‘Competency’ in Engineering

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Create Date June 19, 2018
Last Updated June 19, 2018

M Unger, ROSEN Group, UK
P Hopkins, Phil Hopkins Ltd., UK1


In the 1960s, David McClelland (an American psychologist) showed that traditional intelligence quotient (IQ) tests and personality assessments being used by companies to hire new staff were poor predictors of competency. He proposed that these hiring decisions are better based on ‘demonstrable competencies’ relating specifically to the position being filled.

‘Competence’ is ‘the ability to do something well’, in particular, the ability to undertake responsibilities, and to perform activities to a recognised standard.

Competency has long been a requirement in engineering industries. The pipeline industry is clear about the need for competency; for example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ pipeline standards state:

... the Code is not a design handbook; it does not eliminate the need for the designer or for competent engineering judgment’,

and the International Standard for pipelines (ISO 13623) states:

... the design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance and abandonment of the pipeline system shall be carried out by suitably qualified and competent persons’.

Consequently, pipeline regulatory bodies can justifiably ask operators to demonstrate the competency of any or all of their staff, particularly after a pipeline failure.

This paper explains what ‘competency’ is, and gives its key elements. It also describes competency ‘standards’ and ‘frameworks’, and also explains how to assess competencies, to allow companies to say that their staff are ‘demonstrably’ competent.