MFN Trainer Column

in Vol. 14 - September Issue - Year 2013
Competence in Quality
Paul Huyton

Paul Huyton

Businesses and other organizations normally operate within a complex environment, and achieving high efficiency and process quality depends on many factors. One of the most significant factors is the competence of people in the organization. Early quality assurance standards such as BS5750 focussed on defining the roles and activities within the organization and documenting the correct procedures. This helped to reduce ineffective work by reducing rejected parts and rework, but sometimes efficiency was hampered by rigid or bureaucratic quality systems. Modern quality assurance standards recognize the importance of personal competence and provide more flexible requirements. An example of this can be found in ISO 9001:2008 and the associated aerospace standard AS 9100 rev C / EN9100:2009. The General Requirements in these standards states:
“The extent of the quality management system documentation can differ from one organization to another due to ... the competence of personnel.”
So by proving the competence of personnel, an organization may reduce the requirement for documentation which leads to greater efficiencies in administering the quality management system. Such reduction in documentation has lead to the use of PEARs, or Process Effectiveness Assessment Reports, in AS9100 rev C. These permit an auditor to evaluate the effectiveness of processes by achievement of required output and not by conformance to documented procedures.
Also, in paragraph 6.2.2 of these standards there is a requirement that -
“The organization shall .... determine the necessary competence ... provide training or take other actions ... evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken”
Again we see that not only must any necessary training be provided but there must be an evaluation of the effectiveness of the training. So determining and proving necessary competence is a key factor to quality system compliance.
But what is competence? Competence is defined by ISO 9000:2000 as the "demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills." Competence naturally includes the possession of knowledge and skills, such as might be gained from attending a training course. But the definition uses the key words “demonstrated ability to apply...” So to qualify someone as competent for a task, some record should exist and attest that they have demonstrated their ability to apply the knowledge and skill required for that task. In the MFN training course, we encourage participants to take the examinations at the end of the course, as this is contributory evidence of competence; by passing the written examination the participant has demonstrated their ability to apply their knowledge and skill to the questions and tasks in the examination. Organizations will also use probationary periods for newly trained staff during which they are assessed by more experienced operators and their competence in applying the necessary skills is recorded, typically on a checklist. Only once they have a complete record of competence can they work unsupervised and stamp or sign-off for their activities on the production documentation.
This emphasis on demonstrating competence is a better measure of how quality will be maintained rather than just establishing and reviewing personnel qualification or training. A highly-trained person may lack the experience to apply their knowledge to the task in a competent manner. A person with fewer qualifications may demonstrate better competence due to great experience with the task. The demonstration of competence verifies an appropriate balance of training and experience.
Another very relevant question is “Who trains the trainer?” In other words, has the competence of the trainer been demonstrated such that they can train new personnel? When training is undertaken in-house, it is important to ensure that the trainer has demonstrated their competence for the particular skill-set required. Possibly, external training and assessment is required for the in-house trainer. When training is from an external source, it is important that the validity of the course can be substantiated, such as having accreditation from an authorized body. A good example of this is the FAA acceptance for the MFN Shot Peen training courses.
The Nadcap programme also emphasizes training and competence. The shot peening checklist AC7117 rev A includes a detailed breakdown of requirements for operator training and for a requalification period not exceeding twelve months. There are also checklist questions relating to the competence demonstrated by operators during the job audits.
These requirements for competence do not only apply to workshop operatives. The standards state that the above requirements apply “for personnel performing work affecting conformity to product requirements.” This can include manufacturing planners, purchasing personnel, design engineers etc. I have been surprised by the times I have conducted on-site training solely for the workshop operators. Do supervisors and managers not need to understand the processes for which they are responsible? I always advise that a broad spectrum of personnel attend training, particularly in “special processes” which have particular, and often non-intuitive, characteristics.

Determining and assessing the necessary competence of personnel is a quality system requirement and a key factor in the success of an organization.

For questions contact paul@mfn.li

Standards Forum
by Paul Huyton,
MFN Course Director World Wide
more information at www.mfn.li/trainers