EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF THE LABORATORY STAFF AS A PART OF THE LABORATORY COMPETENCE

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1 The First International Proficiency Testing Conference Sinaia, România 11 th 13 th October, 2007 EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF THE LABORATORY STAFF AS A PART OF THE LABORATORY COMPETENCE Olga Štajdohar-Pađen Energy Institute Ltd, Ulica grada Vukovara 37, Zagreb, Croatia Abstract Due to the fast development of technique and technology, the trend of outdating of the knowledge is increasing. Life long learning is not an option any more, it is for all of us the requirement. In order to prove its competence and become accredited, laboratory has to prove the competence of its staff, too. In order to keep up with changes constantly appearing in and out of the laboratory, the laboratory has to constantly manage the competences of its staff. Effective and efficient management of the staff competences, knowledge, skills, education and training can be a very demanding requirement of the ISO/IEC standard, especially for those laboratories which operate in free market and have little or no external financial support (for instance, from the state or the organisation it belongs to). The article analyses this requirements and gives some practical pieces of advise and sollutions how to organize and manage the staff competences. Key words : Laboratory competence, laboratory staff, education, training, life long learning, ISO/IEC standard 1 INTRODUCTION Due to the fast and wide development of technique and technology, the trend of outdating of the knowledge is increasing. The knowledge and competencies we have in the moment of leaving the school are usually not enough even for the challenges of our first job. With each new testing instrument purchased and each new product to be tested in our laboratory, the gap can be wider. Life long learning is not an option any more, it is for all of us the requirement. In order to prove its competence and become accredited, laboratory has to prove the competence of its staff, too. But this turns out 335

2 to be easier part of the problem. In order to keep up with changes constantly appearing in and out of laboratory, laboratories have to constantly manage the competences of their staff. Effective and efficient management of the staff competences, knowledge, skills, education and training can be a very demanding requirement of the standard [1], especially for those laboratories which operate in free market and have little or no external financial support (for instance, from the state or the organisation they belong to). The article considers these requirements and gives some practical pieces of advice and solutions how to organize and manage the staff competences. 2 WHAT REQUIRES THE STANDARD Concerning the laboratory staff, the standard [1] gives its requirements in the clause Competencies and contracting The first requirement is that all who operate specific equipment, perform tests and/or calibrations, evaluate results and sign test reports and calibration certificates must be competent for these tasks. Very logical, easy to say but difficult to achieve and maintain. How to define what is needed as competence, how to check it and how to maintain it throughout all inevitable changes in laboratory operation? The fact that necessary knowledge and skills can not always be achieved through formal school education is recognized by the requirement Personnel performing specific tasks shall be qualified on the basis of appropriate education, training, experience and/or demonstrated skills, as required. And what is required is to be determined by laboratory. Another logical requirement is that for the staff undergoing training, appropriate supervision has to be provided. Again, laboratory has to define what an appropriate supervision is in each specific case. Furthermore, The laboratory shall use personnel who are employed by, or under contract to, the laboratory. Where contracted and additional technical and key support personnel are used, the laboratory shall ensure that such personnel are supervised and competent and that they work in accordance with the laboratory s management system. The key point here is that the authors of the standard did not want to oblige the laboratory to use only full time employed staff, but the laboratory still has to ensure the competence of all staff used. 2.2 Education needs There is a set of requirements concerning the education and training of staff: The management of the laboratory shall formulate the goals with respect to the education, training and skills of the laboratory personnel. The laboratory shall have a policy and procedures for identifying training needs and providing training of personnel. The training programme shall be relevant to the present and anticipated tasks of the laboratory. And finally, a new one The effectiveness of the training actions has be evaluated. 336

3 Naturally, the goals with respect to the education have to be connected to the overall goals of the laboratory (and organisation it belongs to, if any). They depend on current needs but also on anticipated future events such as development of new testing or calibration methods, purchase of new equipment, expected absence of a staff member due to retirement, maternal leave, study leave etc. And if laboratory invests money and time into the training of personnel in order to achieve certain goals, what could be more logical than to check if the training was effective or not? 2.3 Job descriptions According to the standard, laboratory has to maintain current job descriptions for managerial, technical and key support personnel involved in tests and/or calibrations. Job descriptions should define responsibilities with respect to performing tests/calibrations, planning of tests/calibrations and evaluation of results, giving opinions and interpretations method modification, development and validation expertise and experience required qualification and training programmes managerial duties. Job descriptions are necessary and useful for all parties laboratory management, laboratory staff and auditors. But it is not easy to define them in simple, clear and concise way and still cover all tasks appearing in the laboratory now and possibly in the future. 2.4 Records on authorization and competences The final set of requirements deals with authorization for specific tasks: The management shall authorize specific personnel to o perform particular types of sampling, test and/or calibration, o to issue test reports and calibration certificates, o to give opinions and interpretations o to operate particular types of equipment. The laboratory shall maintain records of o the relevant authorizations, o competence o educational and professional qualifications o training, skills and experience of all technical personnel, including contracted personnel. This information shall be readily available and shall include the date on which authorization and/or competence is confirmed. The last requirement the date on which authorization and/or competence is confirmed ensures valuable information and traceability when certain events such as nonconformity have to be investigated. As already said before, all these requirements are logical and necessary but so many things are left to laboratory to decide on how to implement them and auditors to assess the compliance achieved. In practice, this fact leaves lot of space for discussions and disputes. Auditors want to stay on the safe side and see everything defined in written. Laboratories want to avoid lot of documentation which is limiting in nature and never can be hundred percent up to date. 337

