Are there 4 or 5 dimensions of competency?

If we search Google for ‘The 5th Dimension’ we will find information about the American popular music vocal group. They had many hit songs during the 1960s and 1970s. But what about the dimensions of competency in the Australian VET system? How many are there? And does it really matter? Some people say there are four dimensions of competency, while others say there are five.

These questions got me thinking about how much I detest the ‘dimensions of competency’ concept. It was useful in 1993 when Australia was implementing its ‘new competency-based training system’. At that time, it was necessary to educate people in the ‘new concept’ of competencies and how it differed from a curriculum-based approach.

I don’t think the dimensions of competency matter anymore to the ‘everyday’ trainer and assessor. Most ‘everyday’ trainers and assessors do not determine the content of the training to be delivered, and they do not develop the assessment tools to be used.

Also, I believe that the developers of Training Packages and VET Accredited Courses build the dimensions of competency into each unit of competency, as required. This includes considering how the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations and environments are to be addressed. Australia has a mature VET system based on more than 25 years’ experience of developing Training Packages. I believe that new trainers and assessors need a more contemporary view about understanding and using competency standards.

However, it does not matter what I think. Many of the new TAE units of competencies release at the end of 2022 require knowledge of the dimensions of competency. Therefore, anyone studying for their TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification must know something about the dimensions of competency and how they are ‘theoretically’ used by trainers and assessors working for an RTO.

What are the dimensions of competency?

Dimensions of competency are part of the broad concept of competency, which includes all aspects of work performance as represented by: [1]

  • Task skills
  • Task management skills
  • Contingency management skills
  • Job/role environment skills.

Some people like to add a fifth dimension: Transfer skills.

Why do we still talk about the dimensions of competency?

(This article was originally published in 2019 but has been update in 2023.)

During 2019, when I did a Google search for the dimension of competency, I was presented with a limited or narrow range of results. Nothing seemed credible or relevant. I then searched the following reputable sources of VET information but could not find the term ‘dimensions of competency’:

  • ASQA website [2]
  • ASQA’s Users’ Guide to the Standards [3]
  • ASQA’s Guide to developing assessment tools [4]
  • Government of Western Australia, Department of Training and Workforce Development: Designing assessment tools for quality outcomes in VET, 4th Edition 2013 [5].

I think the only reason we still talk about the dimensions of competency is because it is listed as a Knowledge Evidence item in several TAE units of competency. This is not a good enough reason for regurgitating this unnecessary concept in today’s VET system. I am an experience developer of training and assessment materials. I am about to make a confession. I have never said to myself, “how am I going to incorporate the dimensions of competency?”

During the recent review of the TAE Training Package, I had recommended the removal this antiquated concept from the TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Instead of removing the dimensions of competency, many more TAE units of competency have had it listed as Knowledge Evidence.

What do I think trainers and assessors need to know?

Trainers and assessors need to know the following:

  • Definition of competency
  • Definition of assessment
  • Principles of assessment
  • Rules of evidence.

If should be noted that the second sentence of the definition of competency covers what some people call the fifth dimension of competency:

the ability to transfer and apply skills and knowledge to new situations and environments.”

Also, I think trainers and assessor need to know how to read, interpret and contextualise competency standards. This requires a person to understand the structure and intent of the following:

  • Unit application
  • Elements and performance criteria
  • Foundation skills
  • Performance evidence
  • Knowledge evidence
  • Assessment conditions.

In conclusion

To answer the question: Are there 4 or 5 dimensions of competency ?

There are 4 dimensions. But whether there is 4 or 5, it is purely academic. Some people may disagree with me. That is okay. I am more pragmatic than academic.

Since 1997, Training Package developers have been incorporating the dimensions of competency into the units of competency.

Unfortunately, if you are studying for your TAE40116 or TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification, you will still need to know something about the these dimensions of competency.

The following articles provide further details about the four dimensions of competency:

On a positive note, the dimensions of competency remind us that a safe and productive worker must do more than focus on performing one task at a time. And when irregularities and break downs in routine occur, they must be able to respond.


[1] accessed 17 March 2023

[2] accessed 25 October 2019

[3] accessed 25 October 2019

[4] accessed 25 October 2019

Do you need help with your TAE studies?

Are you a doing the TAE40116 or TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and are you struggling with your studies? Do you want help with your TAE40116 or TAE40122 studies?

Ring Alan Maguire on 0493 065 396 to discuss.

Contact now!

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Training trainers since 1986

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

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