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Debunking Competency Myths in Safety-Critical Industries

Deborah Yeats, Training and Competence Director at 3t, debunks the myths surrounding competency. 

Competence is a critical aspect of ensuring personal and process safety in high-risk industries such as energy, oil and gas, construction, and renewables. However, misconceptions and myths surrounding competence can hinder progress and compromise safety measures. As a subject matter expert in competence and training excellence, it is essential to debunk these myths and shed light on the true nature of competence to ensure high workforce performance and safety. 

Myth 1: Certification Equals Competence: 

One common misconception is that holding a certification automatically implies competence. While certifications usually provide proof of a baseline of knowledge and skills, being competent goes beyond the ability to pass an exam. Competence can only be proven when applying skills and knowledge effectively in real-world tasks. Employers must recognise that competence is a dynamic and ongoing process that requires continuous learning, practice, and assessment.  

Myth 2: Experience Trumps Training: 

Some believe that experience alone is sufficient to be deemed competent, dismissing the importance of training. While hands-on experience is key, it should complement structured training programs. In safety-critical industries like those we support at 3t, where a single mistake can have severe consequences, a combination of theoretical knowledge (the why) and practical experience (the how) is crucial. Competence arises from a balanced approach that combines education, training, and on-the-job experience. 

Myth 3: Competence is a One-Time Achievement: 

Competence is not a one-time achievement but a continuous journey. Technology, regulations, and industry standards are constantly evolving, requiring professionals to stay abreast of the latest developments. In safety-critical industries, the importance of ongoing education and training to adapt to changes and maintain a high level of competence throughout their career should not be underestimated. 

Myth 4: Competence is Solely Individual: 

Competence is often perceived as an individual attribute, overlooking the importance of teamwork and collaboration in safety-critical industries. Effective communication, coordination, and collaboration among team members are essential components of competence. Subject matter experts emphasise the need for a collective competence that extends beyond individual skills, fostering a culture of safety and shared responsibility within organisations. 

Myth 5: Competence is Static: 

Competence is not a static quality but a dynamic one that requires continuous assessment to ensure alignment to set Standards. Highly experienced people can become complacent and deviate from Standards slightly, causing more regular deviations that may be passed down to less experienced people. At 3t, we recognise the need for regular competence assessments to ensure Standards are always met.   

Myth 6: Competence is About Simply Following Procedures 

Many believe that the ability to follow step-by-step processes deems a person competent.  What happens when there’s a process upset or unplanned situation that requires quick action and decision-making? Understanding why those steps are taken is a key element of competence and will ensure that people are able to confidently deal with those situations that require intelligent intervention. 

Conclusion: 

Debunking the myths surrounding competence in safety-critical industries is essential for fostering a culture of personal and process safety, emergency preparedness, and continuous improvement. As a subject matter expert, it is crucial to emphasise the dynamic and collective nature of competence, encouraging organisations to invest in ongoing education, training, and collaboration. By dispelling these misconceptions, we pave the way for a safer, more efficient, and resilient future in energy, oil and gas, construction, and renewables.