Instructor Operator Application and Interview Process
It suddenly occurs to me that although I've mentioned elsewhere in this site that London Underground's Application and Recruitment process revolves round a 'Competency Based' system, I've not really described the process as a whole.
It is a pretty commonly used system these days used by a wide variety of companies of all different types but, in case you're not familiar with it, I'll try to describe it in a little more detail here - and will expand on it to address the specific job for which I was applying.
The Advert and Application
As with pretty well all jobs on London Underground the vacancies for Instructor Operator on the District Line were advertised in the the Traffic Circular but additionally a reprint of this was posted at our Booking On points.
However the potential applicants are reduced as a prerequisite for the job is that it is only open to existing District Line Train Operators with a minimum of two years experience of which six months must be on the District Line - so immediately the competition is cut down. But the logic (correctly) is that a T/op should have reached the stage of having proved his or her ability and is also well versed in the line.
The first part of the process is the written application forms - these are quite involved and this is where the 'competencies' must be first displayed if the applicant is to move to the next stage.
Included with the Application Forms is a lengthy overview of the process - what will occur if accepted for the next stage, what an applicant will be expected to demonstrate, how the applicant will be assessed and so on.
In the case here the questions asked were:
Interest in Post
'Please give details of why you are interested in becoming an Instructor Operator and why you think you are suitable for this position.
Please provide details of your technical and professional knowledge (including licenses that you hold) which you feel is appropriate to this vacancy.
Please tell us how long you have been a Train Operator and how long you have worked on this Line'
'Please give an example of when you have seen something unsafe or a security risk. What was it? What action did you take? What was the outcome?'
The District Line
The final part was ten questions covering stock and line knowledge relating to the District Line. Theses covered a range of topics details of 'Assisting Train Procedure' (how does one train assist another in the event of a failure), the methods available to discharge traction current in an emergency and various other procedural and knowledge based questions.
Other competencies would have to be demonstrated by a candidate if they were successful at this point and invited for an assessment and interview - these I'll cover later when I get to that point.
So I duly completed the application - quite a lengthy task in itself if one is to cover the points fully and accurately - and this was delivered to the appropriate place well in time for the closing deadline.
But before moving on, I'll close the more general topic of the Competency Based application process. Depending on the role which is being applied for the competencies to be demonstrated will vary. Common ones are Teamwork, Communications, Safety and Security Orientation and Customer Orientation. Similarly the Assessment and Interview stage will also be appropriate to the role which is being recruited.
The Assessment and Interview
At this stage I presume my written application must have met with the requirements as I was invited to an assessment and interview about ten days later. At the time I found this out I was on annual leave and, apart from a few domestic matters, really had nothing much planned. This obviously now changed as I wanted to be as confident as possible in my line knowledge as questions were bound to be asked!
The details were that the event would take place at the Jubilee Lines Training Centre at post mark. Why? Because there is a simulator of a 96TS train there and, as part of the assessment, you need to demonstrate your coaching and communication skills. The briefing does emphasise that the time in the simulator is not to check stock and route knowledge (just as well - I know nothing of the Jubilee Line or its trains!) but to examine the items mentioned.
The 'panel' comprised our own Line Standards Manager who I know pretty well and a representative from Human Resources. Obviously our LSM would be my boss if I succeeded in getting the job and it was he (who was a Train Operator LONG before I joined London Underground) who would be my 'trainee' in the cab assessment.
On arrival I was greeted by our LSM who introduced me to one of Neasden's trainers who would familiarise me with the simulator with the comment 'your going to love this!' (knowing that I'm interested in computers and simulations) and I'm sure in a less stressful situation I could have happily played with it for hours. But after a run done of the ins and outs of it, it was time to get down to business.
My 'trainee' came in, as did the person from HR who would be observing my techniques. I 'introduced' myself, and get a feel of what my 'trainee' knew. Once established we set off with our session.
During the course of this a few situations presented themselves - such as a failed signal and I then had to guide the trainee through this. We also encountered a couple of situations where it was appropriate that I give the trainee a bit of 'guidance'. All this was towards a post training assessment I had to write up later on the trainee's performance - both strengths and weaknesses.
