6.2 Competence Training and Awareness – ISO Explained
By Scott Dawson
June 22, 2020

2020 Update: Managing a company requires more than just making sure processes move smoothly and outputs reach quality standards. It also requires the careful and considerate oversight of your personnel – the individuals who are responsible for making sure your processes and outputs meet your benchmarks.

Because of their impact on your organization, it’s important to provide proper quality awareness training to your team. By creating ISO 9001 awareness training material, you will ensure your employees efforts comply with standard regulations and that risk associated with human error is minimized.

ISO Quality Awareness Definition

Before we get into what is requires of your ISO awareness training material, let’s look at a brief review of exactly what ISO quality awareness is.

ISO quality awareness is not the understanding of the full ISO standard. You do not need to develop training materials that explore what ISO is or to create and awareness to the requirements of the standard. Rather, your ISO awareness training is intended to educate your team on how their specific duties tie into your QMS and how their solid understanding of their responsibilities and their competency in performing their assigned duties play a critical role in the quality of your company’s deliverable.

It’s not about awareness of ISO – it’s the broad awareness of how each employee makes their mark on quality.

Requirements of your ISO 9001 Awareness Training Material

The standard lays out specific requirements to help you implement an effective training program. The main goal of your ISO awareness training material is to ensure your people and processes are as effective as possible. It’s highly focused on constant, intentional communication, and it takes dedicated teachers and willing team members to properly execute.

In some cases, the training procedure sets the groundwork for cultural shifts within an organization. By setting focus on working well (and doing so consistently and over time), companies can encourage their team to be more involved, more focused, and more engaged in their work and the overall success of the company.

We can break the requirements for competence and awareness training into simple checklist, derived directly from the clauses of the ISO 9001 standard:

  • Hire the right people (7.1.2)
  • Determine the essential abilities (7.2a)
  • Monitor and maintain competence (7.2b)
  • Take the right action (7.2c)
  • Keep evidence (7.2d)
  • Develop employee awareness (7.3)
  • Communicate (7.4)

Each requirement takes a bit of exploration in order to fully understand how to properly and effectively reach your goals.

Hire the right people: Determine and provide necessary persons (7.1.2)

You must carefully consider the positions necessary to complete your processes, and then find the right people who can effectively fulfill the duties of those positions. They must be able to implement all aspects of the QMS that touch their position in order to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency. You must consider how their role interacts with others, how the flow of information will move through your company and vendors, and the importance of careful and accurate document and record control. It has to be more than well-performed process – your team must be effective in following your ISO-certified QMS program and understand all the ways in which it impacts their job.

ISO 9001 Training

Personnel management and job assignments can be tricky. For example, you may realize that you have an operator who has been working on a specific process for quite some time – perhaps 20 years, day in and day out, diligently completing their tasks to par. They are the only employee with truly expert knowledge of this function of your business.

But upon review of the true function and necessity of the process, you realize two things: This process should be completed at twice the rate, and this employee or lacks the skill to train new operators. It is your responsibility to both find a suitable new employee AND to train your existing operator on the tactics of communication and instruction they will need to share their information with their new co-worker.

Determine the essential abilities: Determine necessary competence (7.2a)

The definition of “competence” as related to your company is left by ISO for organizations to evaluate and define. In order to measure competence, however, companies must first lay out the requirements of each job description.

Ask questions like:

  • What job-specific knowledge area(s) must be well understood by someone in this position?
  • What manual, mental, or interpersonal skills must an employee have to do this job well?
  • What natural abilities or talents must someone possess to be effective in this area?

With the full examination of each position, you will be able to develop a list of requirements or competencies which can be used in both the hiring process and in subsequent training and development plans. The most critical competencies (up to 15) can be documented as the official job description or be used as a training matrix.

Let’s go back to our example. In order to determine the competence of the operator, you must understand each facet of their job function. If they are the only employee who knows the specifics of their work, how are you to know if they are meeting expectations or not? By determining the essential abilities – technical, theoretical, interpersonal, etc. – of each position, you have something against which you can measure performance and set goals, and help set clear expectations in job assignments.

Monitor and maintain competence: Ensure competence (7.2b)

After you have determined essential abilities, assign the most qualified person(s) to the role. Keep in mind – you can hire or assign individuals who do not immediately meet each core competency of the position, but you must ensure that those skills can be taught and mastered by the successful candidate.

(For example – our existing operator lacked the skill to teach but had the capacity to become a trainer for their specific position.)

You will be required to monitor competence as job processes change over time, people move to new positions, or technical certifications expire.

By evaluating or assessing your employee’s current knowledge, skills, and abilities against the current requirements of the position, you will be able to keep the pulse of how your workforce is performing in relation to the requirements set for them. Through self-evaluation, your team can also rate themselves in their areas of competence, identifying their own strengths and weaknesses before meeting with their supervisor to identify opportunities for training.

Tools like self-evaluation work sheets, written competency tests, and skills proof exercises can all be employed to ensure proper monitoring of competence. Additionally, trainings can be provided to educate your team on new technologies and theories specific to their role, or to build upon skillsets that encourage cross departmental growth and future success of the individual.

Take the right action: Take action to achieve competence (7.2c)

If you find that your team is falling below required performance levels, the standard requires that you use your ISO awareness training material to boost competency levels and enhance performance. To help close the gap when performance is subpar, you can increase training, reassign employees to positions that don’t require the skill they lack, or refine positions and remove the need for the skill. Further, examine your process to make it easier to do correctly.

