Skills Audit Method and My Portfolio web application as tools for identifying and documenting transversal competences in the international TRANSVAL-EU project.
What are transversal competences?
Transversal (a.k.a. transferable, cross-cutting) competences are unique in the sense that they can be used in different situations, contexts, occupations, roles, positions, industries. For example, critical thinking skills, knowledge of a foreign language or project management skills will be useful in the research sector as well as in industry or transportation. Often transversal competences are understood as a kind of combination of several professional skills: bookkeeping is a professional skill, but managing a team of accountants is a transversal competence. If someone can manage a team of accountants, they have a solid foundation for managing a team of other professionals. Developing transversal competences facilitates retraining and acquiring new professional skills. Acquiring such competences provides broader employment opportunities, and with them it is also easier to update one's professional knowledge. It is also presumed that they are relatively slowest to automate, which means that people performing tasks for which transversal competences are required will not be replaced by AI systems as quickly. It should be noted that transversal competences are not developed easily, and are also quite difficult to assess.
There are different classifications of transversal competences, depending on the project or strategy. They are often confused with key or soft competences. Transversal competence is a broader concept, i.e. relates to certain key competences (e.g. IT competences), as well as to soft skills (e.g. time management) and other skills (e.g. critical thinking). The distinguishing feature of these competences is their applicability across various domains, including professional and personal contexts, different industries etc.
Who can help identify such competences?
There is a paradox associated with the perception of transversal competences. On the one hand, they are valued by employers, but on the other hand - such competences are treated by both employers themselves and employees as some undefined subset of many different competences.
In the case of validation, the role of the validation counsellor, i.e. the specialist who helps the person entering the validation process to identify and document his or her competences, is now highly emphasised. With regard to transversal competences, the role of the counsellor is very important because of how difficult it is to identify and document them. In order to improve the process of validation, it is therefore very important to prepare those who provide guidance and to equip them with the appropriate tools for the job.
Such tasks were adopted in the TRANSVAL-EU project, co-funded by Erasmus+, which is being implemented from 2021 (scheduled until August 2023). The following activities have already been carried out under this project:
- Transversal Competence Framework was developed (also available in Polish), which distinguishes 12 transversal competences, divided into 8 levels of difficulty each;
- Database of Tools and Methods for validating transversal competences was published;
- training course (referred to as European Training) was developed and tested for guidance counsellors from a number of European countries on conducting validation of transversal competences;
- training was conducted for guidance counsellors from Poland (referred to as National Training), adapted to national context.
The practitioners from Austria, Belgium, Italy, Lithuania and Poland conducted the pilot validations of transversal competences. Recommendations for conducting validation of transversal competences for European Union countries will then be developed based on the pilots.
The Skills Audit Method and My Portfolio application in the TRANSVAL-EU Project
The Educational Research Institute (IBE) has been developing validation tools and methods for years. IBE experts participating in the TRANSVAL-EU project proposed using two already functioning tools designed for identifying and documenting competences that can also be used in the case of transversal competences.
The first tool is the Skills Audit Method (SAM), which is used to identify, describe and document competences and to create plans for the candidate's further development. It has been successfully used by career counsellors since 2016. It can be used in a variety of contexts: in the validation of competences obtained outside formal education, in the consulting process, in the HR industry.
SAM is a strategy for taking successive steps in working with the candidate. First of all, it is necessary to determine the goal (professional or educational) that the candidate wishes to achieve. Then the counsellor, using various methods, supports the candidate in identifying his/her competences, which involves analysing his/her past experiences: professional, educational, personal. The focus is mainly on the competences that are useful for achieving the set goal. It is worth noting, that even at this early stage it is possible to work with the candidate to identify his/her transversal competences. They will be especially relevant for candidates who want to take a new job, start studying, change his/her career path or to make a transition to a new sector of the economy. The competences identified in this way are then documented, that is, evidence of the identified competences is collected in the so-called candidate’s portfolio. Finally, the counsellor and the candidate prepare development plans, i.e. establish a plan to achieve the goal set at the beginning, taking into account the competences already identified and documented. The subsequent stages of the Skills Audit Method are illustrated in the diagram below:
At the identification stage, the counsellor, using a variety of tools (biographical interview, behavioural interview, etc.), tries to learn about the candidate's prior activities, in particular, what kind of professional tasks he or she has performed, what challenges he/she faced in his/her personal and professional life etc. By doing so, the practitioner will be able to identify which of the skills, knowledge and social competences the candidate has employed in the past. Through analysis of the candidate's past activities, his/her aptitudes and motivations, the counsellor can identify both the candidate's strengths and areas for development.
To establish the candidate's educational or professional path based on his/her identified competences, the competences should be evidenced. This means that it is necessary to find and describe the evidence of the candidate's effective use of specific competences. The candidate's manual skills can be demonstrated through evidence such as a handmade craft, while proficiency in written communication can be demonstrated through publications or effective social media activities etc. Accordingly, the candidate and counsellor work together to develop a portfolio: this can be achieved through traditional methods (such as collecting relevant hard copy documents and objects), or by using My Portfolio web application, a free tool specifically designed for such purpose by IBE experts. My Portfolio allows users to collect and describe evidence of competences in the form of text, graphic, audio and video files in various formats. One of the notable advantages of this application is that it allows users to link specific evidence to the corresponding named competences. The My Portfolio application is also available in English, which means that foreign project partners will be able to use it to work with their candidates.
The counsellor and the candidate can then work together to determine actions that will help the candidate to move closer to accomplishing the intended goal. Additionally, it is possible to create a list of competences that the candidate needs to further develop, and the counsellor should recommend relevant courses, training programs, or internships to help the candidate achieve the goal.
By using the Skills Audit Method, the candidate's transversal competences can be identified and named. As part of the TRANSVAL-EU project, we will analyse how SAM and MP function in these types of activities and how they operate in an international context.
Barbara Fijałkowska - expert in the field of validation at the Educational Research Institute (IBE), head of the Polish team in the TRANSVAL-EU project, previously a long-time academic teacher and researcher in the field of philosophy and bioethics at three public universities in Warsaw.
Roksana Pierwieniecka - works at the Educational Research Institute (IBE). Participates in the implementation and development of the Integrated Qualification System. Specialises in the validation of learning outcomes acquired outside formal education; she was involved in creating digital tools to support validation in Poland.