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How to ensure competence of your employees according to IATF 16949

IATF 16949 explains the requirements for competence in far more detail than does ISO 9001. By expanding and specifying the competence requirements, it emphasizes the importance of competencies to a Quality Management System based on IATF 16949.

In addition to the ISO 9001 requirements for competence, IATF 16949 specifies requirements for general competence and on-site job training, and provides additional requirements for internal auditor and second-party auditor competency.

This article will explain the general requirements for competency, while internal and second-party auditor competence requirements will be explained in future articles.

Where to start

Not everyone in your organization needs to know every word of the IATF 16949 standard, and some schools of thought suggest that not everyone even needs to read the standard. I personally disagree with that. Whenever I start the IATF 16949 implementation process with an organization, I begin with an implementation training session, which I normally end by asking everyone to read the standard (where applicable according to the size of the company) and sign to provide evidence for their training records that they have done so. In larger organizations, this may be limited to the project team, of course. I believe, where practical, that this is fundamental; after all, how can you hope to achieve compliance and excellence against any standard if some team members are not fully aware of what the standard requires? Any employees who start with the organization during the process are asked to do likewise. So, that gets us started, but what now?

What does the standard require?

The requirements for competence in ISO 9001 on which IATF 16949 requirements are based are pretty simple. An organization needs to determine the necessary competencies of persons doing work under its control that affect the performance and effectiveness of the QMS. This is something that most organizations already address; for example, if your processes require employees to operate machinery, those employees must have some certificate or training to demonstrate they are competent for the job. Having appropriate competence is the reason why the organization employed them in the first place.

In addition to employment requirements, the standard also requires the organization to provide the training needed for employees to acquire the necessary competence, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the training.

And, finally, the standard requires the organization to retain documented information as evidence of competence, and this can be in the form of certificates, licenses, or simple training records.

IATF 16949 requires a documented process for identifying training needs, including awareness and achieving competence.

In case of any new or modified responsibilities affecting conformity to requirements (whether they are quality, internal regulatory, or legislative requirements), the organization needs to provide on-the-job training. The nature and the level of detail required for the on-the-job training should be aligned with the level of education the employees already have, and the complexity of the tasks they are required to perform as part of their daily work. For employees whose work can affect quality, the organization must inform them about the consequences of nonconformity to customer requirements.

How to achieve it

Whether you are on your journey toward certification, or simply trying to maintain your QMS after a successful audit, you need to ensure that competence is at the forefront of your thoughts. There is no prescribed way to achieve this, but here are some ideas that may suit your organization:

  • Create a periodic newsletter to keep your employees informed by email.
  • Ask your production and quality managers if you can hold a 5-minute update at the regular quality and production meetings to bring first-hand updates to the teams.
  • Create a “fun” questionnaire for staff to test their ongoing knowledge – schedule and plan your training on the basis of where you perceive the gaps to be.
  • Incorporate the latest news about your ISO progress onto the company’s visual displays in the reception area.
  • Critically, ensure that you record your evidence of training and communication in the Training Matrix to show that this is taking place on an ongoing basis.

You will be able to estimate what measures need to be taken to ensure that competence and awareness are at acceptable levels, depending on your own knowledge of your organization. Again, in terms of any changes in legislation, ensure that the details are communicated, any questions answered, and training evidence recorded.

Competence and awareness: Evidence required?

If you are ensuring that competence is at an acceptable level during your audit preparation process, then you will need to provide evidence of the work you have done to facilitate this, as mentioned above. As discussed previously, providing the auditor with documented evidence is vital, but a good auditor will quickly assess your staff’s knowledge and the importance they attach to the IATF 16949 process itself simply by talking to them during the audit. Therefore, it is important that you provide the guidance and knowledge to ensure that the workforce is educated and focused on the important aspects of the QMS and the IATF 16949 standard. Given that knowledge of the objectives, expectations, and requirements of the standard is the fundamental starting point, there can be no continual improvement without competence and awareness, and remember – no continual improvement means no compliance at all.

Use this free IATF 16949:2016 Implementation Diagram to learn how to prepare your project and guide your employees in achieving competences.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.