8 Competency framework structure

Let’s preface this by saying that there are many different reasons and uses for competency frameworks, as outlined in the previous chapter, and there are multiple ways to build a framework depending on its ultimate purpose. At a minimum, if you have a number of competencies and some form of organization or structure, you have a competency framework but each component within the framework has a specific purpose. These components include, but are not limited to:

  • competencies,
  • structures and hierarchies, and
  • connections between competencies, learning resources, and assessments.

Competencies and Competency Descriptions

These are the fundamental building blocks of any competency framework. We talked earlier about the importance of defining competencies and what the different parts of a competency description do. Competencies themselves form the basis for evaluation and inform learning and training needs; however, without a defined structure and organization competencies are limited in how effectively they can be used. Imagine a pile of building materials without any plans, and you have an analogy for competencies without structures.

Structures and Hierarchies or Taxonomies

In order to make individual competencies particularly useful to the end user, they need to be organized in a logical fashion. We’ll talk more about grouping and clustering competencies in the next chapter, but structures and hierarchies may include:

  • Framework levels / layers of information that are well-defined. Flatter structures are easier for the end user to understand, and the sequence and format of how information is presented needs to make sense as well. Levels and layers may include a convention for combining competencies into larger and larger groupings, or a system that allows for the tagging or tracking of competencies across multiple groupings.
  • Competency groupings that are logical and not duplicative. The same competency may belong to multiple groupings in different contexts, but no two competencies should be the same. If the scope or complexity is different for different job roles or individuals, then those should be written as separate competencies.
  • A naming/coding convention that is defined and not limiting for scalability. Again, competencies need to be unique, but a naming or coding convention that limits scalability can be problematic. For example, many occupational frameworks will use a convention that includes letters and numbers (A1, A2, A3, etc.). When revising the framework at a later date, there is often a desire to re-organize information, causing a shift and re-coding of all of the competencies (e.g. a new competency is added between A1 and A2, so everything downstream needs to shift). While this problem will never fully go away, thinking it through early can help.
  • Terminology, definitions, and use of language are consistent throughout the framework. Often people use words interchangeably to mean the same thing. A glossary and then diligence in using the same words consistently are exceptionally helpful. Even if there is disagreement on the definition, having a definition itself provides clarity.
    • Here’s an example: While developing a culinary framework – the use of “cooking method” and “cooking technique” were often used interchangeably; however, when experts were asked to create competencies they often used the terms differently in particular contexts. The lack of shared understanding created challenges when designing the competency framework. The team ultimately decided that unique definitions were required for the terms.


In addition to structures and hierarchies, connections between competencies, assessments and training/learning are important in creating holistic assessment and determining learning/training requirements. Connections between similar competencies either in the same framework or in a different framework create pathways for career progression and transferability. As an example, a competency about working safely in one industry sector or occupation could be linked to a similar competency in a different occupation or sector, and include information about any gap training or up-skilling required due to difference in scope or application.



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eCampusOntario Open Competency Toolkit by Dennis Green and Carolyn Levy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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