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February 2018
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TD Magazine

From Competency to Mastery

Training and Assessing Non-Technical Skills: A Practical Guide

By Matthew J.W. Thomas
CRC Press, 280 pp., $49.95

Although many training programs aim to develop competence, most business leaders hope their employees can attain something more—mastery. What's the difference between competence and mastery? According to Thomas, it's the seemingly intangible skills, those that lie beyond technical ability. It's the ability to interpret subtle changes, effectively coordinate others, and decide when it might be no longer safe to continue.

These nontechnical skills, as he calls them, once seemed intangible. Take the sailor who anticipated a storm on the horizon and alerted her captain only after acquiring her "sea legs" from years of painful experience. In other words, it seemed that these skills couldn't be formally trained, let alone measured.

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Thomas's book points out that in recent decades, though, that perception began to shift. And as that shift occurred, developing and assessing the art of doing something has become nearly as exact as measuring the science of doing it. In three sections, Training and Assessing Non-Technical Skills explores this evolution, and shows how readers can take advantage of it on a day-to-day basis.

The first section explains how the concept of tangible nontechnical skills evolved and how these skills contribute to enhanced safety and productivity. Then, it discusses how learning experiences that develop these skills have evolved over the years and how they fit in with principles underpinning adult learning.

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From there, things get more practical.

In the book's second section, Thomas describes several principles for training and assessing nontechnical skills. He outlines considerations talent development professionals should make, balances they should target, and pitfalls to avoid. Next, he discusses what these principles mean from the perspective of instructional design—taking you from needs analysis to implementation and delivery.

Across his text's final four chapters, Thomas explores specific strategies for training and assessing what he sees as the basic core categories of nontechnical skills: situational awareness, decision making, communication and teamwork, and task management.

Altogether, this combination of broad information and practical strategies makes Training and Assessing Non-Technical Skills a valuable read, especially for those in high-risk industries that rely heavily on simulation-based training. Whether you're new to designing these types of learning programs or a seasoned veteran, it should be useful for improving your practice.

About the Author
Alex Moore is a writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development. Prior to his current role, he served as the research coordinator for ATD, writing content for the research department, managing its Twitter account, and assisting with data collection and analysis. Alex graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in English.
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