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A competency based approach to managing skills in geotechnical numerical


Conference Paper · September 2015


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1 author:

Andrew Lees
Tensar International


Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:

COGAN (Competency in Geotechnical Analysis) View project

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Proceedings of the XVI ECSMGE
Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development
ISBN 978-0-7277-6067-8

© The authors and ICE Publishing: All rights reserved, 2015


A competency based approach to managing skills in

geotechnical numerical analysis
Une gestion du savoir-faire en analyse numérique géotechnique basée
sur les compétences
A.S. Lees*1
Geofem Ltd., Nicosia, Cyprus
Corresponding Author

ABSTRACT The aim of the COGAN (Competency in Geotechnical Analysis) project was to address a need for improved competency in
industry in the use of geotechnical numerical analysis software. This conference coincides with the end of the two-year project and has pro-
vided an opportunity to present the deliverables of the project. The three main outcomes from the project comprise a) an Educational Base
of around 500 competence statements describing what a user of numerical analysis software needs to know, b) a Competency Tracker allo-
wing organisations and individuals to record and monitor achievement of the competences, and c) two e-learning modules providing acces-
sible work-based training in two specific areas of numerical analysis. These three deliverables provide the tools with which geotechnical
engineering companies can improve the competency of their staff in using numerical analysis software and it is hoped that the deliverables
will enjoy a high take-up rate. These deliverables could also provide a model for managing competency in the wider geotechnical sector.

RÉSUMÉ L’ambition du projet COGAN ( compétences en analyse géotechnique ) était de répondre à un besoin d'améliorer les compé-
tences de l'industrie dans l'utilisation de logiciels d'analyse numérique géotechnique. Cette conférence coïncide avec la fin du projet de
deux ans et a fourni une occasion de présenter les livrables du projet. Les trois principaux résultats du projet comprennent a) une Base
d'Éducation d'environ 800 déclarations de compétence décrivant ce qu’un utilisateur de logiciel d'analyse numérique a besoin de savoir, b)
un traqueur de compétence permettant aux organisations et aux particuliers de sauvegarder et de surveiller l’accomplissement des compé-
tences , et c ) deux modules d’apprentissage en ligne fournissant une formation accessible et professionnelle dans deux domaines spéci-
fiques de l'analyse numérique . Ces trois livrables procurent les outils avec lesquels les sociétés d'ingénierie géotechnique peuvent amélio-
rer les capacités de leur personnel dans l’utilisation de logiciel d'analyse numérique et il est attendu que les livrables profitent d'un taux de
participation élevé. Ces livrables peuvent également fournir un modèle de gestion des compétences dans l’ensemble du secteur géotech-

1 INTRODUCTION gal and regulatory requirements in some industries,

such as in the nuclear sector.
Modern geotechnical design is increasingly reliant on All these pointed to an immediate need for im-
numerical analysis methods, e.g. finite element anal- proved competency amongst users of geotechnical
ysis (FEA). Yet such techniques are barely covered numerical analysis software, as well as for the tools
in a university education (Potts 2003), even to post- to allow organisations and individuals alike to man-
graduate level. Concerns persist surrounding inap- age and demonstrate their competency. This paper
propriate use of numerical analysis tools by untrained describes the outcomes of the COGAN Project that
staff, as demonstrated by benchmark studies (e.g. aimed to address these needs. While focused on nu-
Potts et al. 2002, Schweiger 2006). There is also a merical analysis, they could also be adapted to meet
growing demand for organisations to demonstrate the the needs of the wider geotechnical engineering sec-
competency of their design staff to clients – even le- tor.

