On-the-job training (OJT) is one of the best ways to ensure employees retain learning, but it must be done right in order to be effective. “The number one component of success with [OJT] is careful planning,” says Michael Nolan, president of Friesen, Kaye and Associates. “Careful planning allows and ensures that content and competencies are consistent across all learners.”
OJT trainers should have a complete understanding of the material and the employer’s standard operating procedures related to it, Nolan explains. Although OJT tends not to be as formal as face-to-face or virtual training, it still should be structured to ensure that the same material is presented no matter who is conducting the training or who is receiving it. Nolan recommends creating written learner and trainer’s guides, which include key information on the training topic and standard questions to ask all learners.
As with other types of training, Nolan also suggests having OJT trainers look at OJT from the learners’ perspectives—breaking down information into “digestible pieces,” helping learners understand how the content is relevant to their jobs, and building on their individual experiences and skill sets.
“Probably the number one challenge is not knowing the learner,” he says. Instead of making assumptions, OJT trainers should ask many questions to assess learners’ knowledge on the topic. “If I make an assumption that you know it and you don’t, I might skip important information. If I make an assumption that you don’t know it and you do, you are going to be bored out of your mind. You already know it.”
Another challenge is making sure that every learner is engaged in OJT, especially when multiple learners are being trained simultaneously, and they each have different skill sets. “You want to make sure all learners are involved in the learning, not just certain ones,” Nolan says. “You’ve got to engage everybody.”
For example, when working with a few learners with different experience levels, he says the OJT trainer could pose challenging questions to those who have a good grasp of the topic and more basic questions to those who are struggling with the content.