Regulations are necessary and everywhere in the pipeline business – and they consistently state that all our engineers must be both “competent” and “qualified” to do their jobs. The problem is… we have little guidance on how to prove that our engineers are in fact competent and qualified. It is the same with our standards: most pipeline standards state that all staff working on a pipeline should be competent and qualified to do their jobs but do not detail or explain how to show this is the case. This means that all companies in the pipeline business must define their own competency standards for engineers. This leads to difficulties: there is no benchmark to compare these standards to and no agreement on process or quality. Time for change?
“Competence” – briefly defined
“Competence” is a combination of skills (the ability to perform a task), knowledge (the ability to understand and explain a task), experience (the type, years, supervision committed to obtaining said knowledge) and behavior.
An individual’s competencies are assessed against a so-called competency standard. Competency standards provide a common definition of a competency and contain the required skills, knowledge and experience.
“Qualified” means a competence has been assessed (evaluated). Clearly, to be called qualified in a competency, an individual must pass an assessment.
The competencies of field operators and technicians are detailed in standards (e.g. the American standard ASME B31Q), but there are no generally recognized competency standards for engineers. The Education Systems and Services Group at ROSEN has now begun to fill this gap by creating the Competency Standards Manual for engineers specializing in pipeline integrity management. This manual lists 51 competencies at various competency levels. Each competency standard consists of:
- An identifier.
- A title (for example “Pipeline Inspection and Surveillance”).
- A competence level (such as awareness, foundation, practitioner or expert).
- A basic description of the competency requirements and the competency gained.
- A purpose/goal of the standard.
- The specific skills and knowledge elements of the competency.
- An outcome that states what the individual with this competency should know, understand, value or be able to do once he/she has gained this specific competency.
- Any academic or professional qualifications required before this competency can be gained.
- Any pre-requisites or co-requisites needed before attempting this competency.
- Any training, mentoring and/or experience recommended to gain the competency.
The various elements of each competency are described in the manual. Competence levels, for example, are identified to have 4 stages. The table below describes the nuances between these 4 levels.
The development of these competency standards took place in conjunction with the so-called Competence Club. An integral element of this club is the collaborative work with the independent qualification panel, which consists of a group of individuals that are all experts in their respective field and all independent from any pipeline operator. This allowed for a more holistic approach when creating the requirements published in the Competency Standards Manual . In turn, the Competence Club provides a platform for learning and assessing the defined standards.
The next step: Qualification Descriptors
Only a building block, these 51 competencies can be grouped into creating a set of requirements for specific roles within the industry. Taking this one step further, again with the help of the qualification panel, an initial list of six grouped competencies came to fruition – these are called Qualification Descriptors. Each of these descriptors has a dedicated list of competency standards. The group decided to start with the following six pre-defined sets:
- Pipeline Integrity Engineer
- In-line Inspection Engineer
- Pipeline Corrosion Engineer
- Onshore Pipeline Engineer
- Pipeline Risk Engineer
- Subsea Pipeline Engineer
To describe the creation of one of these Descriptors, we can use the “Pipeline Integrity Engineer” as an example. A pipeline integrity engineer is required to have a long list of competencies, and each one of these to varying levels. The qualifications panel created a list of these competencies dedicated to this specific role, which was then provided to a subject-matter expert outside of the panel with varying opinions to ensure the descriptor would be accepted industry-wide. In the case of the pipeline integrity engineer, this list would consist of the following competencies:
Wrap it up
So, to keep it simple, a Qualification Descriptor is a set of standardized competencies which, when completed (assessment and all), qualify an individual for this role. A Competency Standard, as defined by the Competency Standards Manual , is a “common definition of a competency, with its minimum requirements,” 51 of which are precisely defined. All of these definitions and lists related to competency allow our industry to come one step closer to having standards that can be regulated, much as other industries do. Up to this point, there has been very little guidance on how to ensure and prove staff are competent and qualified.
The pipeline industry now must develop a process and quantify staff competence – The Competency Standards Manual . It also has the Competence Club Competence Club to support the learning needed to develop competencies and the necessary assessments to qualify staff in the competencies.