The paper seeks to address the neglected area of competency research that is the understanding and application of core competency concepts within small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). There is little doubt that SME manufacturing organisations can possess core competencies, however it appears from the literature that this issue has not yet been adequately addressed nor is there a clarification with regards to the nature of these competencies. This paper presents the results of an exploratory research study conducted with UK SMEs. The organisations involved were diverse and included a medical products manufacturer, automotive supplier, large metal fabrication and electromechanical capital equipment integrator. This research provides an insight into how competency concepts are perceived and understood amongst SME manufacturing firms and also whether these organisations use competence concepts. The research findings are important for both practitioners and academics, indicating an apparent lack of connectedness between research into competence and its 'real world' understanding and practical use within manufacturing SMEs.