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Competence development and skill enhancement plans

Carefully prepared competence development plans (CDP) can help a driver avoid SPADs and other types of incidents. Such plans help to understand and identify what needs to change and how the change can be achieved. This article outlines how to make sure the development planning process fully supports your drivers and adds value.

Some companies have moved away from the established term ‘competence development plans’ (CDPs), opting instead to adopt the term ‘personal safety plan’ (PSP) or ‘skill enhancement plan’ (SEP).  This is in recognition of a possible stigma around the phrase ‘competence development’ and the need for the driver to own the process. This article uses the accepted CDP term and emphasises that the focus should be on skill enhancement and driver involvement throughout.

A CDP enables the driver to enhance their competence (and maybe confidence) to perform to the required standard. In addition, it gives the company the confidence that the driver has the necessary skills and knowledge for safe driving.

Getting the CDP process right is not straightforward. When post-incident ‘development’ activities feel punitive they can unsettle a driver, possibly knocking their confidence, making them anxious, which is the last thing a driver needs after a SPAD. Worse still, sometimes the CDP process itself contributes to subsequent SPADs, as the following examples highlight (adapted from RSSB T1128 and research into a spike in SPADs in Period 3, 2018):

  • The driver’s previous incidents highlighted an issue with sometimes not being aware of the immediate risks associated with stopping. In this case, the driver’s development plans had also not been fully embedded, highlighting weaknesses in the development plan process.
  • The driver’s previous development plan’s had not addressed the relevant development required to ensure that his driving technique is not rushed. The driver had not been afforded the necessary development from management to address this.
  • The development plan was missing for a previous incident and  the required ‘safety of the line reviews’ were missing for the last three incidents. The assessment process did not identify if the driver was following the requirements of his development plan.

Getting the best out of the CDP process is clearly a priority and there are two key guidance documents on the topic:

  • Best Practice Guidelines for competence development process, (ASLEF)
  • Supporting a fair culture: creating appropriate plans after incidents – driver competence development plan guidance (RSSB, T1068)

This article draws on recommendations of these documents, and contemporary practices being used by companies.

When a CDP might prove beneficial

Being involved in a SPAD does not necessarily mean that a CDP is required. SPADs result from several factors, ranging from signal sighting issues, missed briefings to communication issues, not just competence. However, when the driver’s competence is a factor, if the driver demonstrates a clear understanding of how their actions contributed to the event, a CPD may not be required. In such cases it may be sufficient to record the development activity since the incident took place, with supporting evidence, combined with a coaching conversation about steps the driver will take to deal with similar situations in the future.

Research indicates a CDP would be useful if an individual’s competence has fallen below the required standard, typically this comes to light after an incident. Sometimes a CDP is beneficial even if no incident has occurred—a driver returning to work, or proactively requesting help, or an issue arises indicating the driver needs support — erratic speed control or late braking are examples. Sometimes development activities are useful to prepare for foreseeable changes such as leaf-fall, or the introduction of new in-cab equipment.

The CDP process should be a positive one and should be kept completely separate from any disciplinary action. Creating a fair culture around investigations and CDP’s can help to make the experience more positive for drivers and will help to get the best quality input for the content of the CDP.

Preparing an overarching CDP process

The RSSB guidance document (T1068) sets out 12 principles for a CDP process, these can be used to shape how you structure your CDP:

