The term ‘Non-technical skills’ has become such common parlance in the rail industry that people just talk of ‘NTS’ now, without even giving a second thought to whether people know what the acronym means. So, what are NTS and why are they so important?
Non-technical skills (NTS) are the interpersonal or ‘soft’ skills like collaboration, communication, leadership, decision making, situational awareness and teamwork that we all use every day, but in a work situation are critical to getting a job done safely and efficiently.
In contrast, technical skills are those which enable us, for example, to make something, operate a machine, fix an engine or carry out a technical task.
Because we use NTS in our daily lives, and historically haven’t received training on how to develop them, NTS haven’t always been given the same status or kudos as their technical counterparts. However, most industries are waking up to how critical NTS are to overall system safety and efficient and effective business operations.
Let’s consider an example… at short notice a rail track signaller needs to change a green light to red. The signaller is technically adept and makes the physical change in light status without error. However, the signaller also needs to warn the train driver that the signal has changed using a radio call. This conversation between the signaller and driver has become safety critical.
The signaller needs to communicate – lucidly and concisely – that a light on the drivers’ route has unexpectedly changed. It requires audible clear speech, as well as words that the driver understands; it should also involve a simple check that the driver has understood before finishing the call. If the communication is inadequate then it creates a real risk that the driver is unsure or unaware of the imminent red signal, giving them less time to brake and possibly causing them to pass a signal at danger.
Acknowledging the importance of NTS, we’ve developed a programme for Network Rail to train their signallers in eight key NTS that they need to do their jobs safely. We’ve also created a suite of training modules for RSSB on safety critical communications for the whole rail industry to benefit from.
So, what are the key NTS in your job or industry? Which ones are the most critical to safety? How does your company ensure everyone has those skills?