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Why Do We Leave OJT to Chance?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
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Whether or not you believe in the 70-20-10 rule, observation reveals that the single greatest way for people to effectively learn how to perform a specific task or job is during an opportunity to actually do it. Yet, experiential learning is often where companies provide the least support.

Many organizations claim to offer on-the-job training (OJT) programs. In reality, these programs lack definition, guidance, standards, or an objective method to track progress and success. In fact, a common perception is that OJT is an activity learners participate in after training. Onboarding of new employees, for example, typically involves learners attending days or weeks of instructor-led training, perhaps with a few role play scenarios included. Upon conclusion of classroom training, learners are discharged to their actual work environment where they are partnered up with an experienced employee who is tasked with “showing them the ropes.”

For the classroom portion of training, designers typically invest hours planning the curriculum—working through examples, fine-tuning PowerPoint slides, and timing out activities. The goal is to ensure that the classroom supports an open and efficient learning environment. Designers also build in knowledge milestones throughout the classroom experience to gauge the learners’ progress on key topics they are expected to grasp.

But when organizations finally send those learners to on-the-job training, what does the program look like?

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In lieu of guidelines, the OJT experience rests solely on the quality of the mentors assigned to work with learners. If the mentor takes the role seriously, is a diligent worker, supports the direction of the company, and abides by all expected processes and procedures, learners will likely have a very strong OJT experience. However, such situations are few and far between (sadly!).

When OJT mentors are assigned to work with new learners, they cannot know what those learners do or do not already know. Even if they have served as an OJT mentor multiple times, each new learner is different and has unique needs. Consequently, many OJT mentors struggle with providing a strong learning experience because they do not fully understand what new learners truly need. Worse, mentors also have their own full-time duties to perform, so they frequently default to assigning “busy" work, rather than providing the guidance and support needed to develop a deeper understanding of critical topics.

Enter SOJT

One solution to consider is structured on-the-job training (SOJT). At the heart of SOJT is the concept of treating the OJT learning environment with the same focus and planning as classroom learning. What does that mean?

Designers will need to take time to conduct a thorough job analysis and identify all measurable elements a new learner needs to achieve competency. This enables designers to build an SOJT that empowers learners and mentors. By establishing job-specific SOJT measures and using them to create a tracking tool, SOJT learners will know exactly what is expected of them and mentors will know exactly what the learner needs. What’s more, the organization’s leadership can objectively track the skill and knowledge development of their employees’ OJT experiential learning.

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

About the Author
Paul Smith is the talent development manager for the Waldinger Corporation.
2 Comments
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Quote: "Many organizations claim to offer on-the-job training (OJT) programs. In reality, these programs lack definition, guidance, standards, or an objective method to track progress and success. In fact, a common perception is that OJT is an activity learners participate in after training".
Totally agree! Another thing is the OJT trainers which in most organisations are chosen based on competency in the task/job. However, these "OJT Trainers" are not trained to be OJT trainers.
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I love this! The OJT experience is so important!
Agreed! I'm so glad Paul is offering strategy behind OJT though--it's such a critical step and shouldn't be a random or "learn-as-we-go" type of approach.
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