Refinery worker in safety gear walking up stairs

A competence management system (CMS) can provide a platform for world-class performance, but is not, in itself, a guarantee of success. For example, if a system is highly complex it may not gain traction with staff, and if it is not tailored to the site’s specific requirements then it is unlikely to be effective. But, when it is done well, it can take an organisation from strength to strength, as an initiative at Nigeria LNG Ltd (NLNG) demonstrates.

When it was incorporated in 1998, the NLNG joint venture had a target that 95% of its workforce should be Nigerian by 2012. So, it recruited fresh, young Nigerian graduates and put them through intensive programmes to train them to be technicians, operators and engineers. They then worked alongside the experienced Shell personnel that started up and operated the plant.

Over time, the Shell expatriates were expected to move on, but the policy was designed to ensure that the new recruits would first benefit from the transfer of skills, culture and best practices.

Today, NLNG is one of the largest producers and exporters of liquefied natural gas in the world and delivers some 7% of global supply. International benchmarking ranks its plant at Bonny Island among the sector’s top performers. Crucially, the company has achieved its Nigerianisation goal and its journey to achieving that milestone, as well as its progress afterwards, provides an insightful case study into the potential value of a CMS.

"Ten years ago we had 500 expatriates working with us but today there are fewer than 50"

Refinery at night

NLNG’s journey to excellence

In 2003, after a few years of operation, NLNG began to analyse whether its Nigerianisation scheme was on track. Management required proof that the graduates the company had recruited were developing the target skills, knowledge and behaviours. Consequently, NLNG implemented a CMS, which proved to be robust in identifying the competences and proficiency levels required by NLNG staff.

Fast forward to 2009, however, and Paul Bakare, Human Resources Manager, NLNG, was keen to take another look at the CMS. Several safety incidents in the up- and downstream oil and gas industry prompted NLNG management to seek reassurance that its people had the right competences to avoid similar incidents; however, the existing system was unable to provide sufficient granularity.

Bakare explains that, although the system was helping NLNG to identify the competences and proficiency levels required by its staff, it was difficult to assess an individual’s actual level of proficiency. This lack of clarity made it difficult for NLNG to identify any competence gaps and, thus, close them through learning, experience or coaching.

NLNG commissioned Shell Global Solutions to review and update its CMS. “One of things we found was that the CMS was not being used to the full extent because, according to feedback, it was overly complicated,” says Barry Kimber, Senior Performance Improvement and Implementation Manager, Shell Global Solutions. “In fact, there were 469 competences in the system, which we felt was too unwieldy, so we were keen to simplify it and make it more user-friendly.”

Co-creating the solution

Over a two-month period, Shell Global Solutions facilitated a series of workshops at Bonny Island to articulate the competences that the organisation required. Kimber is keen to emphasise the importance of having NLNG staff closely involved in the process. He explains that when, for example, his team was looking at the mechanical engineering competences, it brought together a diverse group of mechanical engineers: some were NLNG staff and some were Shell subject matter experts who each had different levels of skills and experience.

During this workshop, the group identified the key mechanical engineering activities that are required to be performed and broke them down into the tasks required to achieve them. Those tasks became the main content of the competence requirement and, for each task, the group members, together, wrote proof points: objective statements defining what a competent person can do.

“That was all done in a workshop because we wanted the words in each competence statement to be the customer’s words and thus site specific,” says Kimber. “We did not go in with Shell competences and say this is what a particular person should be able to do, because each plant and process is unique. We have found that substantial value can be captured when we co-create the competence requirements for a customer’s specific operations.”

At the end of this process, the team adapted the CMS. Numerous changes were introduced, and the number of competences was reduced from 469 to 121. This 75% reduction, coupled with the introduction of proof points, was key to simplifying the process and making it more objective and fit for purpose. A proof point is an objective statement that shows if the person is meeting the requirements.

"The CMS has enabled us to develop local nigerians to such a high level that they can stand in the positions previously occupied by the experienced shell expatriates"

Two refinery workers working on pipes

Responding to market dynamics

Bakare confirms that the updated CMS was a success but, in 2014, he asked Kimber and his team to revisit the site. NLNG had undergone a major reorganisation so he felt that it was imperative to review the CMS again to ensure its alignment with the current organisation and its business needs.

Bakare firmly believes that every business should review its competency levels every three to four years to ensure that they reflect the changing business landscape. “The marketplace is not static, so every organisation should take the time to ensure that its competences align with the current reality. That is especially true of the liquefied natural gas industry, which has seen some fundamental changes in recent years. We needed to ensure that our workforce has the skills that we require to remain competitive. Shell Global Solutions helped us to achieve that.”

Throughout its long journey, NLNG has always met its contractual requirements for cargo deliveries and achieved benchmark reliability and availability figures. Bakare says the CMS, which he refers to as a living, continuously updated system, has been key to achieving that level of performance.

“The CMS makes sure that our staff has the right skills, experience and competences to operate the plant. That helps to improve health, safety and environmental performance, and drives up operational performance in areas such as reliability and integrity. It also benefits our human resources processes, for example, it is a key tool for career planning, recruitment and succession planning.”

The CMS has also, he points out, been key to the organisation meeting its Nigerianisation target. “Ten years ago we had 500 expatriates working with us but today there are fewer than 50,” he says. “The CMS has enabled us to develop local Nigerians to such a high level that they can stand in the positions previously occupied by the experienced Shell expatriates

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