The test, which puts candidates in the imaginary position of managing the lighting scheme for a revue in an arts festival, is claimed to have provided a far more accurate assessment of programming abilities than traditional programming tests.
The supermarket is increasingly shifting the emphasis of its IT work from Cobol to Java. It introduced the test in pilot form last year to provide an objective way of assessing candidates' skills after a large number of its 200 Cobol programmers decided they would like to be considered for Java work.
Safeway found that the test, which does not require any programming knowledge, could identify candidates with the potential to become good object-oriented programmers without them having to demonstrate their skills in a practical programming exercise.
"It is extremely good at predicting the people who will excel at object-oriented programming," said Sarah Brown, IT skills development manager at Safeway. "If someone gets above a certain score, we know that they will be able to do the job. We know those people will be able to pick up programming skills quickly."