Why Competencies Matter - A Big Yawn and A Big Wake-Up Call

Why Competencies Matter - A Big Yawn and A Big Wake-Up Call

Hal RichmanSeptember 08, 2017

Does your staff lack the bundles of skills needed to understand how to use a new product, the best way to insulate a knee wall and the importance of maintaining an air barrier? If yes, are you aware how much this impacts call-backs, lost customers, and hiring and firing of staff? The answer is: A lot. And this “A lot” directly affects your credibility with customers, your profitability and general levels of aggravation.

A competency is defined as a combination of skills, knowledge and behaviours that meet the requirements of a job. Competencies are important for the success of your company and staff.

High performing companies develop a competency framework or an inventory of expected behaviours, skills and knowledge that lead to excellence on the job. There are usually a set of competencies, each broken out into a ‘competency map’. Clear expectations and standards of performance let staff know what is required in order to do a good job.

Taking the time to identify gaps in competencies can form the basis of training plans for your managers and staff, as well as for on-the-job training and mentoring.

OK – time to yawn! This may sound pie-in-the-sky and fluffy when you are dealing with loaded schedules, hiring and training new staff, inevitable human resource problems and demanding customers. However, it is the opposite of fluff.

In 2014, I worked on a competency model for the Net Zero Energy Coalition, based on a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) framework. The list below shows the framework’s foundation competencies and industry competencies.

Foundation Competencies


(1) Personal Effectiveness

  • Reliability & Willingness to Learn

(2) Academic Competencies

  • Reading, Communication-Visual & Verbal, Basic Computer Skills

(3) General Workplace Competencies

  • Decision Making; Checking & Working with Tools and Technology

Industry Specific Competencies

(4) Industry-wide Technical Competencies

  • Material Resources; Regulations & Quality Assurance; Health & Safety

(5) Residential Construction Technical Competencies

  • Construction of Specific Home Components;

(6) Industry-Job Technical & Performance Competencies

  • Retrofit Construction Management, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, Troubleshooting, and Maintenance Services
  • Testing and Diagnostics
  • Energy Codes and Standards
  • Renewable Energy Applications

Competency Maps for Beginners

When you create a competency map for your company (you will, won’t you?), Level #6 might include items like:

  • Apply the House as a System concept

  • Interpret the role of sustainable development in construction

  • Understand how building science affects building durability and occupant comfort

  • Categorize the signs, symptoms and solutions for good indoor air quality

  • Describe building envelope details and how they control or contribute to heat, air, and moisture flows

Without a strong set of competency requirements, as we move forward into higher-performance new construction and deep energy retrofits, we are going to run into serious problems. Houses will not perform properly, and homeowners will be faced with health and safety problems.

As an industry, we need to step up the plate and realize, as many other industries have, that training needs to support competence at ALL levels and that the trickle-down effect (look how well this as worked in economics) is old school. Imagine an auto plant where only a few people in each area are training with the hope that others will “get it”? Unthinkable, as this should be in residential construction.

I realize this may be new stuff for some of you - contact me to have a chat about this and answer your questions. You might also wish to take a look at our Performance Management page.

Oh, and take a look at Shawna’s blog post about adult learning and competencies.

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