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ESCO applies the same definition of "competence" as the European Qualification Framework (EQF). According to this "competence means the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development." They are described in terms of responsibility and autonomy.

While sometimes used as synonyms, the terms skill and competence can be distinguished according to their scope. The term skill refers typically to the use of methods or instruments in a particular setting and in relation to defined tasks. The term competence is broader and refers typically to the ability of a person - facing new situations and unforeseen challenges - to use and apply knowledge and skills in an independent and self-directed way.


Working as a "civil airline pilot" requires the competence to combine knowledge on "emergency procedures" and "equipment malfunctions" with skills on "reading position coordinates" and "following the air route". This application of knowledge and skills takes place in a partly unpredictable setting where technical and organisational problems occur on a daily basis and where solutions have to be immediately identified and applied – either by the pilot alone or through team-working (e.g. involving the cabin crew or the ground staff).

In ESCO, competences are part of the skills pillar.