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

2 COGAN PROJECT Analysis Simulation Innovation Transfer) project de-

liverables tailored to geotechnical numerical analysis.
The EASIT project (Wood et al. 2011), which was
2.1 Background completed in 2012, developed a generic Educational
Base and Competency Tracker for all fields of engi-
COGAN (Competency in Geotechnical Analysis) is a neering analysis and simulation.
two-year research project funded by the European
Union Lifelong Learning Programme and the project
2.2 Educational Base
partners (Enginsoft, Geofem, Mott MacDonald,
NAFEMS, Skanska, Terrasolum, TU Graz and Wesi This is a set of around 500 statements describing the
Geotechnica) and when this conference is held the minimum level competency required of an engineer
project will be in its last month. The main goal of the to perform safe numerical analysis in geotechnical
project was to provide the means to improve the engineering. These were divided into the 15 modules
competency of users of geotechnical numerical anal- listed in Table 1 and the categories were decided
ysis software. among the project partners and in response to a sur-
It was recognized that the field of numerical anal- vey of the geotechnical engineering industry (Lees et
ysis is too broad and evolutionary to be covered only al. 2014). The competence statements and accompa-
by a university education and that teaching must be nying list of resource references were prepared by
shared between university and the workplace. While experts in each of the module areas. The statements
university education covering the fundamentals of were then edited by the project partners into a con-
numerical analysis and background geotechnical sistent format and with no overlap or gaps between
knowledge is well-established, work-based training is the modules. To ensure that the statements and re-
typically less structured and ad-hoc, leading to incon- source references remain up to date with develop-
sistent levels of competency. So COGAN provided ments in the field, they will be maintained from time
the tools for work-based training and managing staff to time by the NAFEMS Geotechnical Committee.
competency through three key deliverables:
 Educational Base: a list of around 500 compe-
tences, divided into appropriate modules, that
users of geotechnical numerical analysis soft-
ware must possess as a minimum, with learning Company
resource references skills
 Competency Tracker: the Educational Base systems
incorporated into a web-based interface that en- Educational
gineers and managers alike can use to look-up resources,
and track competences and assess training competence
needs e-learning
 Exemplar E-Learning Modules: state-of-the- body
art e-learning tools and 3D graphics software registration
have been used to prepare two engaging cours- systems
es covering setting up a geotechnical numerical
analysis model and the use of structural ele-
ments – these provide a blueprint to be devel-
oped by training providers into more courses Figure 1. COGAN overview.
that are easily accessible from the workplace.
The way the deliverables interact with each other
and with other external skills management processes
is illustrated in Figure 1. The Educational Base and
Competency Tracker are described in more detail be-
low and are versions of the EASIT (Engineering


Table 1. COGAN Educational Base modules. around the world. The advantage of this style is that
Designing a numerical model for geotechnical analysis
it describes explicitly what an engineer is expected to
Structural elements and interfaces do, which makes the assessment of achievement of a
Constitutive models for structural materials competency much easier, either by reviewing an en-
Constitutive models for geomaterials gineer’s work, by direct discussion or even self-
Obtaining soil/rock parameters
Saturated/unsaturated groundwater flow
assessment. The total of 500 statements was consid-
Drained/undrained analysis ered to establish a quite comprehensive but achieva-
Consolidation ble definition of the minimum and general competen-
Validation of analysis results cy expected of a geotechnical engineer engaged in
Deep excavations
Foundations (including piles)
numerical analysis. However, it is recognized that
Earthworks and slopes some organisations would wish to add company- and
Soil mechanics software-specific competence statements, as well as
Rock mechanics more specialized statements and modules to suit their
Modelling applications and design code considerations
particular analysis activities, as illustrated in Figure
2. The COGAN Competency Tracker (described be-
The resource references are an important element low) will allow the flexibility to edit, add and remove
of the Educational base because they provide an im- statements and whole modules, as well as translating
mediate source for self-learners to enhance their the Educational Base into languages other than Eng-
knowledge in a particular competency. These refer- lish.
ences may be books, papers, web pages or training
courses. Rather than referring learners to a whole
book, the reference identifies the particular section or
pages of the book where information on a specific COGAN
competency can be found. This, of course, increases
the need to maintain the Educational Base as revised Company Specialised
editions of books and new publications come onto specific
the market.
Table 2. Example competence statements (from Obtaining
soil/rock parameters module).
Cognitive category Statement of competence Software
Application Specify methods of minimising soil
sample disturbance and maximizing specific
sample quality.
Comprehension Explain the importance of validation of
model parameters and give examples of Figure 2. Competence types.
validation methods.
Synthesis Obtain parameters from test results for
constitutive models for rock, taking into It is anticipated that the COGAN Educational
account rock mass characteristics. Base will have the following uses:
Application Derive linear stiffness from test results  Provide useful information to self-learners
appropriate for the stress and strain lev-
el when using material models with lin-  Provide focus for developers of short courses,
ear elasticity. textbooks and other learning material
Evaluation Evaluate the sensitivity of numerical  Provide a basis for assessment of achievement
model outputs to parameter uncertainty in each competence area
and its effect on designs and conclu-
sions from the model.  Provide a basis for registers of competent engi-
A few example competence statements from the
Educational Base are shown in Table 2. The style and 2.3 Competency Tracker
categorization of the statements follows the popular The main objective of the COGAN Competency
Bloom’s taxonomy used in educational institutions Tracker is to enable large, medium and small compa-

