The skills debate in many European countries has for many years been preoccupied with the supply of qualified individuals and participation in training events. However, recent case-study work suggests that qualifications and training are partial measures of skill development as most learning arises naturally out of the demands and challenges of everyday work experience and interactions with colleagues, clients and customers. This paper argues that the 'learning as acquisition' and 'learning as participation' metaphors aptly capture these two competing intellectual traditions. The paper outlines an experiment that was designed to give the 'learning as participation' metaphor a firmer survey basis than it has hitherto enjoyed. The results highlight the importance of social relationships and mutual support in enhancing individual performance at work, factors which individual acquisition of qualifications and attendance on courses ignores. The paper also confirms the importance of job design in promoting and facilitating learning at work.