I have to say this session was a little bizarre - both as I knew my trainee well and not knowing the train or the route at all. But, overall, I think it was as good a way of dealing with the situation as was possible. Of course it would've been easier if we had our own simulator for our line, but we don't! And of course you're aware of the person 'observing' you too - all adds to the stress!
Then it was the face to face interview. Both those mentioned were involved in this. Many of the questions which came up were repetitions of the written application, but again, much of the purpose (I think) is to look at your communication as well as knowledge and your 'focus' on the job and your motives for wanting the job.
At the end of the interview I was told that a decision would be made and a letter sent to me either that night or the next day.
All in all the process took about an hour and a half. I came out feeling reasonably confident that it had gone reasonably well - this situation (as is usual for me!) didn't last and I then proceeded in my mind to convince myself I'd fluffed it.
So, all I could do was wait for the postman! I was working an early turn the next day but on arriving home there was no envelope.
The following day (by which time I was absolutely convinced I hadn't got the job) I was on a Rest Day - so spent the ENTIRE morning waiting for the post person. Eventually she turned up at about 11.00 a.m. and there was a classic LU envelope, complete with SW1 postmark. I summoned up the courage to open it and the first thing I saw was a slip at the bottom to sign and return accepting the post. I then read the actual letter, but it still took a while, and several reading, to sink in that I had been successful.
So - much to my own surprise and astonishment - I'd got the position I'd been (at least in my own mind) working towards for the previous two years.
I'd promised to let a few of my friends and colleagues know the outcome, whatever the result, so a series of text messages were rattled off. One was to another of our existing I/O's who'd been a great help and support to me during the process.
A few minutes later my mobile phone rang - no name was displayed, so it wasn't a number I've got saved. When I answered it, it was our LSM - it so happens my colleague was in his office when he got my text! 'I hope you're not texting while you're driving a train' he said (the use of mobile phones is - for obvious reasons - an absolute NO) to which I answered quite correctly 'No - I'm sitting at home in my armchair still reading the letter'. He was a little surprised that I hadn't received it the previous day, but as it was postmarked a day after the letter was dated it must've missed that night's post - so my suffering had been dragged out for twenty-four hours!
He offered his congratulations, and we spent a few minutes discussing the next stages of the process.
The first of these is to attend a course at the Training Centre at Ashfield House and, as I write this, this will occur in just over a weeks time.
Subsequently I've been up to his office and met with his assistant who deals with a great deal of work in terms of organising the duties for the Instructors, allocating trainees and so on. She'd sorted out my addition to the company's computer system and arranged my e-mail address - yes - I now even have an e-mail @thetube.com! E-mail is the quickest, easiest and most reliable method of keeping the I/O's up to date with the ever changing training plans.
I was also given my copy of the 'Activity and Performance Directory' I referred to above. This is very much the basis of our working practices and procedures, and I'm sure will be mentioned again often as this section develops.
Train the Coach Course
And so it was back to Ashfield House again - but only for a week on this occasion.
I'd received all the pre-course material and had spoken to a few of my fellow I/O's who'd been through the course already, and the general opinion was that it would be an enjoyable, although fairly intensive week.
On arrival I found myself in the company of two new I/O's from the Victoria Line and three signallers - one working in a conventional cabin and the other two who worked in the Tower at Stratford Market Depot on the Jubilee Line.
The object of the course is to improve your skills of 'one-to-one' coaching. There was no time for any preamble, apart from the usual 'introduce yourself' session, and so it was straight into the nitty gritty of the course.
Essentially it came down to how to structure a training session in a logical and planned way and much of the next three days was spent working towards a final presentation that we would give in front of another trainer.
There was much role playing, both as the coach and the coachee, and learning how to give feedback - both to the coachee and, as an observer, to the coach.
The first day's presentation lasted about five minutes, the seconds about ten, the thirds about fifteen - all leading up to the final opportunity which would last about twenty minutes.
The days themselves were pretty full, but I found myself spending several hours each evening for the first three days refining and rewriting my topic to try to cover all the points we'd be expected to include and which perhaps I'd either missed or not sufficiently emphasised in my previous attempts.
