In an “age of supercomplexity” (Barnett, 2000) educational systems have to face continuously new questions and new ideas about the relationship with knowledge. In particular knowledge actors, roles and networks are constantly changing. Junior academics (e.g. postdoctoral researchers, junior lecturers, PhDs) are at the crossroad of this scenario, facing new constraints and new possibilities. Younger entry level academics are, in fact, dealing with a lack of opportunities regarding long term careers: it is reasonable to agree that the chances of a PhD graduate to eventually have a stable position in public research are hardly higher than a few per cent, and slimmer when geographical constraints are set (Van der Weijden et al., 2016). This uncertainty inside the academia (Fumasoli, 2015) is exacerbated by a general difficulty to find a satisfying employment in the private sector (Vitae, 2010; ESF, 2013). Academic experiences can be very difficult for a potential employer to read, as much as it is difficult for a researcher to figure which of his/her own experiences can be of interest outside his/her former context.
Paradoxically the market itself creates the risk of lack of opportunities even for those who hold those high level competencies that are considered fundamental for the knowledge economy (Field, 2006). Over-qualification and skill mismatch are the actual risks of developed economic systems resulting in "lower levels of productivity, lower job satisfaction and psychological stress, besides being on aggregate level a waste in terms of investment made in education.” (Flisi et al., 2014)
The competence assessment process could be not helpful as the concept of competence by itself is not sufficient to orient and clear the dialogue (Author, 2015). As a variety of researchers have noted, the term competence is a “floating signifier”: a concept "sufficiently vague to be used by people in very different ways according to their particular assumptions and agendas” (Illeris, 2009, p.8). The problem worsen when the assessment process start considering not only the "hard skills" but also the so-called "soft", "transversal", "cross sector" or "transferable" skills that are considered as the best way to support professionals in an increasingly competitive economy based on "grey capital” (EUA, 2010; OECD, 2012). These kind of skills entails a more complex dimension (Alessandrini, 2013) directly related to the context that enables a certain kind of performativity. Thus the difficulties to highlight those dimensions are stronger as they involve identifying and describing those tacit (Eraut, 2009) and contextual aspects (Le Boterf, 2010) that often lies on the background of their learning experience (Author, 2015)
I used this considerations as a starting point for a postdoctoral research aimed at interrogating experiences and expectations of young researchers, academic staff and private companies, in relation to the processes of developing, identifying and valuing transferable competences.
Educational policies inspired by lifelong learning are often based on a short range dimension and a reductionist epistemology in which competences are seen as merely tradeable goods for the labour market (Han, 2009). I assume that this reductionist perspective doesn't help in perceiving the complexity of learning contexts (Edwards et al., 2009) and the learning potential involved in the act of "transferring" one competence from one context to another.
The theoretical framework of the research encompasses the systemic approach (Bateson, 1972), social constructionism (Gergen, 1999) and paradigm of complexity (Alhadeff-Jones, 2010). All these perspectives highlight the processual dimensions of the phenomena interrogated as well as the multiple levels and positions involved in the construction of meaning.
Alessandrini, G. (2013). La formazione al centro dello sviluppo umano. Crescita, lavoro innovazione. Milano: Giuffré. Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2010). Challenging the Limits of Critique in Education through Morin's Paradigm of Complexity. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29 (5), pp. 477-490. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books. Edwards, R., Biesta, G., Thorpe, M. (2009). Rethinking contexts for learning and teaching. London: Routledge. Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work, British Journal of educational Psychology, 70, 113-136. Han, S (2009). Competence: commodification of human ability in Illeris, K. (Ed.) International Perspectives on Competence Development. London: Routledge ESF (European Science Foundation) (2013). Research Careers in Europe. Landscapes and Horizons. A Report by the ESF Member Organisation Forum on Research Careers. Strasbourg: ESF. Field J. (2006). Lifelong learning and the new educational order. Stoke on Trent UK: Trentham Books. Formenti, L., and West, L. (eds.) (2016). Stories that make a difference. Exploring the collective, social and political potential of narratives in adult education research. Lecce: Pensa Multimedia. Flisi, S., Goglio, V., Meroni, E., Caetano Rodrigues, J., Rodrigues Ferro, M., Vera Toscano, E. (2014) Occupational mismatch in Europe: Understanding overeducation and overskilling for policy making. Publications Office of the European Union JRC89712 Fumasoli, T., Goastellec, G., and Kehm, BM. (2015) Academic Work and Careers in Europe, Trends, Challenges, Perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer. Gergen, K. (1999). An invitation to social construction. London: Sage Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books Gobo, G, Molle, A. (2016). Doing ethnography. London: Sage Heron, J. & Reason, P. (1997). A Participatory Inquiry Paradigm, Qualitative Inquiry, 3 (3), pp. 274-294. Le Boterf, G. (2010). Repenser la compétence. Groupe Eyrolles: Paris. Merrill, B., West, L. (2009). Using Biographical Methods in Social Research. London, Sage. OECD (2012). Transferable Skills Training for Researchers. Supporting career development and research. OECD Publishing Riva, M.G. (2011). Il rapporto tra teoria e prassi: una riflessione clinico-pedagogica, Rassegna di Pedagogia, 18(1-2), pp. 161-178. Vitae (2010) What do researchers do? Doctoral graduate destinations and impact three years on. Cambridge: The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC). Van der Weijden, I., Teelken, C., Drost, M. and De Boer, M. (2016). Career satisfaction of postdoctoral researchers in relation to their expectations for the future, Higher Education. 72, pp 25- 40
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