Changing Nature and Use of Workforce Competence in the Oil and Gas Industry

Recently I was privileged to represent IHRDC at the International Petroleum Technology Conference in Kuala Lumpur as a co-author of a paper on this topic.

“Competence” is the combination of awareness, knowledge, skills, and attitude that an individual must demonstrate in order to meet the performance standards of his or her job. Although the primary use in the international oil and gas industry continues to be the identification and closure of skill and knowledge gaps, new applications are emerging.

These expanded uses come after a steady refinement of the competency concept over the past three decades, from paper-based applications to multi-module computer software.Even the concept of “competencies” has evolved from generic, broadly applicable characteristics, to “topics,” and finally to the task-based models commonly used today.

Competencies in the oil and gas sector

The oil and gas sector has used competencies for employee development since the mid-1970s when companies, like many today, faced a bimodal age distribution of employees: a sizeable group of experienced personnel nearing retirement and a large pool of younger, recent hires, but a shortage of fully-qualified, mid-level personnel. To close this gap, competency-based programs were created to identify “top performers” and accelerate their development.

In the 1990s, IHRDC developed a competency assurance system based on the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (OPITO) model. This involved assessments of jobholders against competency models that identified the relevant skills and knowledge required for performance at increasing levels of competence from awareness to mastery.

The next step along the evolutionary pathway came in 2005 when IHRDC designed a competency management system for a new, major-company venture in West Africa. Central to the project was the development and implementation of its competency management software called CMS Online.

Common uses of competency management systems today include:

  • Identification and closure of skill and knowledge gaps
  • Specify recruitment profiles
  • Screening trainees for entry-level programs
  • Manage nationalization programs
  • Foundation for competency-based compensation programs
  • Confirming employee competence to government regulators

One recent application occurred in Western Australia.  Barrow Island is a “Class A Nature Preserve,” the highest level of protection afforded under State legislation. It is also the site of a US$40 billion LNG project.

While fabrication of the major plant modules was taking place, work was underway on a comprehensive system to provide training and competency assessment of the people who would operate and maintain the plant. Before any of these workers set foot on the island, the Operator had to prove to the government that they were competent. Additionally, it had to demonstrate how it would manage workforce competence on an ongoing basis.

The Operator response was to implement a fit-for-purpose integrated solution using CMS Online to manage training, competency assurance, and reporting.

Looking to the future

One emerging trend, reported in a practitioner’s recent blog post, is for organizations to insist that contractors and suppliers prove their competence, either as a contract condition or prior to contract award. Companies are also rethinking their existing competency systems with an eye to streamlining current models. The temptation to include all competencies that a jobholder might require results in overload, which is perhaps the primary reason competency programs fail.

Other trends in the competency area include:

  • Competencies as underpinning of Talent Management initiatives
  • Video evidence of an individual’s competence
  • Knowledge-based verification
  • Government-mandated competency standards

In response to a fatal accident on a drilling rig in 2006, the Queensland Australia Government developed and mandated training standards for rig personnel. The intention was “to ensure each person is competent to the defined minimum competency standard for each level of operation, or currently undergoing training for their position description.” Rig operators must ensure their personnel are compliant to the level of the standard – i.e., they are competent – and have the evidence to prove it.

Also in 2011 – in response to the Macondo blowout – US Federal regulations were issued requiring OCS operators and contractors to “establish and implement a training program so that all personnel are trained to work safely and are aware of environmental considerations offshore, in accordance with their duties and responsibilities.” Although the regulations require operators to ensure and document employee and contractor competence, they do not establish specific standards – that is up to the operator.


The use of competence in the oil and gas industry is well established, and will continue to expand, as we refine current methods and seek new applications. Competency models built in 2014 differ significantly from those introduced less than a decade ago, and, as we address “lessons learned,” they will undergo further refinement.


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