Cultivating employee competence: Rowan takes journey that begins with the end in mind

Posted on 17 January 2009

By Jean-Francois Basse, Rowan Drilling UK

In 2008, Rowan Drilling UK became the first company in the world to gain full IADC accreditation through its Competence Assurance Program (CAA), building on existing accreditation by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to deliver national qualifications.

Competence assurance was first formalized and introduced at Rowan in the UK in 1997, and, over the past decade, it has become central to how the business operates. This article outlines the journey that Rowan has undertaken to reach accreditation and how the business and its employees have benefited from a cultural shift.
competence

Competence can mean different things to different people, so let’s look at the essence of the word. “Competence” comes from the Latin “competere” meaning “suit-able.” So in the professional context, competence can be defined simply as someone’s ability to suit to the requirements of a particular work activity.

Earlier this year, I went offshore to observe roustabouts moving tubulars. I had to stop a job when an experienced roustabout, who was holding the tag line, walked under the load. How is this possible for someone with experience, who has demonstrated the skills and knowledge required to do a job, time and time again, to deviate so drastically from what they know to be best practice? Very often we know we shouldn’t do something but we still do it, don’t we?

Anyone can be trained to do a job, and many “trained” people will do their jobs adequately, but does that mean they are actually competent to perform a specific task? The answer, in some cases, is that training isn’t always enough. Competence is beyond skills and knowledge. It is about behaviour, attitude, experience and “know how.”

A useful definition is: “Competence is the acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities at a level of expertise sufficient to be able to perform in an appropriate work setting.”

As the IADC Offshore Competency Training Program puts it, “working on any mobile offshore unit requires specific skills, training and competency to ensure that daily operations and response to emergency situations can be undertaken safely and professionally.”

To Rowan, having a competent team means we get the job done as expected, with reduced risk and with greater trust in one another.
Our company embarked on its competency assurance program in 1997 and, through an often challenging learning and cultural change process, we are now a better business than we were before.

The oil and gas industry is driven by technology. By having a competent workforce, we are well positioned to make the most of the equipment at our disposal and ensure we do the best job possible for customers.

Accreditation journey

Rowan’s first attempts at creating and implementing competence assurance programs didn’t deliver the cultural change we are now benefiting from.
The first program, which focused on log books, was essentially designed to meet regulatory requirements set down by the UK Health and Safety Executive. In reality, it encouraged box ticking more than anything else.

In December 2001, we decided to drastically change our approach. We set about raising the bar by obtaining external validation for our program. Our ambitious goal was for Rowan to become an approved Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) centre. This would mean that progress through the company’s competence assurance program would result in individuals gaining internationally recognised professional qualifications that they could add to their CVs.

SQA approval of the Rowan Competence Assurance Program was secured in March 2003, giving the program real credibility. Accreditation demonstrated that our policies and processes were both robust and portable, and it proved that we are able to deliver quality assessments consistently in an offshore drilling environment.

However, progress at this time was slow, with assessors taking up to two years to become qualified and with a success rate of just 45%. This was very disappointing. In 2007 we introduced a radical, high-impact development program that, in a very short time, has increased the success rate to 75% and cut the normal qualifying time to four months.

Having reached such a strong position, our next objective was to secure industry accreditation for the program by further developing the relevance of our qualifications to our employees.

Competence Assurance

Rowan has a corporate strategic objective “to be recognised as having the best trained, most innovative and capable people in the industry.” To help achieve this, we decided to lead the way by being an early adopter of the IADC Competence Assurance Accreditation program.

In reality. we became the first company to have our program successfully audited by IADC. The accreditation of our competence program is an achievement we are very proud of, and it increases the relevance of our qualifications to our employees. The program is now the backbone of our learning and development strategy. It ensures people take ownership of their actions and responsibility for their personal development. It encourages people to be accountable for their knowledge, skills and attitudes.

For our candidates, competence is an ongoing process and “a journey that begins with the end in mind.” It is a journey that we have sign-posted with clear and consistent messages, with the aim of making sure our people understand the relevance and importance we place on the program and on their development.

We have invested in branding for the program – making sure that it is easily identifiable and has a visible air of quality. High-quality competence portfolios, workbooks and supporting materials have all been designed to reflect the high standards we want Rowan people to aspire to and achieve.

The actual journey to competence undertaken by an individual is unique to their role within the company. We develop and assess people on their skills and the knowledge they actually need to do their particular job.

A series of development and self-assessment workbooks have been created to cover a wide range of activities, such as deck work, drill floor, maintenance and management. Each workbook is designed to encourage individuals to reflect on what they do, how they do it and how they can improve. We provide opportunities for them to do this during their normal work hours. We want people to question their own abilities in a safe and constructive way.