The following link will take you to the final version of the session I delivered! You will need an Adobe Document Reader to view this file - if you don't have this already it can be downloaded from the Adobe web site
Of course the environment of a large, fairly characterless training room at Ashfield House - especially with an audience - is not an entirely representative one for a trains trainer. So, for our last presentation, the group was split into two. The signallers went of to the depot tower at Neasden and the Instructor Operators went down to the London Road Depot of the Bakerloo Line at Elephant and Castle.
There our presentation was done in the environment of a train - somewhere where as an I/O you're probably going to do a fair bit of your coaching.
All our sessions went well and - I think it fair to say - we all learnt something from our colleagues - that I think is a good sign. The trainer seemed very content with what we did and although it was not an assessment in the formal sense, there's no doubt in my mind that if we'd not done well enough word would be passed back!
The fifth day was a briefing to help us prepare for the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) that we'll be expected to prepare for, present and be assessed on within the next six months. Only the I/O's were there for this - at the present time the signallers are not expected to move to this next stage, though it seems likely that this will become a requirement in the not too distant future.
We spent time starting to prepare the portfolio that we must present when this assessment takes place and a lot of guidance and practical hints were passed on to us.
So now it's back to the line and see what develops next!
(Update added 2 September 2003)
The next part of the process is really 'on the job' training', so what occurs is that the 'new' Instructor will shadow an existing I/O to see how the relevant part of the job's done. The length of time that the shadowing takes depends on a number of factors:
- What is being learnt
- How the individual performs
- That the more experienced Instructor is happy to report to the Line Standards Manager that the new instructor is proficient to be let loose on trainees.
The first role that a new I/O fulfils is that of 'Job Trainer' - that is taking a brand new Train Operator who has just passed his Stock Assessment out 'on the road' for the first time and teaching them to drive a train in passenger service.
So it was arranged for me to go out for a few days to get the hang of this. Normally I believe that a new Instructor gets a couple of weeks at this point, but, for a variety of reasons, I got four days. Really this was dictated by circumstances. One day was missed as I had to attend another brief training course for one of the additional licences I need to have, the I/O I was with and I know each other well and that it was already the case that in terms of our driving and coaching techniques we're both very similar and (I have to say) the new driver we had at our mercy was very good - he picked the basics of driving a train smoothly and efficiently in passenger service very quickly, so after these few days I'd really achieved what I needed to do.
The course I attended was an extension (and a stepping stone to a further licence) in terms of being safe to work in Depots. This was very straightforward, but gave me the opportunity to meet up again with the individual who was my I/O when I did my road training on the line. He's now moved on to become a full time trainer for the Sub Surface Railway so it was good to see him again.
Since this was all done, we've been very quiet as far as new trainees is concerned, but we'll be getting much busier over the next few months as the next influx of trainees comes through Ashfield House and are passed over to their individual lines.
But the new training roster shows that I'll be getting my first 'live' candidate in the next couple of weeks - an event I look forward to both with eager anticipation and a degree of trepidation, though probably not as much as the trainee is feeling!
(Update added 29 October 2003)
I thought it about time to add an update to this section, now that a bit of time has passed and my experiences are increasing!
I had my first trainee for job training as scheduled - albeit that I was only able to cover three weeks of the trainee's allocated four as I was on Annual Leave for his last week. Incidentally, this is an area that has changed since I undertook my own training - we were allocated two weeks for this part of the course.
The basic requirement is that a trainee must achieve a minimum of seventy hours driving over the four weeks available. However, three days of this four week period are not available for driving duties as the trainee now receives his Network Rail Operating procedures on the first two days and the last Friday of the four weeks is given over to the Final Consolidation - the point at which the trainee formally qualifies as a Train Operator.
As I mentioned earlier, this time is simply there for the trainee to learn how to drive a train, get comfortable with this and to start to hone his driving technique, all with the benefit of course of the Instructor passing on his experience and giving guidance.
All went well, although we did have one minor incident which resulted in an interview with a Duty Manager! It would be unfair on my trainee to go into details, but, suffice it to say, it involved the misreading of a signal by him (he was driving at the time) and I not picking this up until it was a little too late!
The important thing though was that all the correct procedures were observed and the matter was dealt with and put behind us! He, of course, felt terrible - that he'd let me down and so on, but I (and everyone else) took it as a learning point for both of us! It also got over the point that if you do make an error admit it, follow the procedures and the matter will be resolved satisfactorily.
