Step 4: Demonstration / observation

Workplace demonstrations or observations are a particularly appropriate assessment strategy for operational roles in the rail industry. A workplace visit enables you to observe the applicant undertaking his or her current role or job enabling you to can gain a deeper understanding of the range of competencies they have. Workplace demonstrations/observations are an excellent opportunity to validate competency.

The workplace demonstration / observation is usually conducted after the competency conversation. This enables you to target competencies which you were unable to assess via the documentation provided or during the competency conversation, thus saving time.

Make sure that you have the employer's permission for you to observe the applicant in the workplace. The workplace activities targeted in this part of the assessment processes should be discussed with the applicants' employers.

You may not be able to observe all relevant competencies in a single workplace visit, and you will also need to be confident that competencies are sustained over time.  Therefore, it may be necessary to arrange more than one visit. Another alternative is to use third party reports to verify competency, especially for tasks that you have not observed first hand.

Notes taken during the workplace visit are important evidence and should be retained as part of the applicant's assessment records.

While the applicant performs the practical tasks, it is important that the principles of Occupational Health and Safety, and workplace safety requirements are met at all times. This is particularly relevant in a safety-critical industry such as rail.


Where safety might be compromised, or if the relevant competencies are not exposed under normal working conditions, simulation can be an effective alternative. Good simulations aim to make the situation feel, rather than simply look, like a workplace. In order to be valid and reliable, the simulation must closely resemble what occurs in a real work environment. The should reflect the unpredictable and complex nature of the real workplace, and are particularly useful for assessing the applicant's performance under emergency or degraded conditions which are otherwise impossible to assess except by chance. Simulation can be an effective substitute for workplace demonstration when:

  • suitable employment or work placement is not available (for example, the applicant is not yet employed in the industry, or the employer refuses access)
  • the applicant's workplace does not use the competency involved
  • the competency occurs infrequently under normal workplace conditions
  • the assessment may be disruptive to the workplace
  • demonstration of the competency poses a safety, environmental or asset risk
  • confidentiality or privacy must be maintained

An effective simulation allows for demonstration of:

  1. task skills
  2. task management skills
  3. contingency management skills (coping with things that go wrong)
  4. job/role environment skills (the social and cultural work environment).

Challenge test / skills test

The challenge test (also called skills test) is another strategy for assessing competence. A challenge test assesses the applicant's performance in specific tasks under test conditions.  This test may be a hands-on demonstration in the workplace, or if could take place as part of the competency conversation as an oral or written test.