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Competence and Learning Management

ISO standards are consistent in requiring that people are competent to perform the work they are assigned. This sounds logical, but how do you prove that to an auditor, and how do you keep track of competency level? For smaller companies, this sounds like a no-brainer “Well I know they can do the job, they don’t get scrap”, but with staff changes, as the organization increases in size managing this info gets more complex and eventually overwhelming. Hence the advent of Learning Management Systems. Whatever the size of the company, test your assumptions of system effectiveness:

  • In a 5-person company Jane is the only one who does her specific task. Management realizes that is a risk, and so she cross-trains someone else on her responsibilities, and in her down time starts writing a job-manual with one page for each job activity and how she does it. Suddenly Jane gets the opportunity to live overseas and bids a fond farewell to the team. She’s left resources for her successor – but can they follow them? Do they make sense to the next person? Consider: To test the cross training received, your internal audit would not just audit Jane, but would also audit her backup to ensure that the instructions are logical to them also.

  • In a 25-person company, HR and quality share the roles of managing the training matrix to ensure everyone is competent. They have listed job descriptions, and the competencies required for each job role. Since most responsibilities are task related, employees are provided with On-the-Job-Training (OJT) and managers are responsible for recording new competencies. When a job position opened up, James was promoted internally, and management promised he’d receive all the OJT needed to bring him to competence. James learned quickly, but at audit time the OJT records are incomplete and his main trainer, a coworker, wasn’t listed on the training matrix as competent to train for those activities. Consider: including office skills in the matrix; keeping the matrix updated when employees learn new skills; defining the level of competence (beginner operator, can work independently, or setup and trainer); and ensuring any training like IPC or forklift driver certs are maintained on schedule.

  • Your employee count has exploded this past year, and spreadsheets are no longer manageable, so you invest in learning management software. Each department defines the competencies needed, and the procedures associated with work in that area. Each supervisor is tasked with creating training modules for the activities of his/her department. Since some are better writers than others, the depth and timeliness of the materials varies. Employees are assigned training modules to complete, but there is no accountability to ensure modules are completed (oops!). As a result of the training, employees approach leadership with discrepancies in the written work instructions (congratulations on great staff engagement!). Consider: using a module template for consistency; updating training when procedures are revised; evaluating the quality of training through testing; and checking that people complete key training annually so their knowledge is current with process updates.

Whatever size your company is, the goal is to make sure people have received the info they need to ensure the process is consistent. Happy training everyone!


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