and attention has shifted from analysing discrete job tasks to analysis of broader occupational competencies. Nowadays, we see a tendency to develop general profiles with universal and basic skills required to participate in the labour market. Definitions of competencies vary, and reflect the differences in the approach taken by different countries to the development of occupational profiles. Generally, we may say that an occupational competency is the ability to perform activities common to an occupation within an acceptable range (Fretwell et al., 2001).

The World Bank (Fretwell et al., 2001) mentions three methodologies for defining occupational profiles, which reflect the evolution from initial task-based to competence-based occupational analysis. The classification is based on the type of analysis. The methods include:

  • job/task analysis

  • DACUM (Developing A CurriculUM)

  • functional analysis.

1.1 Job analysis

The establishment of occupational skill standards started with job analysis. This approach has been predominant for a long time in many industrialised countries, since it is especially suited to analysing tasks in mass production processes and in situations where there is little flexibility in the organisation of production processes. In spite of the fundamental changes, job and task analysis is still used for specific purposes and in specific sectors. It is used in ergonomics to identify how to improve working conditions. It is used in some human resource management work in the United States to bring job descriptions in line with more classical American leadership principles. In Europe, where the emphasis has been on broad human resource development, it is not widely used in industry, although there are trends suggesting that this approach is increasingly being adopted to define jobs in new administrative occupations in some subsectors (eg telephone call centers).

The aim of the analysis is to divide and subdivide jobs and tasks into their constituent parts, in order to provide information for training and to develop benchmarks for piece-rate wages. To identify the tasks, repeated observations onsite are required, which makes this method and wage classification system more expensive than others.


DACUM is an acronym for Developing A CurriculUM. The DACUM approach to occupational analysis is quite different from job analysis. DACUM uses guided group discussion. A trained facilitator leads a small group of expert workers in a discussion of what they do on a day-to-day basis. The workers are guided to describe their activities in terms of tasks expressed as behavioural competencies that involve a verb, an object and usually a modifier. Each member of the group is encouraged to describe all of the activities in which they engage. This whole-group brainstorming provides the basis for identifying the major duties of a job. The tasks that make up the duties are then specified. As each work activity is proposed, the group discusses it and comes to consensus on how it should be stated as a task. The results are then checked with other workers outside the discussion group. It is recommended to check them by surveying 50 or more similar workers and/or supervisors of such workers.

The DACUM process also includes the separate identification of work enablers, including general knowledge and skills, worker behaviours (personal traits and interpersonal skills), and tools and equipment used. The experts are also asked to identify future trends and concerns that may affect what they do and how they do it.

1.3 Functional analysis

Functional analysis starts with the identification of the key purpose of an occupation in the major sectors where it is found, identifying the main functions, breaking these in turn down into subfunctions until outcomes for each function are identified following a strictly logical sequence. The technique can be applied to multiple sectors, to a single sector or at an individual enterprise level. By concentrating on the functions or results/outcomes instead of the activities, the descriptions produced are independent of the technology or methods used to achieve the function. In other words, instead of describing what people are doing, functional analysis describes what people have to achieve.

Functional analysis uses a consultative process that involves practitioners, managers and in some cases the users or ‘consumers’ of occupational profiles. The consultative process is used twice: first to develop the occupational profile and secondly to confirm its accuracy.

The methodology starts with functional mapping, which is an analysis of the sector, starting with the key purpose statement and subsequently analysing down to individual functions. The final level of analysis is referred to as the ‘functional units’. It is an outcome that an individual might be expected to achieve. These functional units are analysed one by one to identify the performance requirements. The performance requirements do not identify the technology and methods used, which makes the approach more flexible and applicable to the occupation in varying circumstances. The methods and technology used are described separately in what are called ‘the range indicators’.

1.4 Mixed methodology

In recent years, mixed methods have increasingly been used to develop occupational profiles. At HIVA, we were involved in the development of such a mixed method. The method has been developed for the screening and monitoring of the Flemish labour market (Belgium has a strong regionalised system of labour market policies), and is used by an agency specifically set up for this purpose. The social partners and the educational sector support and use the profiling activities of this agency to improve the connection between occupational skills demands and the skills training of the vocational and educational training sector.

Since we used some elements of this method to develop the occupational profile of European socio-economic research, we consider it useful to clarify the content of this Flemish mixed method of occupational profile analyses in more detail.

The method contains five phases. In the first phase, the observational unit has to be defined. This can be:

  • a function: a coherent unity of tasks that can exist separated from the person who practices the function. Functions are related to an organisation.

  • a group of functions: a collection of related functions

  • a profession: a coherent unity of tasks that are more or less standardised so they can exist independently from the person who practices the job

  • a professional cluster: a collection of related professions

  • an occupation: relates to a person and their role in the labour market

  • a sector: a group of related economic entities or enterprises.

Besides defining the observational unit, the first phase contains familiarisation with the research field and the delineation of the route.

The second phase in this methodology involves the preparation for a conference, during which the profile will be established; formulation of an information document that will form the guidelines during the conference and selection of the participants. Since this information document is the basis of the development of an occupational profile, a lot of energy will be spent on its creation. The following resources can be used for the formulation:

  • secondary resources (distillations from well-defined profiles)

  • interviews with experts

  • company visits.

Finally, the information document will contain a task analysis and an inventory of the required competencies and knowledge. Tasks will be subdivided in:

  • executive tasks: the core of the function

  • preparatory tasks: tasks preceding the executive tasks

  • supportive tasks: organisational tasks beyond the level of the employee’s own job.

The conference is the third phase. The participants develop and refine the intended product on the basis of the information document. The conference also identifies the professional attitudes required for the job.

The fourth phase is the orientation towards the future. In this phase, the impact of plausible changes will be estimated.

Finally, in the fifth phase, the profile will be validated by presenting the draft profile to an additional number of people familiar with the occupation.

2. The occupational profile of socio-economic research 2. The occupational profile of socio-economic research