Job training is increasingly seen as an employee perk as well as a business necessity. Employees view training as an opportunity to develop skill sets that enhance their value. Employers see it as a means to satisfy regulatory requirements, reduce accidents and advance sales. But how do you make training work for both sides? And how can you be sure employees are receiving the right training from their peers?

Increasingly, employers are turning to on-the-job training (OJT) to replace traditional classroom sessions. OJT offers a more engaging training style that allows employees to “learn by doing,” which is easier to remember for many learners, especially for task-specific instructions.

A Buddy System With Bad Habits

Perhaps the most common OJT method is for trainees to follow more experienced employees — also known as shadowing. These experienced employees might be good at what they do and could be entirely qualified to show others how to perform their tasks. But some could also provide the wrong instructions for the job and ignore company guidelines.

Even good employees can fall outside of the company’s approved way of doing things. This might be based on bad habits, a preference of doing things “the old way” or simply following the actions of others around them. The 2020 Global Food Safety Survey indicated that more than a third of companies lack confidence that one employee will teach another the correct way to perform a task in adherence to company policies.

For OJT to be truly effective, it must be formalized to include structure, accountability and reportability. Formal OJT courses create dramatically better results.

Before you formalize an OJT program, you must first look at where this approach fits in the grand scheme of employee training. There are four types of employee training:

    1. Group classroom instruction.
    2. Individual eLearning.
    3. Shadowing other employees on the job.
    4. Structured training courses on the job where employees will work.

The trick to making OJT more effective is to combine it with the strengths of these other models. For example, according to the recent State of the Workplace Safety Training report, a formal OJT program is 20% more effective than the buddy system. But combining the two is far more powerful still, ensuring accurate and memorable training. An overall formal OJT program provides a 52% improvement not just in the performance of correct actions on the job, but the ability to document and demonstrate evidence of correct behaviors.

Here are five ways to formalize and structure your OJT program.

1. Engage Employees to Drive Correct Behaviors

Many training leaders say an employee’s willingness to accept and participate in training is just as important as the actual training content. The two are absolutely intertwined as the quality, context and interactivity of training content directly correlates to employee attitudes toward training. This is why the State of the Workplace report also finds employees are 94% more likely to be “very engaged” when training with a formal OJT program compared to the buddy system. On the flip side, employees trained via formal OJT are 25% less likely to see training as “a nuisance” as compared to those trained by shadowing.

A formal OJT program will drive and verify correct behaviors on the job. Validating the correct application of training helps prevent injuries before they occur and ensures accurate processing parameters are followed to maintain product quality. Also, the validation helps identify knowledge gaps and provides defensible documentation for audits.

2. Blend Job Shadowing with Formal OJT

Even though on-the-job training programs yield far better outcomes than shadowing, you should never close the door on shadow training. Shadowing offers several training benefits. But if your OJT program is confined exclusively to shadowing, employees can still be trained improperly.

A combined approach builds rapport and inclusion for new hires and ensures they receive current and correct information and policies. It also enables employees to advance their careers by becoming trainers. And they have an opportunity to influence future training materials.

3. Set Your Sights on Clear Goals

Before you implement a structured OJT program, you need a clear view of your targeted goals. Then use a central authority to create, vet and validate consistent training materials and courses that meet those goals. Make the training content specifically match the job site and employee task, including quizzes and validating observations to verify their comprehension.

4. Make the Connection With Mobile Technologies

The allure of OJT has always been the ability to train in the flow of work, not in a classroom. Mobile technologies enable that freedom while ensuring the consistent instructions that were once only possible in the classroom. Today, a single mobile app can create, deliver and track all on-the-job training activity.

5. Create, Deliver, Validate

Mobile technologies can extend and enhance the delivery of knowledge from experienced workers to new employees. Different apps and software when paired with mobile devices enable operations and training leaders to capture video recordings of star employees performing tasks correctly.

Video acts as a powerful visual learning medium and is easily turned into a structured course by adding text instruction and intermittent quizzes, and supporting photographs and PDFs. Once a course is reviewed and vetted by corporate or department leaders, it is available to all facilities and worksites. This ensures every trainee receives the exact same instruction, every time, no matter who the trainer is.

Trainers can use smartphones or tablets with the mobile app to deliver relevant courses. Many organizations need to be able to deploy mobile training in areas with no Wi-Fi.

A structured, validated OJT course and observation can now be part of the shadowing process, ensuring all the activity is documented as it occurs and that the proper training is delivered. All records can be synced to your central training management platform and available for retrieval for audits or for internal personnel management.

Then it only takes a few clicks to see any individual employee’s OJT records, including validation of their comprehension and practical application. With this approach, you can also search by employee to see their approved qualifications.

With these steps, you can make the most of OJT without losing control of your procedures and policies. Equally important, you can showcase your OJT program in job recruiting efforts, demonstrating advantages over your competition in providing career growth and cross-training capabilities.