4 What are competencies?

A competency describes the ability to use a set of related knowledge, skills, and attributes required to successfully perform activities and tasks  in a defined setting. This might seem straightforward but there is no agreed upon definition of competency. As the workplace and educational sectors debate the use of the term, we are going to propose some definitions that will help you build a competency framework.

For the purposes of this toolkit and for clarity, we differentiate between:

When using this toolkit, we will refer to individual competencies (or a competency) as consisting of:

While this interpretation is far from universal, it lays the groundwork for using competencies as a foundational piece of a competency framework.

Components of a competency

Components of Competencies

Competencies are comprised of some key components:

  1. A competency statement which outlines the context and criteria/standards for the expected performance.
  2.  Performance criteria which are measurable outcomes required to demonstrate proficiency of the competency.
  3. Supporting  information which includes the required supporting knowledge and skills to be able to achieve the competency.
  4. Key terms that are open to interpretation.

Take a moment to review the sample competency below which includes examples for each of the structural components.

Detailed competency showing the competency statement and supporting information

Show/Hide alternative (text) version of the competency example in the image above

Competency Statement:

Handle hazardous materials according to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations and workplace requirements.

Performance Criteria:

  • Participate in required training for handling hazardous materials (e.g WHMIS training) according to OHS regulations and workplace requirements
  • Select hazardous materials according to OHS regulations and workplace requirements
  • Use hazardous materials according to OHS regulations and workplace requirements
  • Store and dispose of hazardous materials according to OHS regulations and workplace requirements

Supporting Knowledge and Skills:


  • Correct identification and handling of hazardous materials (e.g. WHMIS training and symbols)
  • OHS regulations, particularly related to using hazardous materials
  • Location of Safety Data Sheets and how to read them
  • Workplace policies and procedures related to using hazardous materials
  • Types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and their uses when handling hazardous materials


  • Ability to accurately measure quantities and concentrations of hazardous materials

Key Terms and Definitions for this Competency:

hazardous materials Substances that can cause harm. Hazardous materials designed for commercial use are labelled according to WHMIS standards; those designed for home use carry consumer protection labels
occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations Legal requirements for working safely, which may include required training and certification, maintaining workplace documentation, and reporting of any incidents or near misses to appropriate regulatory bodies
WHMIS Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System; a Canadian system of site specific information about hazardous materials that are present in workplaces and how to use and handle them safely. WHMIS is aligned with the international Globally Harmonized System (GHS) standard for hazardous materials.
workplace requirements Standard policies, operating procedures, and other requirements specific to a workplace as determined by the workplace and/or management




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eCampusOntario Open Competency Toolkit Copyright © 2021 by Dennis Green and Carolyn Levy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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