Industrial employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that technicians are competent to carry out their tasks.
‘It is easy at an interview for an applicant to talk knowledgeably about maintenance, but put him in front of a system, comprising PLC, inverter, motor and conveyor, and he may not be so capable!’ says John Saysell, Training and Skills Director for MCP which has direct experience of this type of assessment.
‘First, let’s define competence. Simply put, it means that the task is done safely, to the right standard within a reasonable length of time. Over the past 15 years, competence has come to the forefront in our discussions with industry.’
TWO APPROACHES TO COMPETENCE
There are two main approaches to establishing training matters and needs, namely the classic Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and a Competence Based approach.
The classic TNA is a much broader way of examining what maintenance technicians could get involved in. The Competence Based approach is narrower, but an output from it is actual evidence of competence.
Amongst the gains from a training and development plan are opportunities to:
- Improve morale, motivation and job satisfaction
- Improve performance and customer service
- Staff work to individual training plans
- Clearly, define maintenance roles
- Improve staff retention
- Accurate evidence of competence
- Comply with legislation
- Embed a transparent grading structure
- Reduce reliance on contracted staff
- Align training with business needs
- Balance competence across different shifts
Approach 1 – Classic TNA (Fig.1)
Initial communication sessions
It is important to involve all stakeholders from the outset. A brief presentation is made outlining the process, explaining how this method is objective, fair, and recognised as Best Practice.
Vocationally competent maintenance engineers walk the job with the technicians, listing each task they undertake. A questionnaire is then prepared (Fig. 2). Which is a typical technical experience questionnaire? The numbers in red are the desired numbers of competent staff. The next column is the actual numbers of competent staff. The skills gap or training need is the difference.
Technicians have their questionnaires administered in groups of five to ten. The questionnaires are then validated by the technicians’ first line manager.
Depending upon the job role and mix of tasks and skills, it will be possible to identify an ideal skill set for certain groups. Candidates can then be audited against this.
Development of individual training plans
Training plans will be a product of the skills audit and are linked to the organisation’s business needs.
Development of team training plans
If it is appropriate, it will also be possible to identify team training plans at this stage.
Sourcing, scheduling and delivery of training
Training providers are identified at this stage. Off-job and on-job training will then be delivered. Candidates will demonstrate competence and be signed off or, importantly, retrained.
Approach 2 – Practical competence based (Fig. 3)
This is appropriate for both existing staff and new recruits. Mechanical, electrical, electronic or engineered systems’ assessments that mirror the maintenance tasks will need to be written.
Typical assessments include:
1) Scenario based interview
2) Competence-based interview
3) Psychometric test
4) PLC fault finding rig test
5) Electro-pneumatic fault finding rig
6) Belt/Chain alignment
7) Sale isolation of 3 phase motor
8) Fault finding using electrical instruments
9) Stripping and reassembly of a pump
10) Mechanical/electronic theory
11) Inverter set up
As above, a presentation is made to stakeholders.
Vocationally competent maintenance engineers walk the job with the technicians, listing each task that the maintenance technicians undertake.
Identification of core competencies
From the task list, a number of core competencies (usually 20) will be reviewed. Some of the tasks will be appropriate for the higher-level technicians and some for the lower level.
Design of and validation of assessments
Assessments are developed working closely with the engineering team. They are validated and dry runs carried out.
Candidates undertaking individual assessments in groups
Assessments are carried out and feedback is given on candidates’ performance. Prioritised individual and group training plans are provided.
Sourcing, scheduling and delivery of training
Training providers are identified at this stage. Appropriate off-job and on-job training will then be delivered. Candidates will demonstrate competence and be signed off or retrained.
John Saysell, Training and Skills Director, MCP Consulting Group Ltd.
MCP’s Consulting and Training has worked across the UK and overseas, seeking to develop people skills and job satisfaction in a wide range of manufacturing organisations.