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Competence management system

About this topic


The organisation’s operation and organisation ‘s development requires tools and technologies, procedures and people. Each of these element’s imports alone or in combination, one or more risks in the industrial activities. To strengthen and develop the human pillar, a competence management system is needed. This system looks to develop, assess and maintain competences that are both technical and non-technical, such as knowledge, skills, behaviours and interpersonal skills. 

Competence management is an activity that takes place throughout the life of the organisation and career of the individual. It consists of identification, development and management of skills needed to manage risk at work and execute tasks. The nature and content of competence management will depend in an important way on external developments such as social, cultural, generational developments, etc. and internal and sectorial developments such as technological and organizational developments, the demographic characteristics of the organization and the people employed. 

Relevance to rail 

The railway sector is undergoing technological and organisational changes. There is the automation of specifics tasks, the digitization of several activities, technological renewal… And above all the arrival of a new paradigm replacing the notion of educational qualification by that of competence. The railway sector relies on people and so relies on the competence management system to assure that people are competent to complete tasks. Defining competencies in terms of technical and non-technical skills and knowledge is in line with the idea that the construction of safety is carried out by achieving an adapted alliance between regulated safety and managed safety; the first requiring mainly method and knowledge, the second requires, among other things, more interpersonal skills. 

Competence management is also particularly important in the context of generational and behavioural changes. Companies need to adapt to their new population (for example different ways of learning and working) and keep existing populations up to safety standard to accommodate technological and organizational changes. 

Approaches and models 

An important element of competence management is defining the difference between competency and competence and what this means for the organisation:  

  • Competence means ability to perform activities to the standards expected in employment; it is a combination of practical and thinking skills, experience and knowledge. 
  • Competency means the skills (technical, functional and non-technical) and underpinning knowledge that enable someone to demonstrate a certain level of competence. 

Within competence management systems the term non-technical skills (NTS) are often used to help define and describe the behavioural element of competency e.g. what we mean by practical and thinking skills.  NTS is defined as generic skills which underpin and enhance the performance of technical tasks, improving safety, effectiveness and wider business efficiency, by helping people anticipate, identify and mitigate against errors. 1  

The UK Office of Rail and Road (ORR – UK regulator) provides example frameworks for non-technical skills in rail along with a typical approach to a competence management system (see the “more information” section for reference). 

As illustrated in the ORR guidance a competence management system can consist of the following phases: 

  1. Phase 1: Establishing the requirement of the competence management system e.g. activities, tasks, risks relating to competence and standards to follow
  2. Phase 2: Designing the competence management system e.g. standards for how the system will work, training, development and assessment requirements for staff, including managers 
  3. Phase 3: Implementing the competence management system e.g. selection and recruitment, initial training, development and assessment of competence 
  4. Phase 4: Maintain and develop competence e.g. ongoing training, development and assessment of competence, maintaining records and managing individuals who do not achieve competence 
  5. Verify, audit and review of the competence management system e.g. auditing the system, gathering feedback and trending data 

These phases are seen as a continuous cycle meaning that the development and implementation of a competence management system is an on-going process, so it is able to adapt to changes in the organisation, the railway sector and society. 



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