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Analysis of competence assurance programs reveals best practices, evolving policies, common challenges

Use of internal assessors, keeping competency content evergreen and including contract labor in competence programs among key trends found

By Brooke Polk, IADC, and Dave Demski, Workforce Impact

In 2009, IADC initiated a Competence Assurance Accreditation (CAA) program to provide a means and a model for oil and gas related companies to establish an industry standard to maximize the impact of competence assurance programs. This standard is designed to define effective ways to develop and maintain employee competence, such that every employee is competent to perform his or her job role successfully and consistently. CAA has become a global standard for the structure and management of these programs, and 22 companies’ Terms and Definitions IADC defines competence as an individual’s knowledge, skills, abilities and behavioral attributes that enable him or her to perform his or her work tasks consistently at the required standard. A competence assurance program (CAP) is designed to reflect the organizational structure of the program and includes documented processes for identifying, defining, developing, assessing, remediating and managing the continuous competence of personnel.

Knowledge, skill and ability are terms that IADC has also defined as they relate to competence. Knowledge is defined as an employee’s clear and practical understanding of the information needed to perform his or her job successfully and efficiently. A skill is defined as the manner in which and level to which an employee consistently performs the job tasks. Knowledge and skills can be assessed as part of a CAP. Ability is defined as an employee’s physical and mental capabilities (e.g., climbing, lifting, seeing, hearing and various aptitudes). Ability can be determined but typically cannot be enhanced through training or experience.

From 2012 to 2014, IADC worked with nine industry workgroups to define the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) needed for 52 industry positions, primarily operational positions for drilling operations. The KSAs are available through IADC’s KSA website as a tool for building a competence program.

In 2015, a workgroup of IADC members who had implemented competence programs within their own companies volunteered their time to creating IADC’s Competence Guidelines, a handbook that provides best practices for creating competence programs.

Effective competence programs offer multiple benefits to the individual, organization and industry. They include:

• Provides clear expectations so employees know what is needed to be successful in their jobs;

• Increases workplace and environmental safety;

• Defines standards for minimum-required and best practices;

• Creates a skilled workforce based on defined standards;

• Identifies gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities;

• Contributes to the development of targeted training programs to close KSA gaps; and

• Increases productivity.

IADC benchmarking effort

To help the oil and gas industry develop programs that consistently keep their people, the environment and assets safe, IADC conducted a detailed benchmarking in 2017 of 12 competence assurance programs. The benchmarking also aimed to assess whether the IADC Competence Assurance Accreditation program was adding value to members.

To help the oil and gas industry develop programs that consistently keep their people, the environment and assets safe, IADC conducted a detailed benchmarking in 2017 of 12 competence assurance programs. The benchmarking also aimed to assess whether the IADC Competence Assurance Accreditation program was adding value to members.

The purpose of this article is to provide program insight to help the oil and gas industry to develop programs that consistently keep people, the environment and assets safe. This article is based on detailed benchmarking, conducted in 2017, of 12 CAPs. Each of the CAPs was subject to an IADC two-day audit with extensive reviews of CAP policies and procedures, as well as interviews with management and employees involved in or affected by the program. The objective of this benchmarking effort was twofold:

1. To determine if there were any emerging trends, potential best practices and remaining challenges facing these programs.

2. To assess whether the IADC CAA was adding value to members.

The companies benchmarked represented a variety of drilling contractors and service companies, with both mature and newly implemented CAPs. Despite the industry downturn, it was found that IADC’s CAA had helped to improve competence programs and increase the number of programs overall, and existing programs are continuing to evolve.

The findings of this effort are broken into three categories: broadly adopted trends and best practices, evolving policies and procedures, and remaining challenges that the 12 programs continue to face. The companies included in this benchmarking are considered to be a representative sample of all IADC-accredited CAPs.

1. Broadly Adopted Trends and Best Practices

The following practices have been adopted in some form by more than 75% of the companies audited. These practices are not required by IADC through the accreditation criteria but have been implemented by companies as their programs matured. In the future, some of these practices may become required for accreditation.

• Contract labor coverage – Many drilling contractors and service companies employ local labor for less-skilled positions, especially when operating in developing countries. These companies have chosen to include contract or national labor in their CAP to minimize exposure to risk.

• Internal vs external assessors – All of the 12 companies are using internal assessors. Post-Macondo, numerous companies utilized external assessors in an effort to solicit more objective assessments. The trend is now to use internal assessors because of costs and the fact that internal assessors have a vested interest in having competent co-workers.

• Assessment time windows – Most companies have designated a time window during which a newly promoted or hired employee must become competent. This is typically 12 months.

• Reassessment of employees – With the industry downturn, employees are staying in their job roles longer. Companies have determined that they should reassess employees after the passage of time from their initial assessment. The typical approach is to reassess them on a subset of the initial competencies after three to five years in a position. This subset of competencies typically includes the more high-risk safety-critical competencies.

• Evergreen competency content – Companies are continually revising the content of their competencies as procedures and technology change but also as HSE or operational challenges need to be addressed. The intent is to ensure employees have the necessary KSAs to prevent or mitigate future incidents.

