How to Develop Competence Development Plans for Dispatchers and Guards

How can we maintain the right levels of competence in staff carrying out safety-critical tasks at the platform-train interface?

Competence is a term that's often cited, but frankly, rarely understood.  However, if you get competence development and management right, it can help to unlock substantial benefits to your business, reducing risk and improving the way your people deliver rail services to passengers and freight customers.

Some time ago, RSSB was involved in research focussed on how companies could develop competence development plans for train drivers.  Feedback was very positive, and it got us thinking – the basic principles would be relevant elsewhere, so could we adapt the guidance for other staff involved in safety critical duties, like guards and dispatchers?

The result has just been published: Competence Development Guide for Dispatchers and Guards – but why should you read it?

People carrying out safety critical work must be competent according to the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS).   Your organisation must have a competence management system (CMS), and as part of that, a means of identifying and managing issues when performance falls short of what's required. 

ATW staff

Effective Competence Development Plans (CDPs) are a key component of a CMS as they support the enhancement of competence. They can increase self-confidence in staff in their own abilities, and increase trust between staff and their employers when they know their management will support them.  They also increase staff retention in a positive environment, conducive to developing people in their careers in a fair and open fashion. 

CDPs can improve the efficiency of competence development as the process used to develop the plan can help organisations identify and target tailored improvements rather than focusing on generic training interventions. This can minimise the amount of time people may be away from duty, and maximises their availability for work.

Although this sounds like common sense and a logical approach to support staff, organisations can get it wrong.  For example, RAIB has identified deficiencies in the CDP process as a contributory factor to serious operating incidents.

So, how do you make CDPs work for you? 

The crux is a fair culture – sometimes referred to as a just culture – where punishment is only reserved for wilful violations and gross negligence, and not for situations where people were taking actions or decisions in line with their experience and training.  In other words, a fair culture recognises that everyone makes mistakes and that a range of factors relating to the organisation, the job and workplace can affect performance.

This type of perspective means an organisation is focused on how people perform at work, what affects their performance and what can be done to enhance their performance.  The CDP process becomes an important mechanism to help achieve this, as they can be used as a proactive measure to support competence development.

To be effective, CDPs should not be seen as a disciplinary exercise. They should be seen as a plan, owned by the individual, that will benefit them, their employer and the wider rail system. They should help to increase mutual trust and confidence – and it could even be a step towards promotion, if used proactively.

The guide takes you through how CDPs are developed, implemented and closed out in a fair culture. It sets out example responsibilities for guards and dispatchers, manager, trade unions and the company and provides case studies illustrating how organisations have applied such an approach.

So, if you wish to improve your CDP process, are involved in CDPs or are a guard or dispatch who is either involved in a CDP or would like to know more about CDPs, then do read the guide and tell us what you think.

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