Quality & Quantity 38: 331–349, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Deﬁning and Measuring Competences: An
Application to Graduate Surveys
JASPER VAN LOO and JUDITH SEMEIJN
Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, 6200
MD Maastricht, The Netherlands, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract. In this article, we review the competence concept and apply it to the measurement of
competences in graduate surveys. The relevant literature reveals that three important perspectives
on the meaning and operationalisation of competences may be distinguished: The educational per-
spective, the labour market perspective and the human resources perspective. The second part of the
article is concerned with the measurement of competences in the context of labour market research
using graduate surveys. Using the insights obtained from the literature, competences are deﬁned
and a measurement method is chosen. Empirical evidence suggests that this measurement method
performs better than previously used measurement methodologies.
Key words: competences, theoretical perspectives, deﬁnition, measurement, graduate surveys
In labour market research, the economic science has been well known for relating
competence or ‘human capital’ to labour market outcomes. However, economists
have usually measured competence by educational background, experience, or
other simple quantiﬁable indicators. Due to the transition from the industrial to the
knowledge economy, however, this economic approach to competence measure-
ment has become less relevant. Individual labour market performance is no longer
solely dependent on initial education or experience, since occupations change
rapidly and require continuous learning and development throughout the career.
Employability has become a key concept in the knowledge economy, and the tra-
ditional lifetime employment career in a single ﬁrm has been replaced by what
has been termed the protean career (Hall and Moss, 1998). In such a career the
individual is the managing agent. In order to measure or predict career success,
one-dimensional indicators for competence, such as educational background or ex-
perience that economists have traditionally relied on, are no longer sufﬁcient. Skills
and knowledge have become the main factors in production, and the measurement
of competences more directly is a logical step in determining and predicting labour
market success more accurately and reliably.