Somebody to Lean on

7 April 2009 (Last Updated April 7th, 2009 18:30)

In the first of two features, Hugh Williams, chief executive of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) discusses a key factor at the heart of delivering offshore projects safely, efficiently, on time and on budget – competence.

Somebody to Lean on

At the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) we are firmly committed to ensuring that competence is a given throughout the offshore marine contracting sector. It is vital that it is assessed, understood and appreciated throughout the industry.

Continued competence

Within IMCA we emphasise the continuity of competence throughout an individual's working life and how it differs from qualifications. It is a word – and topic – that has been important to us for many years, but this year it is the focus of a newly launched campaign aimed at encouraging the universal take-up of our guidance; and a firm commitment to competence by all.

Looking back

Following three years of hard work, we launched our competence assurance and assessment guidance as far back as 1 January 1999. Those previous three years had seen specialist working groups convening to cover marine operations, survey, ROV and diving.

The guidance was designed as a framework within which IMCA's contractor members could create their own detailed schemes to develop, assess, record and demonstrate the competence of their personnel to clients and regulators. Ours was the skeleton; our members supplied the muscle.

A common framework was needed to achieve several goals: to gain a single client's recognition of various contractors' schemes; to gain several clients' recognition of a single contractor's scheme; and to allow record keeping and recognition of competent personnel as they moved from employer to employer – which is an IMCA goal ("to ease the free movement of personnel").

"IMCA has established a framework to assess workers and companies."

Focusing on workplace assessment – where skills and behaviour are considered – and written from an international perspective, our framework enabled the demonstration of competence in safety-critical positions that is so vital for the offshore industry. A series of workshops was held to help members implement suitable in-house schemes.

The guidance was thoroughly reviewed and updated in the light of experience, with new documentation published in July 2003.

There has been an increasing global emphasis on the importance of using competent personnel to deliver projects safely and efficiently. This is set to continue, as is our total commitment, and the IMCA framework continues to provide a mechanism for the demonstration of competence now demanded worldwide in the offshore industry.

Working through and in consultation with our members, our extensive framework of guidance enabled them to establish or enhance their own in-house schemes, with recognised industry criteria and templates for assessment and record keeping.

The existing IMCA framework includes a substantial amount of documentation, set out in a straightforward manner for more than 50 positions. There is also guidance for freelance personnel and client representatives as well as assessor training with a variety of logbooks to record competence.

There was no doubt that big companies took the framework to heart; but sometimes the smaller the company, the less the take-up. Similarly we noticed a marked difference between those working onshore – who were aware of the framework and its objectives, adopted it and promoted it – and those working offshore, who were far less committed and more inclined to ask many of the questions that we now have on our website under an FAQ heading.

Updating the framework

"Teamwork and trust combined offer first-class delivery of services."

We are now moving things on apace, not only to overcome any residual resistance, but to stress the positive aspects of the competence framework, and to set the wheels in motion to help our member companies make it work more effectively. The goals of increased safety, efficiency and the ability to deliver a project on time and on budget are well worth fighting for.

In a move to emphasise competence and thus achieve those sought-after higher levels of safety and efficiency, IMCA has changed the name and remit of one of its core committees. The Training, Certification & Personnel Competence Committee (TCPC) is now known as the Competence & Training Committee (C&T), with responsibility for certification issues moving to each of IMCA's technical divisions – marine, diving, offshore survey, and remote systems and ROV.

The newly constituted C&T Committee will do exactly what it says on the tin. It has responsibility for guidance on competence assurance and assessment for personnel in marine contracting.

It will also coordinate training matters undertaken throughout IMCA and will implement much of the association's work on recruitment and careers promotion issues, vital to ensuring the industry recruits, and retains, the skilled – and competent – workforce it needs to undertake its operations safely. The new name reflects the fact that competence comes first and is delivered through training.

"Everyone needs to feel they are working alongside someone they trust; indeed the words 'trusted' and 'competent' are interchangeable."

Our existing competence assurance and assessment framework is undergoing a review to ensure that it is used widely as a basis for in-house schemes by our international membership (we have more than 560 member companies in 52 countries). Indeed the formation of C&T sees us relaunch the drive to greater measurable competence in the sector.

The new C&T Committee is being enlarged to have more representatives in order to get a wider spectrum of views, with committee members co-opted if necessary, and the regional input will also be strengthened. IMCA has four regional sections – Europe & Africa; Americas Deepwater; Middle East & India; and Asia-Pacific – and a member of the IMCA secretariat will support the C&T Committee in its work.

Steve Sheppard of Helix Energy Solutions Group is the new chairman of the C&T, following in the big footsteps of John Greensmyth of Technip, the outgoing chairman of the old TCPC. Steve has a long list of actions for his committee.

As well as developing and approving training schemes, approving proposals for training from our four technical divisions, developing links to NGOs, developing international aspects and specifying four levels of training, they will review initiatives that have an impact on the IMCA competence framework; and review training proposals against competence guidelines. The committee is also tasked with developing methodology for moving things on.

Looking at the framework afresh

Our ten-year-old guidance is to all intents and purposes being relaunched, and with fresh enthusiasm. We held a workshop in Aberdeen recently to drive things forward. It is essential that member companies grasp the competence framework with enthusiasm and use it to demonstrate the high standards now demanded by the world's offshore industry.

We will do everything we can to help them.

Tools skills

When we initially launched the guidance all those years ago, it was intended as a high-level framework; and the 2003 review confirmed this attitude. But it is increasingly obvious that we need to drill down, putting more meat on the bone – an example could be to look at the tools skills of divers.

"The goals of increased safety, efficiency and the ability to deliver a project on time and on budget are well worth fighting for."

It is essential that we help our member companies to implement the framework, but also that they adapt it to suit their in-house needs, so it is truly theirs. It is not our role to police the system or lay down tablets of stone and write a definitive competency scheme on a one-size-fits-all principle.

This is a framework on which others must put the meat.

It is vital that we capture the interest, imagination and understanding of everyone whose competency will be assessed. For the individuals, the framework can be used to prompt, assess and record career development that may be linked to promotion.

Also they need to appreciate that if there is an incident something has obviously gone wrong and the root cause, whether it be the wrong procedure, equipment or personnel, needs to be identified and steps taken to ensure it doesn't happen again. If the root cause leads back to the personnel, it will be a training and competence matter and the regime will be used to try to prevent a recurrence.

Good delivery relies on teamwork and trust. Everyone needs to feel they are working alongside someone they trust; indeed the words "trusted" and "competent" are interchangeable.

Any team is as strong as its weakest link, and that weak link has to be encouraged to become stronger and thus more competent and trustworthy.