Fast-track recruitment, the Balfour Beatty way

We can sleep safe on our trains now: Balfour Beatty is using psychometric testing to check track assessors.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Balfour Beatty, the engineering firm responsible for delivering a fully-functioning railway track back to Network Rail, says it has ‘pioneered the use of psychometrics’ to help it identify those with the right personality traits for ‘key trackside roles’ – including the assessors who decide whether a piece of track is safe.

These 'Track Back Assessors' are responsible for all the relevant safety checks of a track, ensuring that things like track geometry, signalling reconnection and electrification all meet the necessary standards – and awarding one of four possible levels of competence as a result. Believe it or not, Balfour Beatty says that certain personality types are more suited to this kind of job – so volatile, reckless layabouts with a poor grasp of detail are out, and calm, rule-focused, conscientious, patient types are in.

To identify this important distinction, BB has enlisted the support of some occupational psychologists from the aptly-named Occupational Psychologists Centre, who have put together a one-day programme. Here aspiring TBAs will apparently discuss ‘the links between behaviour and personality, as well as safe and unsafe behaviours and practices’. So presumably if you admit to standing in front of the yellow line at the station, or not letting people off the Tube first, or jumping out before a train has come to a complete standstill, the OPC will probably consider you unsuitable and give you the heave-ho.

Still, traditionalists needn’t be alarmed. Apparently BB plan to use the psychometric tests ‘in conjunction with more traditional methods’ – which will hopefully include a basic test that proves they know which nuts and bolts are supposed to go where. Much though we applaud BB’s attempts to get up-to-date with the latest HR practices, we can’t help feeling that identifying engineering skills are at least as important for a TBA than knowing what kind of biscuit they would compare themselves to.

Of course there is a very serious point behind all this: as Balfour Beatty knows all too well, getting this track check process wrong can be a dangerous and expensive business. It was fined £10m (later reduced to £7.5m) in the aftermath of the Hatfield rail crash (which killed four people in 2000), when it emerged that the accident was caused by a broken rail that BB had known about for 21 months but not fixed.

So if psychometric testing helps to make sure that our trains actually stay on the tracks, then we’re all for it...

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