4 3 HOW TO BEGIN A laboratory preparing for accreditation or just wanting to organize its work in accordance with the standard [1] first has to analyse and define its current situation. That means it has to determine what it actually does and how. It is impossible to define the required staff competences and job descriptions if the laboratory does not have clearly defined its scope and manner of work. Here is what has to be determined first: Type and scope of the services the laboratory gives to its customers Processes in giving these services including the main process and all supporting processes. Only then can be defined authorities, responsibilities and required competences of personnel. Defining the type, scope and processes of giving the services can be a very demanding and exhausting task but skipping this step will lead to many misunderstandings and dissatisfactions later. The team should go through the main process. The main process could be regarded as: enquiry offer offer acceptance testing/calibration test report/calibration certificate issue invoicing. Certainly, sampling, testing and calibration processes have to be defined with special care. The team should define the steps and tasks and for each task identified ask Who is responsible?. The answer should be not an actual name, but rather function in the laboratory general manager, technical manager, quality manager, supervisor, test equipment manager, testing team leader, testing team member, test report author, sampling expert etc. The supporting processes such as purchase, recruitment, education or maintenance should by analysed in similar manner. Links to the other departments have to be recognized and managed, too. These links concern services the laboratory receives from the other departments or organizations, such as purchase, dispatch, book keeping, human resources etc. Useful quality tools here are flowchart and organisational chart. 4 WHAT TO DO NEXT There are two important steps more. When the tasks are determined and the responsible function is assigned, it is the moment to define which competencies the person performing that task should have. These competencies may include specific technical knowledge, business knowledge, foreign languages, personal certificate on specific skills, driving license for special vehicle and so on. After the competencies for specific tasks are defined, the gap analysis can be done, comparing the required competencies with actual competencies of a person performing each task. This gap analysis gives input data for education and training plans. Since laboratories usually have a small number of staff, the same person may have several functions. The same person can be technical manager but also do the sampling, testing or new method development. The quality manager can also be an expert for giving interpretations and opinions. The testing team leader can in the same time be test equipment manager and therefore take care of equipment calibration and maintenance. Several staff members should be, aside from the other tasks, qualified internal auditors. This should not be a problem if each person is well informed and trained and consistently applies the implemented management system. 338

5 5 HOW TO PERSIST Let say the laboratory has up to now defined its current situation concerning the staff competences and detected current needs. The plans were made for fulfilling the gaps. The method of staff competencies management has been established and implementation has begun. It would be wise to agree on a period of time for the implementation and after that do the assessment. It is not wise to begin with the implementation and than constantly change something. The method should be given a chance to show its advantages and disadvantages. But when the time comes, the assessment should be made. Laboratory should ask it self, is the method appropriate, effective, logical, simple to maintain or does it give the results but requires much more time and energy than it can be justified? If something has to be changed, the laboratory should not hesitate to change it, but again implementation period has to be established and assessment performed to ensure adequacy of the new method. The appropriate quality tool here is Deming s circle known as plan-docheck-act. Achieving and maintaining the staff competences require constant care. And this requires both, time and money. Instead of performing tasks which can be invoiced to the customer, such as testing or calibration, somebody has to analyze needs, make plans, organize training, laboratory staff has to participate in trainings in and out the laboratory and somebody has to evaluate the results. There always will be pressures to skip, shorten or cut these activities. It is the responsibility of laboratory management to keep the staff competencies at adequate level and therefore the related use of resources should be considered not as expense but as an investment. 6 CONCLUSIONS Competence of laboratory staff is an important part of technical competence of each laboratory. Since the trend of outdating of knowledge is increasing, maintaining the laboratory staff competencies at appropriate level can be very demanding requirement, especially for laboratories operating in free market, with little or no financial help from the state or from the larger organisation they possibly belong to. In order to manage its staff competencies effectively and efficiently, the laboratory first has to define its services and processes needed for realisation of these services. Then the responsibility for each step in these processes has to be assigned and the gap analysis of current competencies done. Since management of staff competencies requires resources (human and financial), there is always pressure to decrease the expenses. But when used efficiently, these resources should be considered not as expense but as an investment. REFERENCES [1] The EN ISO/IEC 17025: standard: General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories [2] 339

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