This last comment is actually pertinent as at about the same time, I was asked to observe a relatively new driver who had been involved in a couple of incidents. One he had followed the correct procedures, the other he had not - and came very close to loosing his job! I think it fair to say that the God's were smiling on him as he was given a corrective Action Plan. Part of this was that he be observed by an Instructor Operator.
It was agreed that the driver in question would carry out my duty for the day in question and I would assess whether I felt he was fit to be returned to duty. Since his second incident he had been 'stood down' - suspended from duty - pending the outcome of the enquiries into the incident, interviews and agreed action. Only if I were able to give the 'all clear' would he be reinstated.
I obviously discussed the matter with the Managers involved and they assured me that my decision would be respected and that I was not under any pressure simply to 'rubber stamp' the matter.
However, all went well, I discussed what had occurred and the circumstances involved with him. His driving technique was good and his personal approach was professional, so I was able to report that he had fulfilled the objectives as far as I was concerned. He has now been returned to duty.
As is mentioned elsewhere on this site, only Earls Court and Acton Town Train Operators now normally handle C Stock trains and operate the Edgware Road route. However, until Barking and Upminster drivers are put onto the permanent roster and remain in the Pool, they must maintain their stock and route knowledge. This means that if they haven't either driven the particular stock or driven the particular route they must be refamiliarised with it - this is another task that Instructor Operators fulfil. I have carried out a couple of these refamiliarisations - basically it is just a matter of accompanying the driver for one trip and then reporting that this has been done.
Another occasional task is the opportunity to give potential Train Operator applicants a chance to see what a train operator's role is during a duty, showing them briefly a few things about the line and answering questions they may have. Personally I think this is to be encouraged, so if any staff are reading this and would like to see what the job entails, they should get in contact with their manager who - in turn - should contact the appropriate Line Standards Manager to arrange this. (See below for a more detailed explanation on this topic)
As you can see, even in the early days of an Instructor Operator's work, he gets involved in a variety of matters, all of which, I think, adds to the enjoyment of the role!
(Update added 14 February 2004)
Another part of the Train Operator's training that has been introduced since my own experiences is that during 'Week 2' of their time at Ashfield House (so very early on in their course) the trainees are sent to their own specific lines for a 'Cab Day' - this is carried out by an Instructor Operator.
There are however a few variables that need to be allowed for in this day. Sometimes they come individually (if there's only one trainee on that specific course coming to the line) or it may be that there is a group, so the allocated Instructor needs to allow for this in their own preparation for the day - it will to an extent shape the best way to achieve what needs to be done over the days proceedings.
They are given various tasks to carry out and come armed with a pretty extensive list of questions to which they have to find the answers - some by their own observations, but many by discussion with their assigned instructor. This inevitably leads to 'follow on' questions, many of which are deferred until they actually get to see some of the things which are being discussed.
They are expected to see the 'booking on' process - what they do, what they need to read, how they identify their duty details and how they find out where their train is (if it's to be brought into service from the depot, for example).
So as part of our notified duties we're told when we're running such a day, and are released from our normal 'turn'. My own approach is to meet up with them, have a brief 'get to know each other' session, and then get down to the tasks.
If possible I like to take them to the depot where they'll actually be working, assuming they get through the training, so that they can visualise during their training what's going to be the case for them.
Next is to take them for a ride in a train's cab - this is done by taking off a driver (they never argue!) for part of his duty and to give them a good trip round. The rules only allow two 'passengers' in the train's cab, so if the group is more than that, then it has to be done in smaller groups, and this dictates how long each group will get, but personally I like them to have at least an hour and a half or so in the cab and for them to see a variety of the line - open and covered sections, reversing points, the types of signals we have and so on.
This is where many of the questions that they've asked can be properly responded to, by observation and by actually seeing the railway in action. It's actually quite handy too if you encounter problems - that gives the instructor the opportunity to give them 'live' examples of how problems are addressed and responded to at short notice. Suffice it to say that we don't manufacture problems and delays just for the purpose of a 'training opportunity' though!
After this has all been done, I then like to have a final 'wash up' discussion, particularly if there's been more than two trainees, so that they can discuss their different experiences, to compare notes and to ask any last questions that may arise.
