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Competent technicians? Training matters

17 January 2017

Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that technicians are competent to carry out their tasks. According to John Saysell, training and skills director for MCP, there are two main approaches to establishing training needs – the classic Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and a competence-based approach

It is easy at an interview for an applicant to talk knowledgeably about maintenance, but put him in front of a system, comprising PLC, inverter, motor and conveyor, and he may not be so capable.

So what is competence? Simply put, it means that the task is done safely, to the right standard within a reasonable length of time. Over the past 15 years competence has come to the forefront in our discussions with industry.

The classic TNA is a broader way of examining what maintenance technicians could get involved in. The competence-based approach is narrower, but an output from it is actual evidence of competence. 

The aims of a training and development plan are to:

•  Improve morale, motivation and job satisfaction

•  Improve performance and customer service

•  Staff work to individual training plans

•  Clearly define maintenance roles

•  Improve staff retention

•  Accurate evidence of competence

•  Comply with legislation

•  Embed a transparent grading structure

•  Reduce reliance on contracted staff

•  Align training with business needs

•  Balance competence across different shifts

Approach 1 – Classic TNA  (Fig.1)

Initial communication sessions: It is important to involve all stakeholders from the outset. A brief presentation is made outlining the process, explaining how this method is objective, fair, and recognised as best practice.

Task analysis: Vocationally competent maintenance engineers walk the job with the technicians, listing each task they undertake. A questionnaire is then prepared. This covers topics such as the candidate’s understanding of the manufacturing process, their ability to react to normal breakdowns, their ability to train others in the equipment, and so on.

Questionnaire administration: Technicians have their questionnaires administered in groups of five to 10. The questionnaires are then validated by the technicians’ first line manager.

Skills audit: Depending upon the job role and mix of tasks and skills, it will be possible to identify an ideal skill set for certain groups. Candidates can then be audited against this.

Individual training plans: Training plans will be a product of the skills audit and are linked to the organisation’s business needs.

Team training plans: If it is appropriate, it will also be possible to identify team training plans at this stage.

Sourcing, scheduling and delivery of training: Training providers are identified at this stage. Off-job and on-job training will then be delivered. Candidates will demonstrate competence and be signed off or, importantly, retrained.

Approach 2 – Practical competence based (Fig. 2) 

This is appropriate for both existing staff and new recruits. Mechanical, electrical, electronic or engineered systems’ assessments that mirror the maintenance tasks will need to be written. 

Typical assessments include:

•  Scenario based interview

•  Competence based interview 

•  Psychometric test

•  PLC fault finding rig test

•  Electro-pneumatic fault finding rig

•  Belt/chain alignment

•  Sale isolation of 3 phase motor

•  Fault finding using electrical instruments

•  Stripping and reassembly of a pump

•  Mechanical/electronic theory

•  Inverter set up

Communication sessions: As above, a presentation is made to stakeholders. 

Task analysis: Vocationally competent maintenance engineers walk the job with the technicians, listing each task that the maintenance technicians undertake.

Identification of core competences: From the task list a number of core competences (usually 20) will be reviewed. Some of the tasks will be appropriate for the higher-level technicians and some for the lower level.

Design of and validation of assessments: Assessments are developed working closely with the engineering team. They are validated and dry runs carried out.

Candidates undertaking individual assessments in groups: Assessments are carried out and feedback is given on candidates’ performance. Prioritised individual and group training plans are provided.  

Sourcing, scheduling and delivery of training: Training providers are identified at this stage. Appropriate off-job and on-job training will then be delivered. Candidates will demonstrate competence and be signed off or retrained.

 
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