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Knowing Practice: Vocational Thresholds for GPs, Carpenters, and Engineering Technicians

Karen Vaughan, Linda Bonne and Jan Eyre

How do people learn to become general practitioners, carpenters and engineering technicians? This report is based on the Knowing Practice project and explores practice-based learning (apprenticeship or vocational immersion) across three different fields. It is based on observations and interviews with 41 learner-practitioners and their workplace-based mentors, teachers, and advisors:

  1. GP registrars in the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ (RNZCGP) General Practice Education Programme
  2. carpentry apprentices in managed apprenticeships with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO)
  3. engineering technician cadets employed by engineering companies associated with the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand’s (IPENZ) Futureintech initiative

The significant learning experiences discussed by participants were detailed and specific to their field. However, those experiences also had many similarities: they almost always revealed the big picture and integrated aspects of practice. They had a memorable, 'no going back' quality. Sometimes they involved painful or counter-intuitive realisations about themselves and their work. 

To understand these aspects of capability development, the authors developed the idea of vocational thresholds: transformational learning experiences that do not just involve knowledge and ability to do things but involve a way to be as a GP, carpenter or engineering technician. There are implications for the kinds of experiences learner-practitioners are exposed to, and when, as well as the deliberate practice opportunities provided.


Knowing Practice
Year published: 
Publication type: 
Research report
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Karen Vaughan
Linda Bonne
Jan Eyre