Once you have taken action to initially address the competency issue, create a process to evaluate the effectiveness of the completed training, and set competency check-points to ensure the employee(s) consistently meets the requirements of their position.

You can employ any or all of the following methods to continually monitor competency.

  • Special inspection of the employee’s work to evaluate for a consistent level of quality
  • Written tests following training exercises
  • Formal certification
  • Supervisor follow-up
  • Formal performance review

Again, in our example, perhaps the new operator you’ve hired isn’t keeping up with their veteran counterpart. Set a course of action to provide further training, ensure the process is as simple as possible, and, if necessary, reevaluate the placement and find a better suited candidate.

Keep evidence: Retain records (7.2d)

ISO 9001 requires that accurate records are kept to document competency information and all related activities.

ISO 9001 Evidence

Be sure that you carefully organize and can quickly access the following:

  • Job descriptions/postings (evidence of determination of competency)
  • Employee resumes and certifications (evidence that competency was met)
  • Training attendance and agendas (evidence that competency was met)
  • Test results, certifications, performance evaluations (evidence that actions were effective)

Any time you make a change – to a job description, process function, training policy, role assignment, etc – write it down and keep it in a well-organized and easy-to-access location.

Employee awareness: Ensure people are aware (7.3)

Another key factor in the development of your ISO 9001 awareness training material is the necessity of communication with your team.

The standard lays out five specific requirements for things that your team will be responsible for knowing:

  1. The quality policy – does not need to be memorized, but must be understood
  2. The quality objectives for their area – communicated in a way that ensures everyone knows the target and the current level of performance
  3. Their contribution to the QMS – how their work affects downstream processes, deliverables, and customer satisfaction
  4. The benefits of improved performance –  be able to speak to how quality of deliverables increase as the quality of their work improves
  5. The consequences of non-conformance to QMS requirements – why it is important to follow set processes and protocols

By understanding these five key points, employees are given the motivation needed to complete their tasks correctly. They feel empowered and informed – part of the company in a deeper and more meaningful way, which contributes to the cultural shift toward a more engaged and passionate team.

In our example, your senior operator may have always been a reliable worker, but perhaps they didn’t understand their true impact on the company. Through awareness training, they are given insight to the exact benefit they provide the business. They are able to see that their effort for the highest quality work impacts the chain of response from every touch point after them, and ultimately results in satisfied customers, higher revenue, and more potential for growth.

Communicate: Determine a communication plan (7.4)

Communication is the key to successful quality awareness training. Not only do will you be required to ensure your team knows their responsibilities and impact on your quality, but you will also be required to communicate with interested parties outside your QMS, including supplier/vendors, customers, and prospective partners.

You will be responsible for proving the what, when, who, and how of your communication tactics.

  • What is communicated (quality objectives, service reports, etc.) and when (weekly, monthly, etc.)
  • Who is responsible for doing the communicating (supervisors, managers, sales reps) and to whom are they communicating (employees, customers, vendors)
  • How does your communication take place (phone, email, meetings)

Your plans should be specific and tailored your team and business needs. You may follow any communication process that fits your business to build the awareness of your team, but it is important that that awareness is demonstrable and records are kept of communication efforts. Be thorough, but focused, and aim for a simple and streamlined system of communication.

Some standard communication techniques that could be implemented are:

ISO 9001 Competence Training

  • Announcements at employee meetings
  • Review of the employee’s job description when hired (and annually thereafter)
  • Review of procedures and work instructions pertaining to the employee’s job
  • Regular bulletins, memos, or postings
  • Standard departmental meeting agendas when quality objectives are reviewed

Companies can measure the effectiveness of awareness communication through open dialogue with employees, asking questions related to how they view their personal impact on the quality of your company’s deliverable. Be sure to have your quality policy and objectives posted where they will be consistently in front of your team, and keep careful records that reflect your achievement of awareness, including internal audit reports and performance review records.

And it doesn’t all have to come from the top down. Providing tools and assigning responsibilities to your employees can help give a sense of ownership to each person in your business. In giving them that ownership, their sense of pride for their work will increase, their desire to do and learn more will grow, and the processes designed to address quality will be effectively carried through your QMS, increasing your ability to satisfy your customers. Employing them as part of your communication plan increases their engagement with their role, and therefore their investment in the success of the company.

One last time, we’ll consider our 20-year veteran operator. With their role having been shifted within the new process approach to include training, they may also now be responsible for communicating two ways — to their subordinate and to their supervisor. Set expectations for what and how they are to report information, and lay out specific plans that are easy for them to follow.

Keep it Simple

As you work to develop your quality awareness training, focus on simplicity and broad involvement, and be diligent in your record keeping and procedure documentation. Each organization is different, so the development of ISO 9001 awareness training material has to be carefully thought out and tailored to your system and needs.

We’ll break it down one last time:

  1. Examine each process of your business and identify how many people you need to effectively and efficiently deliver quality.
  2. Determine the most critical competencies for each role (essentially, a job description).
  3. Once the role is filled, be critical but supportive of competence and effectiveness.
  4. If an employee fails to meet benchmarks, utilize ISO awareness training materials to provide additional training, reevaluate over-complication of processes, or adjust role assignments to better align with your team’s strengths.
  5. Everything you do with regard to process, assignments, training, correction, and evaluation – be sure to write it down.
  6. Be sure your team knows what they need to know:
  • The quality policy
  • The quality objectives for their area
  • Their contribution to the QMS
  • The benefits of improved performance
  • The consequences of non-conformance
  1. Never stop talking about it.

By focusing on creating processes that ensure and grow competency, build quality awareness, and effectively communicate both internally and externally, your business will thrive.

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