Achieving Competency in Quality - Manufacturing's Got Talent!



Competency is all around us. It pervades our lives. We see competency on television, for example, in “America’s Got Talent.” Talented people, regardless of their age, gender or social background, performing all manner of stage acts that wow the show’s judges and viewers. We often ask ourselves, “How did they do that?”
We see competency in Quality as well. ISO 9001 includes a requirement for an organization’s people, specifically those involved in the Quality Management System, to be competent in their work responsibilities. The normative reference (vocabulary) document, ISO 9000, defines competence as “the demonstrated ability to apply skills and knowledge.” Those TV show contestants could certainly demonstrate skills and knowledge, but how did they become so competent? They aren’t likely to have been born with some “gift,” therefore, their performance is most likely the result of a combination of factors.
Practice, Practice, Practice…
 Zig Ziglar is credited with saying, “Repetition is the mother of learning, and the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” Most of those performers would likely attribute their impressive abilities to a combination of three important sources: education (performance “theory”), training (master classes or similar) and practice, practice, practice. Competent performers can usually demonstrate a specific part of their act and describe the purpose for it, often including some portion of the related theory.
The same can be said for many work-related activities in manufacturing. A journeyman machining center setter, for example, would be able to demonstrate competencies in terms of:
  • Blueprint reading
  • Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T)
  • Machine feeds and speeds
  • Material properties
  • CNC programming
If we analyze these, we can see that some knowledge aspects are going to be based in education – for example, material properties which affect the way a part is machined, or CNC programming. Some knowledge aspects may be derived from training, such as from a classroom event and/or “on-the-job.” Furthermore, a significant proportion of competency is experiential – which comes from practice, practice, practice.
When an organization is determining competencies, it’s worth breaking down the required records into these three categories:
  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience
From here, creating some criteria against which a person can be evaluated for the job they do should be relatively straightforward. Keeping a record of these criteria and stating that they were successfully demonstrated will sufficiently meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements stated in section 7.2.
Through this process, management must prepare themselves to discover that some employees may not be at the same level of competency they were assumed to have already reached. From Burch’s Learning Model of the 1970s, we can see there are four distinct stages of competency:
  • Unconscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is not aware of their lack of ability or denies it.
  • Conscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is aware of their inability.
  • Conscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, but their performance requires concentration.
  • Unconscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, and it can be performed easily without concentration.
These stages can be used to roughly measure and track an employee’s competency with certain topics and tasks. It’s important to recognize, however, that these stages are not concrete, and any changes made can affect the person such that they regress from unconscious competence right back to unconscious incompetence. After all, mastering this process, as well, takes practice, practice, practice.


Andy Nichols, Quality Program Manager
Andy has 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. In addition to his ISO 9000 Management Systems experience, he has worked extensively with ISO/TS16949, ISO/IEC 17024 and ISO/IEC 17025. His broad practical knowledge of ‘Quality Tools’ includes: SPC, FMEA, Quality Circles, Problem Solving, Internal Auditing and Process Mapping. He also has been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor.

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Categories: Quality Management, Workforce