What do we really mean when we ask someone to be a "Competent Person"?

As part of my doctoral research, I interviewed many industry leaders, across commodities and roles and backgrounds, including the scales and types of organisations and a full mix of experiences.  I felt privileged to have their time, their input and considered views and opinions.  From their contributions, I was able to expand on the current JORC Code definition of Competent Persons to include their expectations.  My expanded definition is:

“A JORC Code Competent Person is a mining industry professional who has a mature ability to reason across the JORC Code (including all respective items in Table 1), who can provide reasoned analysis of the risks in a project, and who is able to communicate the material risks (without exclusion) to their peers, management, the board of directors and investors.” (Coombes, PhD Thesis, 2013)

Perhaps the most sensitive aspect of the JORC Code is the concept of a “Competent Person”.  It is a loaded definition because, by implication, if you’re not a "Competent Person" would that make you an “Incompetent Person”?  I doubt many of us take on a title of “Incompetent Person”.  There are many extremely competent geologists who are not able to meet the expectations of industry leaders regarding JORC Code Competency.  They are thus "Competent Geologists", but not necessarily “JORC Competent Persons”.  So my first suggestion to the mining industry community is that we either start to talk about JORC Competent Persons as a distinct type of competency, or we consider an alternative label, such as the Canadian “Qualified Person”.

The next key phrase in this expanded definition is “a mature ability to reason across the JORC Code”.  This is not about being a master of all techniques.  Instead it is about being able to consider the potential consequences of potential risks within the project – to be able to imagine them based on past experiences.  This is where mining industry and context experiences are invaluable.  It is why a minimum of five years’ “relevant” experience in mineralisation style and activity in the definition of Competent Person is there.  This requirement is there so that the Competent Person has had exposure to the potential risks and shortcomings of predictions and estimates and assigned classification levels. It is also why mine production experience is important when reporting on Mineral Resources.  Production experience builds your intuitive understanding of how reliable estimates and forecasts are.  A mature ability, as those of us who are older understand, is founded on learning from numerous mistakes – our own and those of others.  Competent Persons draw on this humbling experiential learning to enable them reason through the potential risks when they inform corporate leaders and investors.

Communication of the risks is essential – well beyond documenting a study in a report.  The quality of the communication is such that the risks are clearly communicated and honour the JORC Code principles of Materiality and Transparency.  Competent Persons are responsible for ensuring all levels of reader (peers, management, corporate leaders and informed investors) understand their assessment of the components of project risk.