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Qualified doesn’t mean competent

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“What’s the difference between being qualified and being competent?”

This was a question posed to us recently, and it’s a pretty important one. The terms aren’t interchangeable, but it can be tough to figure out where one ends and the other begins.

Qualified” is a little easier to define. A worker is qualified if they have the necessary qualifications for the job they’re performing. Depending on the job, qualifications can include education, training, experience, or some combination of the three. Qualifications can often be proven through degrees, certificates, licenses, or other physical documentation.

Worker competency, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Alberta’s OHS legislation has a definition of the term that includes three parts:

  1. Being adequately qualified
  2. Being suitably trained
  3. Having enough experience to perform work safely (with minimal or no supervision)

So having the proper qualifications is a big part of being competent, but it’s not all there is to it. There’s training, which includes training for the task being performed and the equipment being used, along with at least the minimum requirements for safety training. And experience is also necessary.

The OHS guidelines leave determining competency mostly up to the employer. (An exception is evaluating whether a worker is qualified for a job with a certain legal requirement, like professional engineers.) So, it’s the employer’s responsibility to decide whether their workers are sufficiently qualified, properly trained, and experienced enough to perform their jobs safely—and it’s up to employers to figure out how to make those decisions. The methods matter, because employers also have to be able to justify how they determined an employee fit all three criteria.

How does an employer decide that a worker is competent, and how do they ensure ongoing competency? Another important question. Having a plan in place makes the process go more smoothly and helps to cover all your bases for justification of competency.

If your company doesn’t already have a competency program and you think you might need one, get in touch—Boreal can help you develop one to suit your company’s specific needs.

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