You have workers who need to upgrade their skills. You are also running “lean and mean”, and can’t afford to have folks away from the job for training. So what do you do?
Far too many companies face this dilemma. Managers know that training is required to remain competitive; some are even aware of how poorly Canadian companies compare on average with our trading partners. But what can they do about it?
For starters, the answer isn’t to do nothing and hope the problem will go away. If anything, the research suggests that skills gaps widen over time and company performance (i.e. profitability and competitiveness) suffers.
Faced with this, any of a number of flavours of on-job-training (OJT, “buddy training”, mentoring) become the preferred method of training delivery. OJT is defined as:
“Training to transfer skills from experienced incumbents to inexperienced employees in ‘live’ environments.”
It makes sense: if you have workers who know how to do a job, let them teach it to their less-skilled counterparts, on the actual tools, equipment, and processes. And at virtually no cost. A perfect solution. But hold on. Before rushing into OJT, remember the following “truisms”:
OJT isn’t without cost: you will lose some efficiency because your best people aren’t doing the work while training is occurring. Depending on the process, you can expect more mistakes and lower quality as trainees learn a new task. This brings us to our next point:
Remember that the trainees are working on products and/or services that are destined for your customers. And you don’t want the mistakes your trainee makes to be the ones that reach your customers. Your safety, quality, productivity and cost standards are no less important just because you’re training a new employee: be careful about what you use as a training opportunity.
With those caveats in mind, start looking around. What tasks are amenable to an OJT approach to training? Far too many OJT programs are ineffective because they are:
- Improperly planned
- Not based on objectively measured skills and competencies
- Poorly executed
- Not structured enough to ensure skill and knowledge transfer
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, understanding the critical skills and knowledge is vital to successful skill and knowledge transfer. Front-end analysis to determine what needs to be taught is vital.
Then, you need to break those critical skill and knowledge components into bits that can be taught very quickly: usually no more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time.
Next, you need to find someone who can effectively deliver the training. A good coach is vital for an OJT program to be successful. Just because someone is good at their job doesn’t mean they can teach it to someone else. Few elite athletes make really effective coaches: most of the better coaches toiled for years as minor leaguers or “role players”. A good coach combines excellent job skills and a passion for the work with a genuine willingness to transfer those skills to others. An eye for detail and a structured methodical approach complete the package.
Once the coach is selected and the jobs/tasks are identified, it is time to design the actual training sessions. They must be to the point, objectives must be laid out, the trainee must know what they will be able to do once the session is complete, and why they should care. Safety, quality and cost standards must be maintained. Productivity may have to wait until a certain skill level is achieved.
Finally, the project needs structure and follow-up. The progress of the trainee and the acquired skill levels must be documented. The use of a tracking form for each module of training, and some objective measure of the transfer of skills and knowledge must be incorporated, or OJT has a tendency to become a “show and tell” session and a vehicle for delivering the instructors’ favourite “war stories”.
If a company doesn’t have the time or expertise to design an effective OJT system, the use of an outside consultant can greatly expedite the process. (See previous article on How To Manage An Engagement, for tips on doing this effectively).
On-Job-Training isn’t the only way to train employees, but for today’s lean, fast-paced organizations, it fulfills a critical need for upgrading skills when a company “can’t afford” conventional instructor-led training. If done properly, it is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that real-world skills are transferred in a real-world setting.