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ATD Blog

Structured OJT as Basic as 1, 2, 3

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Structured on-the-job training (SOJT) is not a new concept, but it has seen increased focus and interest in recent years. As organizations struggle with managing the costs associated with classroom training versus the sometimes inconsistent results of virtual, student-centered learning, the concept of designing on-the-job training (OJT) experiences using the same level of focus and planning as classroom instruction continues to gain appeal.

One obstacle organizations face in adopting an SOJT model is simply not knowing where to start in developing such a program in the first place. The general outline of an SOJT program is actually deceptively simple. The content, however, is where the real substance and investment of time will be seen. That will, of course, vary based on the size of the organization and the size of the SOJT program being designed.

The SOJT concept itself has just three main elements:

1. defining what makes someone in a role competent
2. determining how competency can be demonstrated
3. providing the opportunities to become competent.

Defining What Makes Someone in a Role Competent

Much of “standard” OJT tends to focus on rote memory skills and completing checklists that verify topics or activities the learner was exposed to. But such methods fall only in the awareness category. The goal of experiential learning through OJT should be to not only be exposed to the duties of the role, but also to have opportunity to achieve demonstrable skills in performing those duties.

To accomplish this requires that time be invested up front to thoroughly document exactly what makes someone competent in the role. But this involves much more than pulling out the job description. What are the outputs associated with the role? What are the things that someone in the role produces, or activities at which they are expected to be proficient? Those are the questions that need to be answered. This is not a bulleted checklist of activities, but rather a documenting of the measurable expectations of someone who does the role and does it well.


SOJT measurables should not be confused with process checklists. For example, those in the training profession know it is common to be asked to do a short sample training when applying for a job. One traditional default is training on “how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” In such a “lesson” the focus is on the checklist order of activities and materials needed. However, when dealing with an SOJT measurable, the process steps are irrelevant. The observable, demonstrable SOJT measurable would simply say: “Able to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Then the output can be objectively evaluated for competency.

Determining How Competency Can Be Demonstrated

The reason it is so important to identify the measurable expectations related to the role being trained is because an SOJT program is built on the foundation of competency-based learning. An SOJT program is not about just making sure the learner has been exposed to information; an SOJT program is about the learner being able to consistently demonstrate personal competency in the measurable expectations related to the role.

Are there templates that someone in the role must complete? Are there specific procedures they would be expected to follow? Are there meetings or events they are expected to plan and lead? The measurement of competency is to be found in whether the learner can actually do those things. If not, more coaching and training may be required. If they can, then their SOJT mentor can sign off that they have demonstrated competency in a specific topic and the learner can move on to the next measurable item.


Providing the Opportunities to Become Competent

If time has been invested to thoroughly document true SOJT measurables, with emphasis on confirming what the learner will be expected to do to demonstrate competence, then all that remains is providing the learner with opportunities to experience performing the task and then demonstrating consistent competence doing it. This is where the SOJT program differs substantially from a standard OJT program. The SOJT program is driven by whatever tracking tool is used to monitor which SOJT measurables the learner has achieved competency in. A standard OJT program may involve a lot of activity, but without guidance, such activity may be pointless, lack value, or potentially even be inaccurate.

With a solid SOJT program built on documented SOJT measurables, the SOJT mentor can see exactly what areas the learner still needs to gain experience in and focus their experiential learning opportunities in those directions. Moreover, the learner’s progress can be documented and tracked so that they no longer need to revisit the same topics repeatedly, but rather can more efficiently continue to move forward in their professional.

Want to learn more? Check out Learning While Working: Structuring On-the-Job Training.

About the Author

Paul Smith has spent 30 years coordinating the development of training resources to support corporate initiatives and individual improvement toward achieving success. He has designed, implemented, and evaluated instruction in both the public and private sectors, as well as for all career levels and learning styles. He serves as head of training for Baker Construction Enterprises, the largest concrete construction company in the United States.

Paul is very active in the workplace learning and performance profession. He regularly meets with legislators and congressional staff members to promote support of legislation with benefits to the profession. He served eight years on a local Association for Talent Development chapter board. He’s currently a member of ATD’s Public Policy Council and the Construction Industry Institute’s workgroup on the 2030 workforce. He has written multiple articles for ATD on structured on-the-job training. Learning While Working is his first book.

For more information on Paul’s background and experience, please visit

1 Comment
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Very good article, on target.
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