The reform of vocational education and training (VET) policy along competence‐based lines, with responsibility for the definition of competences vested in employer‐led Industry Lead Bodies, can be contextualised as part of a wider process of decollectivisation in employment relations. This is most apparent in the decline of trade unions which occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. This article briefly describes the way in which VET has been characterised by decollectivisation, after which it goes on to show in more detail the degree to which the competence‐based reforms are part of this process in a number of important respects. Nevertheless, despite the clear ideological assumptions underpinning the reforms, it is also evident that the principle of competence‐based VET has attracted a broad range of support. It will be argued in this article – which is principally discursive – that this was on account of the ostensibly rational, neutral and anti‐elitist aspects of the reforms.