There is a return to ‘normal’ business following the pandemic with recruitment drives in full swing to fill the training pipeline for a number of key rail jobs. However, some train operating companies are sharing that it can be a struggle to find the right calibre of applicants. In particular, a number of UK rail operators have talked to the OPC about some key behavioural and attitudinal issues that are a worry for both their Operations and HR teams. Some concerns raised have beenchallenging behaviours in the employee/ manager relationship; less than acceptable attitudes to learning during training; a lack of pride in their role; inflexibility in working behaviours/shifts; disrespect shown to trainers and managers, as well as mentions of training failures which operators have expressed is a very unusual occurrence.



With over 30 years of experience, the OPC have identified a number of key attitudes and behaviours that go beyond the technical skills required to do the job and are associated with the very best rail employees who are ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest. These include strong conscientiousness, a motivation to achieve against the odds, and a desire to continuously learn. Those who perform exceptionally well in their job are also good ‘team players’ striving to develop and engage in relationships that are built on trust and mutual respect.



Some train operator teams have approached the OPC for help to improve their selection processes and to also ‘screen’ for positive and negative behaviours. For some operators, OPC psychologists have recommended ‘bolting on’ additional steps as an enhancement to their existing selection systems. The aim is to help them identify those candidates who are more likely to perform successfully in the role and be an outstanding trainee and more effective and safer employee.



An online ’pre-screening’ tool can help to do this quickly and accurately. It’s made up of a number of sections that have pre-set (stringent) acceptance levels. The OPC can design a bespoke pre-screening tool to best fit the organisation’s standards and the role(s) being recruited for. They can be tailored for any role. Often, these pre-screening tools can include four (or more)
sections. In some cases, they include:



These are generally ‘go, no-go’ statements that a candidate must answer yes or no to and are pre-requisite, non-negotiables for the role and the organisation. These types of questions can quickly reduce a large applicant pool to manageable levels.


This next section can quickly help identify if an applicant is a good fit for the job role specifics as well as how well they match organisational standards. Candidates are asked to score statements on how strongly they agree or disagree with them… E.g., ‘I prefer a job where there is lots to do’ or ‘I prefer a job where I can work on my own’ etc. It’s particularly helpful at ‘screening in’ those candidates who are a good fit for the job constraints and screening out those individuals whose job preferences may not be the right fit for say a safety critical role in the rail industry. Preference questions can be easily adapted to fit any role as well as reflect organisational culture needs.


Once a candidates’ work preferences have been discovered, a prioritisation exercise helps to identify what they believe are the most important roles and responsibilities for the job applied for. Adapted for each specific role, candidates indicate what they perceive are the most crucial and least important responsibilities/tasks to a successful job performance. This selection of the top three and bottom three responsibilities, helps to shed light on an applicant’s focus of attention and how they perceive what’s important or not – helping to further screen for the best candidates.


A final section recommendation may be a mini-situational judgement questionnaire exploring how an individual might respond in a rail specific scenario. After reading a short, fictitious passage applicants must rank order their response choices to the situation. Situational judgement tests can help to give a good indication of an applicants’ training or likely job or safety performance. It helps us to identify if the judgement of the applicant matches and mimics the judgement of some of the very best rail employees.

Once candidates have successfully passed the pre-screening tool, for some operators the OPC has also recommended using a small selection of online assessment tool such as the Visual Search Exercise (VSE), and/or the Magnificent 7 Situational Judgement Test (M7SJT) as additions, helping to further identify these positive behaviours. Although these are different types of tests – one being an ability test and the other a situational judgement exercise, both explore some of the specific positive abilities, attitudes or behavioural characteristics displayed by those seen as high performers in safety-critical roles.



Recently a client was looking to do a big recruitment drive, but they also needed to improve the calibre of candidates selected and they specifically needed to address some behavioural and attitudinal issues. OPC psychologists undertook a mini job analysis with trainers and managers to identify the specific positive behaviours they were looking for. They also completed discussions around some negative incidents to pinpoint unfavourable behaviours they were looking to avoid. Additionally, they included some behaviours shown during a number of positive and negative safety incidents had by new trainees. All this information helped form a really clear picture of behavioural needs to be included in the pre-screening tools using a similar shape to the one already shared. The OPC completed the job and behavioural analysis work, created the pre-screening tools and made it available digitally all within roughly two weeks. Over the following couple of weeks, c. 1,000 applicants sat it.

What we often say to clients is that they should only spend quality time and money on those applicants who have a good chance of success; who are more likely to be a great fit in the role. So, what a pre-screening tool helps to achieve is to filter out as quickly, effectively and fairly, as possible those unsuitable applicants with a very low job and culture fit.



Often a pre-screening tool can only take up to an hour for a candidate to complete, which is quite low up-front investment time for them. But their real beauty is for the HR team. They’re fair and a uniform assessment of all candidates, unlike other tools such as CV’s. Pre-screening forms also have pre-set ‘cut off’ scores, making a judgment about who goes through to the next phase very objective – avoiding lengthy ‘round the table’ discussions of the merits of each candidate and who to progress. They put an end to the days of HR managers ‘trawling’ through hundreds or thousands of application forms and CVs on their journey home – saving time, energy and boredom! In todays’ digital world candidates are looking for quick feedback, which an automated screening process can do for them.

Pre-screening tools can also be modified and used for ongoing team development or cultural shift work too. There may be a ‘challenging’ unit, team or depot where some negative behaviours and poor culture is displayed. Having identified the negative behaviours to lose and the new positive behaviours to replace into the team, a specifically designed pre-screening tool can be used to help select new recruits that better match the future requirements. These types of pre-screening tools can help select a growing group of recruits who all demonstrate the new desired positive attitudes. When recruited in sufficient numbers these new employees can provide a ‘tipping point’ for new behaviours that can help change the enduring culture.



The OPC’s recently redesigned Candela online testing platform really helps facilitate pre-selection for busy talent acquisition teams or operational managers. Specifically designed with user-friendly features, the Candela system can house multiple projects or job assessment journeys. Once applicants have completed a pre-screening questionnaire, the system can quickly and easily score a very large candidate pool, providing results and a short-list of quality individuals for the next phase at the touch of a button.

To sum up, recruiting the best talent is never an easy job. Many factors influence someone being an outstanding employee – skills, abilities, attitudes as well as behaviours. We must always ensure that processes used for recruitment or development purposes are as fair and equitable as possible. However, we must always balance this with the needs of the rail industry to recruit effective and safety critical employees. Any talent acquisition process needs to ensure that the people we recruit are more likely to succeed through training, but that they also display the potential to be safe and effective in their role too.



Jo Lawrence is Business Development Director at the OPC, and OPC Assessment