Candidates are responsible for attaining the knowledge criteria detailed in the workbook and describe how they apply what they have learned in its application in the workplace. Our employees not only learn about the skills and knowledge required to do their work, but they also learn to relate the standard back to their own experience of being successful or not. The workbooks prepare employees for formal assessments and can be used for re-validating existing competent employees.

We now work closely with external experts to co-deliver our program – Performance Essentials of Aberdeen and R&B Progress of Great Yarmouth. Today the Rowan competence program is much more than just a way of looking at someone’s ability. It is a wide-ranging knowledge management tool, a mechanism to capture skills and know-how through standardisation of work practices. It provides an integrated succession planning system at all levels, ensuring we can always replace skills when people are promoted or move on.

We work in a buoyant industry climate, and although it is always disappointing when someone with years of experience leaves us, we are now better able to retain the knowledge and expertise they have acquired. Through the competence program, the knowledge of individuals can be captured, passed on to others and transferred into our policies, procedures and standards of performance.

As an industry, we regularly hear of concerns about our aging workforce, how we need to face the challenges of experienced people retiring and how we need to attract new blood into the sector. We face a real human challenge, one where competence can play a key part.

At Rowan, we believe that there are plenty of good people out there. With good PR and a strong reputation for quality employment, we will attract the best people. The challenge is how we transfer knowledge and know-how from the senior people in the industry to those coming on board. That process is part of organisational competence.

We are fortunate to have many loyal skilled and knowledgeable people within our company, and just as traditional trades have passed their skills on from one generation to the next, the competency assessor program encourages experienced employees to mentor and develop those around them. It helps supervisors and managers formalize the knowledge transfer that they provide on a day-to-day basis. When key people retire, we encourage them to continue to work with us on a consultation basis, providing coaching and assessment services.

Our program assessors help candidates realise their abilities, watching them learn and demonstrate the skills required to be competent. They cultivate competence, helping candidates understand how and why they should do things in a particular way and encourage them to reflect on their performance and consider where they can improve. An effective assessor plays many roles: planner, motivator, coordinator, decision-maker, progress reviewer, and personal and inspirational coach.

A personal journey

When I first started working on this project 11 years ago, fresh from a rig but with a couple of university degrees under my belt, I naively thought that setting up a competence program would be a fairly straightforward exercise. After all, all I needed to do was formalize policies and procedures, and the guys would do the rest!

In reality, I had seriously underestimated the task and overestimated my readiness to take on the required transformation of our business. At that time, I didn’t know that. With hindsight, I was requesting others to be competent whilst not fully requiring competence of myself.

It is very easy to think that if you’ve been given the job, then you must be ready to do it. Realising and addressing my own competence needs helped me to rethink our approach and ensure that we took a deeper look at what is actually required.

The following quote by Jack Dixon was used on Barack Obama’s presidential election website: “If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.” That closely describes what we have learned at Rowan the hard way. Policies and procedures are of no use if you don’t manage the required change.

While typical competence standards describe skill, knowledge and performance requirements, they are no guarantee that someone will actually follow the systems of work prescribed to them and know what to do if and when circumstances change. While some organizations focus on developing standalone leadership and supervisory programs, we have integrated supervisory skills, leadership values and principles into our competence model. We help our employees develop personal leadership values: courage, vision, focus, empathy, authenticity, honesty, determination and service to others. These encourage people to take ownership and be responsible for their actions and help ensure that changes are sustained long enough to create a cultural shift.

Part of leading change effectively is to evaluate how effective we are in facilitating and directing the change.

When a river flows, how strong are its banks? If the banks are weak, direction can be lost, and the flow diverted in a direction that might not be desired. In our industry, things change quickly and constantly. We have to have strong leadership to direct its flow whilst creating a continuous current of knowledge, skills, attitudes and know-how development and exchange that goes with the flow rather than against it. The Rowan model of competence is designed to acknowledge change, respect that it does happen and adapt accordingly. The oil and gas industry won’t stand still, and the competencies required for safe and effective operations today will be different than those needed in five years.

As a learning organization, we have integrated the Phillips ROI methodology within our competence model to collect feedback from key players who implement the process, so that we can continuously improve and refine what we do.

Harvesting the fruits

By recognizing the benefits of a competent workforce and by investing reasonable resources – both human and financial – in facilitating changes within our work practices, we believe we are on the right path to achieving our corporate goal of having the best trained, most innovative and capable people in the industry.

The Rowan competency program is high profile, and everyone in the company has an important role to play. Candidates buy into the program as they realise that they can improve their skills, add to their employment value and strengthen their roles within the teams they are part of. As a business, we benefit by providing a better service to our customers.

We now have clear expectations of what needs to be done, who should do it, why we will do it, when we will do it and how we will do it. Understanding our expectations, being able to meet them and making ourselves accountable, is competence.

Jean-Francois Basse heads competence for Rowan Europe and Africa.

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