• Program progress metrics – Most companies have put in place metrics that track the progress and health of their CAPs over time. Most of these metrics are determined at a rig- or service-location-level. The typical metrics are the percentage of employees who have been assessed or the percentage of employees who have been deemed fully competent. Care is usually taken to avoid metrics that would drive the wrong behaviors.

2. Evolving Policies and Procedures

A subset of the 12 companies (approximately one-third) have implemented potential best practices that appear to offer real value to their programs. These practices were typically seen in the more mature CAPs.

• Evolving objective – These companies have initiated practices that appear to be moving the primary objective of their CAPs from “assurance” to an objective of “workforce optimization.” It may be too early to deem these practices as mandatory for a CAP, but they have the potential to add significant value to existing programs.

• Governance – All of the audited companies had extensive policies and procedures that govern the CAPs. Several companies have implemented governing bodies that are made up of operational and senior management to oversee the program and ensure that it meets the needs of the business. Most of these groups are formal and meet routinely to provide oversight and direction to the CAPs.

• Link of competency level to experience – Effective and documented competency assessments are aimed at measuring an employee’s competency, identifying competence gaps and communicating expectations. These companies are now linking detailed records of an employee’s actual job experience to the documented competency assessments. They feel this provides additional documentation of their level of competency.   

• Workforce planning – Several companies are linking competency assessments with work experience to identify personnel who are capable of performing additional tasks or fulfilling additional roles and responsibilities. The companies are using this information to select personnel for future assignments. They are also better able to provide documented evidence of employee competence to their clients.

• Integration of CAPs into other company initiatives – Initially, CAPs were designed as independent programs to provide competency assurance. As outlined above, programs have evolved over time and now are integrated into HR initiatives (performance management and succession planning) and into service quality assurance and other high-level activities. These mature programs are becoming fully integrated into the corporate fabric.

• Digital entry of assessment records – Most programs began with assessments being recorded on paper, scanned and then entered into a corporate database. Over time, most companies have begun using spreadsheets, with automatic entry into a database. Several companies are entering assessment records from the rig or service location directly into a competency database.

3. Remaining challenges

There has been considerable progress toward refining CAPs. However, these programs continue to face common challenges, perhaps because an industrywide accepted “best practice” has yet to immerge. The following are challenges commonly faced by the 12 audited programs:

• Evidence – Early implementation of CAPs tended to stress the need to capture and store “paper evidence” as supporting proof of an employee’s competency. Evidence of competence does not mean the storing of countless paper evidence. There are more effective ways to prove and document an individual’s competence. These companies are moving away from scanning and storing “paper evidence” and are relying more on the judgment and ability of assessors to correctly determine an employee’s competence through the use of defined measurable KSAs. Many companies store competence assessment documentation electronically. Despite this, a few companies continue to gather, scan and store a large amount of paper that may not accurately reflect an employee’s competence.

• Validation of assessments – Essentially, all of the audited companies validate assessments in some way. However, in most cases, this involves only a check to determine that the paperwork was completed as required. Companies are utilizing a range of strategies to validate either all assessments, or just a select or random few. The challenge here is that most of this validation effort focuses on the completed copy of the assessment. There is an opportunity to add more internal audit validation to determine if processes are followed and assessments are credible.

• Poorly worded competencies – Many of the audited programs have legacy competencies that were difficult to assess because they were originally vague or bundled multiple KSAs. Poorly worded or combined competencies are a critical issue because they form the foundation of a program. Many companies have recognized this challenge and are rewriting their competencies.

• Simplicity vs comprehensiveness – Programs that involve extensive paper work or bureaucracy consume resources while adding minimal value and detracting from the overall value of the program. As a result, most programs are gradually but deliberately simplifying administrative aspects of their programs while working to preserve the core value.

• Program effectiveness vs compliance with policies – All accredited CAPs have audit processes in place; however, most of these simply verify compliance with policies and procedures but do little to determine if the program is truly making a difference in employee productivity or safety.


All of the 12 audited companies have collected and communicated anecdotal evidence that their CAPs have improved the performance of employees who participate in the program. Many of these companies credit their CAPs as a primary driver for improvements in HSE and operational performance. Although some programs still face challenges, the programs have matured over time and are more robust than they were when first achieving accreditation. As the industry’s financial prospects continue to improve, companies that do not have accredited CAPs can benefit from the lessons learned by the pioneers of this accreditation.

The way forward

IADC is committed to developing, promoting and managing accreditation programs that raise the bar on employee competence. IADC will be issuing suggested program changes to the Workforce Development Committee in Q1 2018 for comment and feedback. After feedback is considered, the committee will vote on implementation of the new requirements into the current IADC Competence Assurance Accreditation.

Additional efforts are under way to promote competence by presenting at conferences and offering competence workshops throughout 2018 to help industry develop effective CAPs and to tackle emerging challenges related to competence. DC

For more information regarding IADC’s Competence Assurance Accreditation, please contact competence@iadc.org.

Click here to access the IADC Knowledge, Skills and Abilities competencies.

Click here to access the IADC competence assurance guidelines.

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