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

Personal ID and information

Rights Roles Reporting

View/edit own record Member My competence record

View/edit records for all By User

your staff Manager
By Group
Edit the competence Administrator By Competence

Figure 3. Competency Tracker features

nies, as well as individual engineers, to record and required of an engineer engaged in numerical analy-
monitor competence levels in the area of geotech- sis, a Competency Tracker to record and monitor
nical numerical analysis. With the flexibility of the achievement of competences, and E-Learning Mod-
system, organisations may choose to cover compe- ules for accessible, work-based learning.
tency in geotechnical engineering more generally. With both industry and individual take-up of these
The reporting tools (see Figure 3) allow managers to deliverables, it is hoped that:
view competency within their section by individual  Geotechnical numerical analysis tools will be
users, by groups or by specific competency. These implemented more consistently and competent-
will streamline planning for training needs and the ly
assignment of staff to analysis tasks. At the heart of  Organisations will be able to train their engi-
the Competency Tracker is the Educational Base de- neers in numerical analysis in a more structured
scribed above. way
It is a versatile web-based relational database sys-  Individuals without access to formal training
tem allowing the competences gained by individuals will be able to self-learn effectively
to be tracked and logged. Administrator-level users  Organisations will be better able to demonstrate
can edit, delete, add and translate modules to tailor the competency of their engineers in numerical
the Educational Base to their needs. It may also be analysis.
possible to transfer data from wider company staff For more information about the COGAN Project
development systems. and access to its deliverables, please visit the
Competences may be assessed by internal attesta- COGAN or NAFEMS websites (
tion, external attestation, internal examination or ex- or
ternal examination. Two levels of practice (either
standard or advanced) are assigned to each compe-
tence statement by default, but administrators may ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
choose to add more levels to match in-house systems.
The Lifelong Learning Programme of the European
Union is thanked for their support of the COGAN
3 CONCLUSIONS Project, as are the project partners (mentioned in Sec-
tion 2.1), and the domain experts who prepared the
The COGAN Project has developed three important Educational Base.
tools to facilitate enhanced competency in the field of
geotechnical numerical analysis. Namely, an Educa-
tional Base that defines the minimum competences


REFERENCES Schweiger, H.F. 2006. Results from the ERTC7 benchmark exer-
cise, Numerical Methods in Geotechnical Engineering (Ed.
Schweiger), 3-8.
Lees, A.S. Schmidt, F. & Bacas, B.M. 2014. Survey of geotech-
Wood, J. Morris T. & Prinja, N. 2011. The development of a com-
nical numerical analysis use and training needs in industry, Nu-
petence framework for engineering analysis and simulation. 21st
merical Methods in Geotechnical Engineering (Eds. Hicks,
International Conference on Structural Mechanics in Reactor
Brinkgreve & Rohe), 247-251.
Technology 2011 (SMiRT 21) New Delhi, India, 6-11 November.
Potts, D.P. 2003. Numerical analysis: a virtual dream or practical
Div-III, Paper ID 530.
reality? Géotechnique 53(6), 535-573.
Potts, D. Axelsson, K. Grande, L. Schweiger, H. & Long, M.
2002. Guidelines for the use of advanced numerical analysis,
Thomas Telford, London.


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