Competence – What is it and how can it be measured?

Most professionals will be familiar with the term, "this function must be completed by a competent person", but what does 'competent' mean and how can an individual's competence be established?

What is competence?

Competence is made up of three things: Knowledge, Understanding and Application.

When describing competence to clients, we like to use the following brick wall analogy:

Consider you had to build a wall. Do you know what goes into making a wall? You might say bricks and cement. This is the knowledge (I know what goes into making a wall).

Do you know the theory of how to make that wall? Do you know the proportions needed to mix cement, etc? This is the understanding (I understand how a wall is made).

If you had all the basic tools and materials, could you build a wall? This is the application. Taking that knowledge and understanding and applying it to completing the wall.

If you don't have the knowledge or understanding, then you cannot build the wall and will not be competent to do so.

Now take it a step further. You might be competent in building a basic wall. What happens if someone wants a curvy wall, or wants to put windows in a wall? Your level of competence may not be able to do this. What if you have different grades of wall with benchmarks (how long will it stand? How pretty is it? What forces will it withstand? Etc.)?

Go further again, what happens when a standards agency has to assess your work on that wall and tells you that it must be built to certain regulations? What level of wall building competence do you need so that they can successfully assess and sign off your work?

It is clear to see from this example that competence is a combination of a number of factors, and to remain competent, you would have to study new methods, techniques, materials, regulations and design on a regular basis to maintain a contemporary understanding.

Why is maintaining competence important?

The need for a function to be conducted by a 'competent person' is a widely used requirement in regulated industries such as the GI sector.

Many employers would benefit from being able to state that their workforce is 'competent', but as there is no universal scale or measure for competence, you cannot accurately state a quantifiable value to define one person's level of competence against another's. So how can it be established and how can competence be maintained?

The answer for many individuals and organisations is via the use of continuing professional development (CPD), or continuous learning and development.

It is fair to say that most roles, which require a person to be competent, will be filled by individuals with relevant formal qualifications. However, formal qualifications do little to evidence a contemporary understanding of regulatory topics or recent developments.

Which is why continuous learning and development is a vital component in maintaining competence, as time allocated to professional and personal development activities is a quantifiable entity which can be measured.

CPD can encompass a number of different activities, one of which is the use of cloud-based e-Learning platforms such as the Aviva Development Zone (

How can competence be measured?

The Aviva Development Zone contains over 500 bite-size professional, regulatory, and business skills courses. The platform also allows for industry-specific course content to be uploaded, helping to tailor the platform to individual organisation's needs.

Supervisors can allocate course content to learners, and measure their performance accurately (number of attempts, weak spots, courses passed, CPD hours, etc.).

Any learner who achieves a score in excess of 80% is awarded a digital badge, to reward and evidence the achievement.

Over time, each learner can build up a record of achievement, which clearly demonstrates their commitment to continuous learning and development, and badges to evidence their understanding of key topics.

As each badge must be renewed every twelve months, it is a clear indication of a contemporary understanding, and as such, an indication of competence.

What do your staff not know?

Using the Aviva Development Zone to evidence competence is hugely beneficial for organisations, as it allows them to state, with confidence, that their staff has a rolling training programme which maintains high-standards.

To take things one step further, the Aviva Development Zone not only records successful course completion, it also records gaps in workforce knowledge.

This is of great significance to employers, as it allows them to identify weak spots, and allocate additional training to 'plug' skills gaps.

So, whilst evidencing competence is clearly beneficial, of equal importance is establishing what employees don't know. How much is that worth to your organisation?

For further details, or to arrange a free trial, visit:


About the author

Tom has worked at RWA for over 12 years, starting as Operations Manager before taking on roles as Operations Director, CEO and most recently as Director leading the company into the digital age.

Before joining RWA, he was involved in helping develop the operations of one of Wales’ fastest growing utility consultancies as well as leading the Key Accounts team of a major commercial energy supplier.

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