Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
It’s not a surprise that organizations continue to struggle with finding qualified job candidates. One solution that’s often overlooked is to focus on internal mobility and support current employees moving into open positions. This does mean that organizations need to consider building a training and development program that will give current employees the skills to fill current openings.
A common development activity is on-the-job training (OJT). It’s a hands-on method for teaching knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). OJT uses the physical workplace instead of a classroom as the learning environment. Employees learn what they need and are able to practice in real-time.
It’s possible that over the past couple of years, organizations have strayed away from OJT because of remote and hybrid work, and it has negatively impacted skill development. Bottom-line: on-the-job training is important. That being said, on-the-job training programs do have challenges. Maybe that’s part of the reason that organizations have moved away from it. But the solution isn’t to reduce OJT, it’s to overcome its challenges. Here are five of the most common OJT challenges along with strategies for minimizing its negative impact.
- TIME: On-the-job training programs take time during the operation. It’s a huge advantage to the learner that they are practicing in the actual work environment. They can see their surroundings, hear all the sounds, etc. It can’t be more real. That’s also the downside. Because the operation still needs to run while training is happening.
There’s no rule that every aspect of on-the-job training must be conducted in the actual work environment. Think about OJT training in three parts: demonstration of the skill, practice the skill, and testing for comprehension. It could be beneficial to do the final step (testing) in the work environment. The other two (demonstration and practice) can be conducted in a combination of classroom / simulation and work environment.
- TRAINERS: OJT is often technical skills training which means it’s conducted by subject matter experts (SMEs). Organizations need to have qualified current employees who can conduct training. If the organization doesn’t have SMEs or if the SMEs lack training skills, then the company is at a disadvantage.
The company’s on-the-job skills training program is only as good as the trainers. Identify the high performing or high potential employees who would be great trainers. Ask them if they will take on this responsibility. Remember to give them the training they need to be good at the role.
- PRODUCTIVITY: This aligns with #1 (TIME) above. Conducting training during peak operations can be a challenge because it can be a drain on productivity – both organizationally and individually. Understanding the best times and environment to conduct on-the-job training is key. Focus on getting key stakeholders to buy into being available for training during those times.
There’s no rule that says all on-the-job training must be held during peak operational cycles. It could make sense to ask employees in training to work a different shift or make an adjustment in their schedule – only until the training is completed. And then they can resume their regular work hours.
- ERRORS: We mentioned practice in #1 (TIME) and #3 (PRODUCTIVITY). Practice is part of any successful training program. And during practice, we often make mistakes. On-the-job training is no exception. The challenge happens when mistakes are being made during the normal workday and then to be fixed. This can also be a drain on company resources as well as productivity.
Depending on what the errors are, there might be some opportunity to simply discard them. But in some industries, an error can be significant and take several minutes (or hours!) to correct. Keep in mind, it’s also possible that fixing the error would be an excellent learning experience for the employee.
- CONSISTENCY: There’s a myth that on-the-job training programs are informal training. It’s not true. At least, it shouldn’t be true. On-the-job training programs need to be structured. A lack of structure can result in training inconsistencies which will result in performance, product, or service inconsistencies.
Organizations can build structure and consistency into their on-the-job training programs using checklists or manuals. Have an employee successfully complete a task, then get a sign-off. Video demonstrations could provide consistency in presenting the task, and the employee can practice after watching the video.
On-the-job training can help develop employee skills that the organization needs today and in the future. And those training sessions can be done without scheduling classroom training (not that’s there anything wrong with classroom training). The significant benefit of OJT is its ability to take place in a realistic work setting by the subject matter experts who know it best.
However, finding that exact right mix of when to conduct it and who should do the training will take time. It will also be necessary to document the activity for training and performance management purposes. And finally, it’s worth a discussion to determine if there’s an opportunity to turn mistakes into learning moments.
Organizations have a huge opportunity to develop employees using programs with a proven reputation for success such as on-the-job training. All it takes is a clear understanding of the operation where training would take place and the skills necessary for success.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Las Vegas, NV23