I find that the trainees find this a useful day and that at the end of it they have a far better view of what 'the job' entails and they can more readily identify over the next few weeks (before they return to 'us') with the training they will receive and be able to visualise it in context.
It is also possible too, of course, that some may go away thinking 'that job really isn't for me' and, if that's the case, to admit it at that stage and look for an alternative which is more appropriate to them before they get too far into the training ahead of them.
(Update added 21 May 2004)
Trips and Visits
Every now and then Instructors have the opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of different areas, often with a slant towards widening peoples experiences of London Underground - both existing staff and members of the public. The following are a couple examples of this kind of thing that I've been involved with over the last few weeks.
The first was when I was asked by our TOM to take out a member of station staff who was thinking of applying for Train Operator with me. Essentially I would just pick up whatever work needed covering (I was 'spare' on the day the visit was arranged for) but this would give too the chance for me to have a chat about the recruitment and training process and explain more about the life of a Train Operator.
On the day the lady arrived at the appointed time, and, as at that stage I had no 'job' to cover, this gave a good chance to have a chat and discuss any matters which she needed help with and wanted to know more about.
I showed her around the booking on point and covered the various routines a T/Op needs to do when booking on. Of, course as this was at about 05:15 in the morning there were quite a few of my colleagues about and they were all making remarks such as 'no, no - don't do it' and 'don't listen to him! If you want the truth come and talk to us - we'll put you straight!'. Thanks lads! But (as usual, the comments were all intended light heartedly (I think!).
The DMT had part of an uncovered duty which he wanted me to do, so I took the details from him, but as it wasn't until some time later this gave an opportunity to look further around the local area.
Unsurprisingly she'd never had the chance to look round a train depot either, so next we went over to Ealing Common depot and I showed her around there. I think the first thing that surprised her was just how big a train is when you're standing on the ground next to it! She was obviously used to seeing them in the platforms, but they do take on a very different dimension when viewed from ground level.
We had a tour round the engineering spaces and I explained what work was done there and the various aspects of ongoing maintenance that are essential to keep the trains running. It also gave the chance for her to see some of the components which she'd be hearing much more about when she starts her training.
We then went of to pick up the train I was required to cover and had a trip around various parts of the line, which gave her a good impression of what a Train Operator's working environment and activities are like in practice.
She had a good trip and certainly went away determined to pursue her application. I hope she's successful.
At about the same time I had the chance to give one of my own readers of this site a ride around the line.
The young man in question had been a correspondent of mine for a while and is a daily user of the District Line on his journey to and from school.
We'd exchanged quite a few mails and in one of his e-mails he'd asked if it were possible for a visit to be arranged. This is the kind of thing that is done from time to time, but it's not something that I could arrange directly and suggested that he contact London Underground at 55 Broadway. This he duly did; I don't think he thought that it would actually happen.
However, a few days after he wrote in I got a call from our Line Standards Manager who said that there's been a letter sent in saying that the writer was a reader of my site and could he have a trip on the District Line. It had been decided that he would have his wish granted and that I'd do the trip and the tour when it was arranged, though at that point we'd keep it between ourselves that it would be me who'd give him the Grand Tour.
I did feel a little guilty when I received e-mails from him excitedly saying that it looked like his visit was going to happen - I'd been told to keep my involvement a secret; so I had to do the 'wide eyed and innocent' routine when replying to his mails!
Our LSM spoke to his mum, outline arrangements were made for the date and time and I finally made contact a few days before the day to put the finishing touches to the arrangements.
The day arrived; the weather was kind and my guests and I met at the DMT's office at Earls Court. The DMT on the desk gave a quick introduction to how the duties are organised and showed and explained to them what his role is and how he has to keep an eye on what's going on in terms of uncovered duties, late running and quite a bit more. Both of my guests were quite surprised and impressed at the amount of organisation even a smooth day needs, and it gave them a good insight into the 'behind the scenes' planning and work involved.
I'd planned out what I wanted to do to show as much of the line as possible, and over the next few hours we visited almost every location on the line; it took a bit of planning, but everything went pretty well.
That's very much the short version, but at the end I think it safe to say that both my guests had thoroughly enjoyed the day and found it quite an interesting experience.
I, for my part, certainly enjoyed it - it's great to be able to do the 'Jim'll Fix It' bit!