  1. A competence development requirement may be identified in incident investigation findings, through performance monitoring/assessments, or by the driver or others identifying a particular development objective.
  2. The aim of a CDP is to support competence enhancement. A CDP should be initiated where a competence requirement or development objective has been identified. Confidence, personal or health issues may be better supported through the related driver care and support system (DCASS) process.
  3. The CDP process should be followed in an open and fair manner. All parties should be treated with respect.
  4. The development of the CDP should be driver-led, with the driver manager providing advice and coaching. The driver, driver manager and other supporting staff should recognise the commitment required to deliver the CDP and provide sufficient time and resources to do this well.
  5. The development of the CDP should be holistic and consider the driver’s performance and experience over a period (ideally 5+ years). This will highlight areas of strong competence, areas which require development or where a deficiency has been identified, either following an incident or by the driver themselves.
  6. The competence objective and the resulting CDP should be agreed. It forms a commitment between driver and the company.
  7. The CDP plan should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.):
    • Development actions should address the competence objective.
    • Monitoring actions should measure improvement in that competence.
    • The plan should set clear timescales and be scheduled for the shortest period to deliver the required support, while being workable within the commitments of the driver and driver manager.
  8. The CDP should be tailored to the driver’s individual competence objectives. This should include consideration of the driver’s learning style and preferences.
  9. 9. The CDP should be proportional to the driver’s competence objective, and any related operational risk. Sometimes minor incidents can highlight broader competence issues that require attention.
  10. The driver’s progress against CDP objectives should be monitored with regular review meetings to discuss achievement. The CDP should be adaptive to reflect the driver’s progress, and revised if it is not proving effective. The CDP can be completed once the objectives are accomplished.
  11. Competence improvements made as part of the CDP should be sustainable over the long-term.  As a minimum, the driver should use the techniques acquired beyond the end of the plan. 
  12. The activities, observations and outcomes of a CDP should be recorded in the competence management systems (CMS).

Psychological input to development planning

Some companies enlist specialist help to prepare development plans. An overriding principle for these is that the driver should be fully informed about the process, potential outcomes, and consents to participating. If the driver does not wish to participate, their decision should be accepted in line with a fair culture approach, although the reasons for this reticence could be explored. 

The process typically starts with a specialist review of the SPAD investigation and driver’s incident history. The driver might be asked to complete various assessments to pin-point underlying cognitive issues. Such assessments are not 100% reliable or valid—some might identify issues where there are none, others might miss things that need attention. A driver might understandably feel anxious doing such assessments and this may affect how they perform. 

Following assessment, the psychologist would be expected to convene a feedback session with the driver to explore and help understand the findings. If desired, the psychologist and driver can prepare development activities based on the assessment findings, tailored to the driver’s needs. Normally a report of the process is prepared, and the driver’s manager might expect to receive advice on how to support the driver with the plan.

Case study 

‘It started with a yellow’ 

Enabling drivers to make informed decisions when selecting techniques to maintain situational awareness. 

At the centre of this approach, developed by Transport for Wales Railway Services (TfWRS), is a desire to educate drivers about a range of techniques to maintain situational awareness. By describing the pros and cons of each, drivers are better positioned to select a single, or blend, of technique(s) that would work for them. The approach could be used when developing a CDP. The case study was originally prepared for RSSB’s project on low-adhesion (T1156) and is reproduced below.

TfWRS recognised that there was a growing number of techniques that drivers could use to maintain situational-awareness. TfWRS wanted drivers to benefit from these approaches, but recognised that their use could not be mandated, as not all techniques work for all drivers. For drivers to make good decisions about which techniques to use, TfWRS recognised that drivers needed to understand what it is that they are selecting—how it works and what they need to do to make it work. TfWRS produced a document Drivers Guide to Personal Protection Strategies which described the techniques and how each one worked. By giving drivers the freedom to choose an approach that works for them it would create a sense of ownership and mean that drivers are more likely to use the approach while driving. Example techniques were:

  • Risk Triggered Commentary is a technique that helps focus attention so that critical information relating to risk for a given situation and/or task is at the forefront of a driver’s mind and supports working memory. 
  • Point and Call involves pointing at important indicators and calling out the status. Making gestures and speaking the status out loud helps maintain focus and attention. 
  • Mindfulness is about reconnecting and involves staying in touch with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. This helps drivers to stay present in the task, reduce stress and minimise disruptions or distractions
  • Using Acronyms such as those made up of three Ss – Signal (check, route & aspect), Station (check diagram, request-stop or infrequent stop) and Start (reset DRA, return ready to start and take power). PAST was another acronym – Power-Off at yellow, Acknowledge AWS, Step 1, 2 or 3, Think.  
  • Short Journey Concept, rather than conceptualising a route as one journey, it is broken down into short journeys, typically station to station. This can help to focus attention, manage working memory and reduce the possibility of distraction. 

Driver managers worked with drivers to ensure techniques and strategies were understood. TfWRS emphasise that the branding of the techniques is less important and can be off-putting; it is about the content and blending it into an approach that can be confidently used in practice.

Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our Principal Human Factors Specialist for further information.
Philippa Murphy
Tel: 020 3142 5641
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