by Peter Holtmann
So, you’ve made the decision to achieve certification and chosen a competency-based pathway instead qualification-based approach to get there. Does that mean you’re set for life? Do you ever need to update your skills? Most important, what do you do with those skills? Let’s take a look.
Much has been written, especially by me, on the differences between competency-based assessment and qualification-based assessment, auditor assessment vs. auditor recognition, and “certification” vs. “certified.” Of course, there are benefits to all of these options in an auditor’s professional development. Qualification-based certification has a well-established professional development pathway that delivers a qualified outcome, whereas competency-based assessment takes a qualified person and examines him or her at a given point in time.
But what about after the certification process? Qualification-based programs rely on continuing professional development to update qualifications or specialize credentials. So what do competency-based programs rely on to build and maintain skills? Is there a need? Does competency degrade over time and does it need to be monitored? The short answer is yes. There are sufficient data to show that competency, like qualification, degrades over time as reliance on experience takes over. They suggest that professionals stray from auditing’s basic principles over time and that their audits become accordingly less consistent. This may sound like a best-case scenario for the auditing profession, but it illustrates that new auditing techniques and concepts aren’t easily learned or used.
A career pathway involving continuing professional development is an essential element for competent professionals. When considering career pathways it’s useful to think of this training as steps with varying tread length and fixed riser heights. The treads constitute the continuing professional development program, qualification advancements, and surveillance data that bring a professional to a fixed point in time—the riser—where an assessment is conducted.
The assessment activity should be previously known to the professional and recognize accomplishment or achievement of outcomes. The rate at which the professional travels along the career pathway is determined by the continuing professional development and measured against the feedback. This is a very flexible and supportive approach to growth.
Assessments follow the use of knowledge, skill, or personal attribute assessment or a combination of these. The assessment will be conducted by an independent party and provide recognition in the form of statements of attainment, professional certification, or status designation. Many see this model effectively work in the nursing, medical, legal, and accounting sectors where inherent risk is involved with the jobs’ activities. This approach is also successfully used in many skill-based professions, such as drivers, pilots, electricians, aged care, and hazardous locations.
The advantage of this model is that it allows the professional to demonstrate competence to the fundamentals of his or her job while creating flexible, specialized career pathways into multiple scopes of recognition and competence. Recognition of achievement is an important component to any career development pathway. Benefits of certification include an alliance of fellow professionals, the ability to identify and utilize mentors, easier location of specialized professionals, and a clear distinction of identified goals.
Many industry associations and professions use this approach to enhance their services. The Certified Professional Accountant program is an excellent example of an industry that has taken a qualification-based group of professionals and provided continuing professional development (specialization, remuneration scales, and recognition) through certification.
The assessment of competence linked to certification performance criteria can ultimately establish, measure, and recognize clear and objective indicators of performance. These indicators can be linked to remuneration and reward schemes.
The value of continuing professional development has been clearly established, but it also allows professionals to give something back to their colleagues. Mentoring is an important way to enrich the industry and develop the talent pool. Mentors help establish the personal attributes and skills required for a productive career in auditing beyond the knowledge delivered through certified training.
Analysis of the auditing profession shows that recently certified auditors use more of their adventurous traits on the job, which could present a risk. Through mentoring, developing professionals can take advantage of both learned skills and developed experiences in a safe environment. Mentoring activity also gives senior auditors access to fresh ideas from developing professionals and offers a challenge to their experiences against current theory. It also sharpens their communication skills.
Competency is a pathway, not a destination. It should highlight strengths and weaknesses, assist the professional in continuing his or her personal growth, and promote his or her contribution to the industry. Data show that that auditors’ competencies change throughout their careers. The goals for the industry should be to develop frameworks for continuing professional development of incremental, engaging, and effective competence programs.
About the author
Peter Holtmann is president and CEO of RABQSA International Inc. and has more than 10 years of experience in the service and manufacturing industries. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and has worked in industrial chemicals, surface products, environmental testing, pharmaceutical, and nutritional products. Holtmann has served on various international committees for the National Food Processors Association in the United States and on the Safe Quality Foods auditor certification review board.