On-the-Job Training: 5 Strategies to Develop Internal Talent

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Learning

On-the-Job Training: 5 Strategies to Develop Internal Talent

It shouldn't be a surprise that employers continue to struggle to find candidates for jobs. In the U.S., it's been reported that there are one million more open jobs than there are candidates. Part of the reason that today's labor market is so challenging is the lack of qualified candidates. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than half of human resources professionals reported some level of basic skills deficit among candidates, and 84 percent said that applicants were lacking in applied skills.

The solution for organizations is two-fold. First, companies need to focus on interviewing and selecting current employees to fill open positions. It can be easily done through programs such as job postings, job bidding, replacement and succession planning. Many organizations already have some of these programs in place, so these efforts can begin immediately. Secondly, and probably the more difficult solution, is if internal applicants don't have the skills to fill current openings, then it's time to build training and development programs that will give employees those skills.

One of the most common skill development activities is on-the-job training (OJT). It's a hands-on method for teaching knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). Instead of a traditional classroom, OJT uses the physical workplace as the learning environment. Employees learn what they need and are able to practice in real-time.

Unfortunately, over time, organizations have strayed away from OJT, which has created a bit of a ripple effect. According to the CareerBuilder survey, "The Shocking Truth About the Skills Gap," 53 percent of respondents indicated that a lack of on-the-job training contributed to the skills gap.

So, a lack of OJT is contributing to the skills gap, but we need programs like OJT to give employees the skills they need so they can fill the job openings we have.

5 common on-the-job training challenges (and how to fix them!)

Let's start with the bottom-line: On-the-job training is important. That being said, on-the-job training programs do have challenges. Frankly, the challenges of OJT could be some of the reasons 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, as well as strategies for minimizing its negative impact.

1. Consistency

One myth about on-the-job programs is that OJT translates into 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 provide structure and consistency to their on-the-job training programs through the use of checklists. Once an employee successfully completes a task, then get a sign-off. Video demonstrations can provide consistency in presenting the task, and the employee can practice after watching the video.

2. Time

On-the-job training programs take time during daily operations. 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, feel the effort required to do the task, etc. It can't be more real. That's also the downside. Because daily operations still need 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:

  1. Demonstration of the skill
  2. Practicing the skill
  3. Testing for comprehension

It would be beneficial to do the final step (testing) in the work environment. But the other two (demonstration and practice) can be conducted in a combination of classroom/simulation and work environment.

3. Trainers

Organizations need to have qualified, current employees who can conduct training. OJT is often technical skills training which means it's conducted by subject matter experts (SMEs). 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 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. And, of course, give them the training they need to be good at the role.

4. Productivity

Conducting training during peak operations can be a challenge because it can be a drain on productivity – both organizationally and individually. It's critical to understand the best times and environment to conduct on-the-job training. Focus on getting all stakeholders to buy into being available for training during those times.

Similar to the time conversation above (see #2), 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 an evening shift or make an adjustment in their schedule – only until the training is completed. And then they can resume their regular work hours.

5. Errors

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 made during the normal workday and then need to be fixed. This can 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.

Use on-the-job training to develop employee skills

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 there's 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 the training and who should do it will take time. It will also be necessary to document the activity for performance management purposes. And finally, is there an opportunity to turn mistakes into learning moments? It's a topic worthy of discussion.

Organizations have a huge opportunity to develop internal talent 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.

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Cover of the book

Preparing Your Workforce for Digital Transformation

Discover the best practices you and your people need to prepare for digital transformation at work.


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