Tag Archives: skills

Finding fault with fault-finding


I was talking with a trainee this week about his progress towards becoming an electrician, and I asked him about his recent on-site work.  He replied,

I haven’t being doing anything major, just some fault finding and some small installations

It’s something that I’ve heard before…that ” just“. The OED defines one of the many subtle meanings of ‘just’ as a means of placing focus on a particular word. In a weakened sense it means ‘merely’: it’s not descriptive, it’s derogatory.

As I put this post together I began to uncover so many different possible ways of comprehending what had been said to me, and about how skills are discussed in a community of practice,  that it became too dense for a single post.   So, for now, I’m just going to focus on one particular interpretation.

In the current Assessment Specification for the Electrical Installation the “practical” Performance Objectives require the Competence Base to cover fault diagnosis over a range of common faults with the Evidence Source being that ‘faults are diagnosed correctly’, (pp.81-82). That seems perfectly reasonable – one expects an electrician to correctly find faults.

In their Guide to Student-Centred Learning, Brandes and Ginnis identify the valuing of process as an attribute of a progressive learning environment, (pp.10-11). With this in mind I tried to unpack the skills involved in diagnosing faults with this trainee. This was the first time that I’d challenged this way of talking about skills, and the list we came up with can be summarised as

  • Enquiry skills
  • Analytical and Deductive skills (Logic skills)
  • Reporting skills

He was quite impressed with himself.

Since our conversation I’ve been puzzling over how an adult trainee can get to near the end of his three-year training scheme, and not realise the qualities he has? I don’t think that this can simply be attributed to individual character: it happens too often .

As I said, there’s a whole host of possible things going on here but I’m minded to suggest that if the training is such that its focus is solely upon the goal then there is a failure in the training. Back in 2007 the Scottish Government published Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy. In the ministerial forward Fiona Hyslop wrote,

We need successful learners, confident individuals…We need a skilled population..We need employers that demand value, and make best use of their workforce’s skills.

but how can the trainee be confident in his skills if he doesn’t even know he has them, let alone know he’s using them?


“just, adv.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 5 March 2014 <http://www.oed.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/view/Entry/102192?rskey=krfkvq&result=7&gt;.
Fault, by Toastybob, Flickr, taken on 19 September 2013, http://www.flickr.com/photos/91157462@N04/10107624773/, accessed 08 March 2014, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy (September 2007) The Scottish Government, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/09/06091114/0, accessed 04 March 2014