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Avoid Bad Training Habits by Putting Structure in Your OJT Program

By Holly Mockus   |   

On-the-job training (OJT) remains popular among companies that prefer their employees learn by doing. This instruction style is far more engaging than most classroom training, and workers can remain on the floor where they’re productive.

It also offers a chance for more tenured employees to expand their capabilities and job security by serving as valued “instructors.” But how can you be sure they’re training other employees with your company’s official procedures and policies, sans shortcuts?

Sometimes, employees will teach others how to do a job their way. Although they mean well, these trainers can cause harm by prioritizing their own experiences over official policies and procedures. For example, they might say to a trainee: “There’s an official way of doing this, but I know a faster way.”

Unfortunately, that faster way could lead to injuries, equipment damage, or impact the quality of your product.

For OJT to be effective, you have to structure training to meet your specific needs and ensure instructors are guided and held accountable. Training must also be reportable when an audit reaches your door.

Here are five steps to structure and get the most out of your OJT program.

Step 1: Create, Vet, and Validate

Before doing anything else, make sure your training program is made up of consistent courses that are created, vetted, and validated by a plant subject matter expert. This provides an approved blueprint of what should be taught and how. This once-daunting project is made easier today through mobile OJT technologies and apps that enable trainers to create courses with smartphones or tablets. Even as the content is created and shared remotely, it’s still possible to retain consistency and adherence to company processes and procedures. This approach combines freedom and flexibility with consistency and content accuracy.

Step 2: Be Job- and Site-Specific

Your training content needs to be site-specific, job- and task-specific, and delivered where the work is performed. Formal training should include new hire orientation with approved courses from step one.

Step 3: Ensure Employees Understand Their Training

Never assume employees fully understand their training. It’s far too common for employees to simply nod their heads and say they get it. To ensure employees comprehend the content, trainers need to know which questions to ask and how and when to ask them. Even better, be sure those centrally created and vetted OJT courses include intermittent quizzes.  

Step 4: Document Employee Comprehension

You might think companies would never deliver safety or harassment training without documenting and verifying it. But you’d be wrong. This becomes extremely troublesome when auditors request records. Part of the OJT documentation challenge, however, is the sheer number of unique job tasks and SOPs. Again, this is where more modern OJT technology saves the day. The trainee’s correct answers through the course are digitally documented, as is the trainer’s validation that they observed the trainee apply the instruction correctly. This documentation can seamlessly sync to your company’s learning management system for easy reporting.

Step 5: Define Training Qualifications

Before employees can be released to perform their new tasks or jobs without supervision, they must meet certain requirements. It’s important to track these requirements within a qualification—a plan that includes all completed training and validation. 

Each company may have its own set of qualifications, but for context, a standard sequence for job qualification includes:

  • Completing a standardized OJT course or series of courses
  • Correctly answered quiz questions to verify and document trainee understanding
  • An observation by trainer/supervisor of trainee correctly performing the task – again, documented
  • Trainee and trainer signoff — you guessed it, documented.

These five steps are just part of what an overall OJT program should include. There are still the challenges of creating, delivering, and validating training. You can get all of this content and a broader discussion of OJT technology options through our latest white paper: Evaluating On-the-Job Training Methods to Optimize Consistency & Effectiveness.

Check it out and contact us with questions. You can add your questions or experiences in the comment section below.

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About the Author

With over 30 years of experience in the food industry at companies like ConAgra, Kellogg, and Sara Lee, Holly has recently joined the Alchemy Systems team where she currently helps the firm to create world class workforce development solutions for large, complex operations within the food industry.

Holly has held positions in food safety, quality assurance, sanitation, and plant regulatory affairs. She has authored several chapters related to the importance of record keeping and documentation in the food industry. She was honored to become the 2013 recipient of the Safe Quality Food Institute's Outstanding Achievement Award, and is passionate about the importance of training in the food industry including the cultivation of successful safety cultures.

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