This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

The importance of competence in an evolving industry

Author : Huw Bement, CompEx Certification

02 November 2021

Ensuring a competent and adaptable workforce in an ever-changing industry has never been so crucial. Huw Bement, Director of Certification body CompEx, discusses the pivotal role competency plays in delivering good quality work safely, as well as why creating a pipeline of flexible, multi-skilled trade professionals is more important than ever.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

What we mean by competence

Most of us would consider ourselves good drivers but despite a steady decline in casualties over the last thirty years, over 150,000 people are still killed or injured on Britain’s roads. We suffer from illusory superiority, also known as the above-average effect. In the early eighties a survey asked students to rank their driving skills against others. Overwhelmingly, respondents rated themselves in the top 50%.

I clearly remember a humbling moment when my confident assertion about a particular aspect of the Highway Code was corrected by my 19-year-old daughter. I thought I was a good driver, and yet I couldn’t remember the theory. I got it wrong. By that time, I had over 20 years of experience, and that must count for something, surely? Of course, experience does count, and all parents of young drivers know that insurance premiums reflect the much higher likelihood of accidents amongst new and inexperienced motorists.

Relaying this story to a colleague recently, she explained that I was unconsciously competent, and when I stared blankly, she went on to describe The Four Stages of Competence. Simply put, as we learn something new, we progress from unconsciously incompetent, to consciously incompetent, and then to consciously competent. Finally, we become unconsciously competent, which is where our new skill becomes second nature. Pretty straight forward when you think about it, but her final comment was a powerful one, “unconscious competence can still lead to bad outcomes through complacency.”

Just as driving tests have evolved over the last 20 years, so has the workplace. Technology, economics, organisations, and climate change, for example, have already and will continue to change jobs and the skills we need to do them. Our understanding of competency has to evolve, and critically how we define and measure competence must change too.

Quality and competence

In response to the Grenfell Tower disaster and Hackitt Review, the Competence Steering Group’s report ‘Setting the Bar’ addressed the shortcomings that had been identified. A series of working groups were set up to develop sector specific responses. For example, Working Group 2 (WG2) focussed on installers, and was supported by representatives from the built environment and fire safety sectors. The key recommendations from WG2 were:

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

• Accredited third party certification of companies

• Level 2 or 3 qualifications for individuals

• A card scheme such as, but not limited to, the CSCS

• CPD refresher training and the maintenance of individual skills

• Have a core knowledge of fire safety in buildings – training to be standardised and made mandatory

These recommendations resonated with me because they reflected much of what I have found from my discussions with stakeholders within the CompEx user community. Competence is not just about an individual employee at one moment in time, but must also recognise the role of the wider culture and processes within an organisation, and its role in underpinning quality.

As Steve Bratt, Chair of CompEx, Chief Executive of engineering services body ECA and a member of the CLC Task Force Group, recently noted: “There should be an entry standard that everyone understands, for any occupation – if there are multiple routes to demonstrating competence, history tells us the cheapest and quickest route will prevail and our attempts to be an industry that can deliver quality will fail”.

Responding to a changing workplace

Change is happening everywhere you look; in society, in business and in the way we all live and work. Nearly every industrial sector around the world has been experiencing fast and sometimes disruptive change, not least of course as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Technology, innovation, the transition to a lower carbon future, and increasing automation are all playing a role in re-shaping the workplace. In turn, every business will need an increasingly flexible, multi-skilled and technology-enabled workforce to adapt to and succeed in the workplace of the future.

Huw Bement, CompEx Certification
Huw Bement, CompEx Certification

In the 2019 Skills Landscape report, part of the OPITO UKCS Workforce Dynamics series forecasted that by 2025, the industry will not only face an aging workforce but there will be approximately 4,500 new people employed in roles that don’t currently exist. Therefore, different skills and competences will be needed to fill these future roles. This pattern is likely to be replicated across different sectors and occupations, and with a significant proportion of the current workforce still working in 2025 it will be essential to look at ways of upskilling the current workforce.

New innovative learning methods

To ensure industry has access to the right skills, employers, training providers, certification schemes and awarding bodies must continue to collaborate to develop the curriculum and training methods, so they can adapt to the changing nature of work.

The amalgamation of new technology (e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence, expert systems) and new training practices (virtual and augmented reality, simulation and situational analysis training) has the potential to transform how people are going to learn and upskill. New technologies could offer the opportunity to improve the cost effectiveness, flexibility and access to acquire the necessary skills and competencies. The UKCS survey highlights that there will be an increasing demand for simulation, virtual reality and situational awareness training, potentially offsetting the need for more traditional face-to-face learning methods.

CompEx was established over 25 years ago and has seen first-hand how an industry has evolved. As technology and new ways of working transform industries and businesses there is a requirement us to consider how we best assess and manage competence. It’s not just about knowing the subject that makes you competent, it’s about your ability to apply and interpret it in different contexts. As a business, we are committed to help equip those within the sector with the right skills and capabilities to meet the requirements of the ever-changing industry and to ensure a continued pipeline of qualified and competent workers. 

About the author:

Huw Bement joined certification body CompEx as Executive Director in January 2021 and has already started looking at ways to guide the scheme through the next phase of its journey. CompEx has an incredible legacy spanning nearly 30 years, so Huw is working to ensure that the needs of all its stakeholders are met for many more years to come. Huw aims to leverage CompEx’s technical expertise to increase the scheme’s reach and support improvements to standards and safety.


Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page