If you’ve ever been employed, there’s a good chance you have worked a job where you received some sort of on-the-job training. Whether formally or informally, you likely learned some (if not all) of your job tasks in a “learn-as-you-go” environment. On-the-job training (OJT) is defined as providing training at the job site, usually one-on-one, where the learner either performs or simulates the job or task(s) to be learned.
OJT is actually one of the oldest forms of training. Long before the invention of other training strategies, such as classroom training or e-learning, the only practical way of learning a job was to work alongside an experienced worker in a particular trade or profession. Think about the Middle Ages when skilled master craftsmen taught their young apprentices to become blacksmiths, cobblers, or carpenters.
Just as with any training strategy, OJT must be implemented and facilitated properly in order to be successful. Below are four tips to successfully implementing an on-the-job training program.
1. The OJT trainer must be trained to assume to the role of “instructor”
If on-the-job training is not provided by a member of the training staff, the OJT instructor must first be trained to provide training. Often OJT is conducted by a manager, supervisor, senior employee, or subject-matter expert. These individuals are not typically professional trainers and may not be skilled in all the nuances of adult learning. Before allowing them to simply go forth and train, it may be wise to conduct a train-the-trainer session(s) with them.
I’ll share with you a success story from a friend who once managed the training department at a credit union in Warner Robins, Georgia. She admitted their OJT program for their newly hired tellers was unsuccessful when they first implemented the program. In its early stages, a new teller would shadow any seasoned teller who just happened to be available. After receiving lackluster training transfer results as well as negative evaluation comments, my friend and her team went back to the drawing board to revise the program.
In the revamped version of their on-the-job training program, the OJT instructors were required to apply for the position and had to be recommended by a member of management. The instructors also attended a mandatory train-the-trainer course and were provided financial compensation for their newly awarded role.
According to my friend, the results of their revised OJT program improved drastically. She attributed the improvement to the fact that skilled individuals who wanted to do the job were providing the training and they were even compensated for it.
2. Learners must do the application themselves
Adults have a tendency to learn by doing. OJT may fail if the instructor/mentor never gives the trainee an opportunity to practice or apply their newly acquired skills.
I briefly worked a part-time job where the only “training” I received was a quick demonstration by a team lead and a verbal explanation of what seemed like hundreds of tasks. As a kinesthetic learner, I got very frustrated, as I rarely got the opportunity to practice any of the tasks that I was expected to perform.
Once shown the tasks, I was then required to execute them in the real world. I was constantly reprimanded when I didn’t perform the tasks correctly. Out of frustration, I ended up quitting the job not long after.
3. The training message must be consistent
If multiple individuals are providing OJT, the training message must be uniform and consistent. Confusion and disconnects occur when a learner sees the same task performed in different ways by different instructors/mentors.
Granted, many job tasks have short cuts or alternative ways of achieving the same result; however, for the sake of learning, it’s best to teach the standardized way first. Only after mastery of that task has been achieved, is it then safe to teach different or alternative ways of performing the task.
That was another issue I had with my short-lived part-time job. One team lead would teach me his version of a task. Shortly after I learned it, another team lead would re-teach the same task, but only her version. If either team lead observed me performing the task the alternate way, I was reprimanded. I couldn’t win for losing, due to the inconsistent training message.
4. Distractions must be minimized in the work environment
One advantage to OJT is the fact that it allows the learners to practice their new skills in the real environment in which they’ll be working, using actual tools and equipment; however, this can quickly become a disadvantage if the real world work environment is too distracting for learning to take place.
Before becoming a Langevin Course Leader, I worked as a trainer in a call center. We used OJT as part of a blended learning approach with our new hire classes. During the first few days of training, our learners attended formal instructor-lead courses. After acquiring some significant skill and knowledge, they were then placed with a veteran employee in the call center to observe the real world environment.
Unfortunately our initial attempts at OJT failed, because we didn’t strategically consider the day in which we placed our learners in the call center.
The new hires were in the classroom, Monday through Thursday. They were then sent to the call center on Friday, which just happened to be our busiest day. Our naïve thought of letting them get a taste of the real world was a failure due to the hectic nature of the day.
Although the new hires observed numerous live calls, they never got the chance to see the job tasks performed slowly or methodically. I remember one trainee describing her experience as watching a video in fast forward.
There were hardly any opportunities for the trainees to ask questions. Nor did the veterans have an opportunity to provide any instruction to the new hires. No sooner than the vet would attempt to explain the specifics of the last call, a new call was holding in the queue, waiting to be answered.
Just as my friend at the credit union did, my colleagues and I went back to the drawing board in regard to our OJT implementation. We eventually had greater success with OJT when we had our new hires observe the veteran employees during the middle of the week, when it was much slower and with fewer distractions.
On-the-job training can be an effective training strategy, providing an employee with an abundance of real world skill and knowledge; however, it must be carefully implemented and facilitated in order to achieve the maximum results.
What are some of your lessons learned from your OJT experiences?