Education on line > Articles in English > The Competency Conspiracy

The case for workplace competency is rarely, if ever, openly explored – yet this oversight can lead to both worker confusion and business inefficiencies. Such inefficiencies inevitably extend to other businesses and, thus, become endemic throughout the economy. Indeed, by omission, competency can become an unspoken conspiracy – something to be achieved not for its own sake but ‘because someone in authority says so’. So, why should we aim to have a constantly competent workforce?

As we know from our general experience as well as our work, some workplace institutions seem to place a low priority on workforce competency. As their customers, from time to time we experience their incompetence and inefficiency – and we wonder how and why these institutions can function in such an inefficient, unproductive and unhelpful way. In ‘the old days’ there were such things as ‘jobs for life’ regardless of the worker’s competence level. People were given jobs because members of their family worked for those organisations and ‘put in a good word’ for them, regardless of their aptitude for the job they were to do. Moreover, people who were unquestionably incompetent were allowed to keep their jobs because “one day, you’ll want someone to allow you to keep a job when you’re ‘past it’”.

Competency-based work standards began to be introduced in the UK from the late 1970s. Workers then needed ‘certificates of competence’ – initially based on ‘grandfather rights’ but later based on assessments. That idea has now permeated most crafts and professions.

Competency – along with ideas about what constitutes competency and how it can be measured and assessed – change with time, technology and fashion. New generations entering the workplace need to understand and accept the rationale for building a competent workforce in all areas of the economy. The accepted competency standards for any given job continue to be refined, as working conventions, technologies and attitudes develop. This provides the rationale for much of the training / learning and development activities that relate to the modern workplace.

In addition to on-going legislation and other regulations requiring workers to prove their competence, the principal justification for all this is ‘safety’. Training for, assessing and ensuring competence should make life safer – for workers and the customers they serve. Competent workers should also be more productive and efficient. In turn, this should benefit the business for which they work and provide value for the organisation’s stakeholders. The argument is that it’s vital for the entire staff of every organisation to be (demonstrably) competent because that benefits the organisation, its customers and, thereby, the whole economy.

Nowhere is this more important than in the energy industry – not least because this industry is currently at the forefront of the world’s climate change debate and it forms a hugely significant part of the global economy. It includes non-renewable forms of energy, such as petroleum products and oil, natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil and nuclear, as well as renewable energy via hydropower, biofuels such as ethanol, wind power and solar power. The oil and gas drilling industry alone affects the life of every person on the planet and comprises some 3.8% of the global economy, with revenues of some $3.3 trillion in 2019. Add to that the renewables sector, which is growing strongly in the wake of the climate change debate as well as other world issues, and it becomes obvious that the energy industry needs a constantly competent workforce – from the points of view of safety (for its workers and all of us on the planet), efficiency and productivity.

Susan Gearing

Susan Gearing, a senior energy sector specialist with eCom Learning Solutions (, a leading independent provider of digital learning and assessment to key energy industry players, comments that, “Those in the energy sector have an energy transition document and an energy transition target to make their activities more environmentally friendly. The change projects, new processes and procedures that will come from this will create a plethora of learning. eCom aims to support the industry to get that right first time and put employee learning and development front and centre of those projects.”

Among eCom’s recent and on-going energy-related projects are a major eAssessment programme, in conjunction with the International Well Control Forum (IWCF), the only independent body focused on oil and gas well control planning and accreditation. Introduced at the end of 2016, this programme has already assessed some 30,000 candidates online. The online assessments, which include both knowledge and practical elements, are available in 17 languages.

According to eCom’s Managing Director, Wendy Edie, “The programme – known as FORUM and delivered via eCom’s assessment management platform, eNetAssess – allows invigilators to monitor student progress, automatically mark online tests, record practical assessments, manage and verify certificates, as well as deal with question authoring and multiple translation versions. FORUM also provides IWCF administrators, centres, assessors and invigilators with a single platform for reviewing candidate details – and enables external users to authenticate and check the validity of a certificate.

Wendy Edie

In addition, FORUM issues successful candidates with electronic certification (eCerts) – significantly reducing waiting times for candidates to get their qualifications.”
eCom has also helped Operations Geoscience International Competency Assessment (OGICA), a UK-registered, not-for-profit collective of experienced energy industry professionals, to create an online self-assessment tool to benchmark individuals’ skills and identify skills gaps within the international operational geoscience community, notably for those working operationally in upstream oil and gas geoscience. OGICA’s Christine Telford commented, “Historically, employers and professional organisations appraise practitioners’ abilities based on education, references, continuing professional development (CPD) and work experience, together with organisational membership. While these are important components of a Competency Management System (CMS), they don’t validate the proficiency for the practitioner to work to a recognised standard.”

eCom’s work in the renewables sector includes developing bespoke eLearning materials to help make offshore wind turbine maintenance technicians’ jobs safer – especially when they are working in rough seas. eCom has researched and produced these eLearning materials for the engineering innovator, Pict Offshore – part-owned by Ørsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer.

To increase adoption of its laser-guided, active heave-compensated personnel hoist, called the Get Up Safe (GUS) system, Pict wanted its customers around the world to have a cost-effective way to realise the system’s benefits as quickly as possible. The GUS system’s applications now include it being deployed off the North-east US coast – at the 132-megawatt (MW) South Fork Wind offshore wind farm, as well as at the Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind projects. This trio of offshore wind farms are producing a total capacity of some 1.8 gigawatts (GW).

“This initial training needs to be delivered consistently every time and cover important safety information, for both normal and emergency situations,” explained Susan Gearing. “Pict also wanted to include an end-of-training assessment to check each user had assimilated the information and was ready to progress to practical training.”

Without assessment materials, no one could objectively identify workers’ competency levels. Without learning and development materials, achieving job and professional competency would take longer, be more haphazard and offer more opportunities for making potentially costly mistakes along the way. Moreover, making these materials and assessments available digitally means they can be accessed almost anywhere, at any time as well as adapted for different cultures and made available in a wide range of languages. Furthermore, these materials’ digital nature means organisations and their workers will always access the materials’ most up-to-date versions.

Worker competency is an increasingly important aspect of working life but, as technology develops and the time to achieve competency contracts, so technology – in the form of digitally delivered learning materials and assessments – enables these demands to be met. It’s up to organisations and their workforces to embrace the concept of competency and take advantage of digitally-delivered aids to competence produced by competent, professional organisations.

Author biography

Bob Little

Bob Little PR’s Specialist Re-imaginer, Bob Little is a UK-based writer, commentator and publicist, specialising in the corporate learning industry. Introduced to the corporate online learning technologies industry in May 1990, Bob now works globally and his work is published around the world. He advises and helps promote organisations including the digital learning and assessment specialist, eCom Learning Solutions, which creates solutions aimed at increasing learning engagement and driving productivity to help organisations achieve their goals.

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