We’re all aware of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even beyond the tragic loss of lives, we are now witnessing the transformation of every aspect of our culture as a result of the extended lockdowns and health and safety restrictions. But it is in such an environment that training, especially structured on-the-job training, can rise up to provide much-needed support and stability for our business partners.

We now live in a world where social distancing, masks and constant sanitization are essential. We find ourselves monitoring positivity rates and evaluating who can travel, and to where, based on risk factors. Our business partners have had to adapt to workflows that are constantly interrupted by team members needing to quarantine and, of course, to the radical shift to a greater remote workforce than we’ve seen at any other time in our history.

Training must take place if our business partners are to remain successful, competitive and fiscally sound. But considering that the overwhelming pre-pandemic preference for training delivery was in-person, instructor-facilitated, classroom-based sessions, the challenge our organizations now face is how to provide required training support while adapting to this “new normal.” On the surface, it is a difficult situation, but we can create solutions if we are willing to take a step back from our assumptions regarding what training looks like.

The Limitations of Traditional On-the-job Training

The concept of structured on-the-job training (SOJT) is neither new nor revolutionary. In fact, it has existed for generations and has proven to be successful in fields such as medicine, where it flourishes. But while most entities would claim to have an on-the-job training (OJT) program, the majority of such programs lack any guidance, consistency, defined expectations, tracking, identifiable competencies or fundamental structure. In many cases, the training occurs as participants begin a new role and then is “evaluated” when they are told what they did wrong.

In short, the standard OJT program is less like training and more like an episode of “Survivor.”

Our organizations are in desperate need of training options that empower learners to gain knowledge and skills without having to gather in a classroom. In fact, they need team members to have those training opportunities in the new context that enables them to work safely, which means bringing the training directly to where they are working.

Saving the Day With SOJT

SOJT is the solution. A well-developed SOJT program can save the day by ensuring independent, learner-driven growth and development takes place while providing the employer with verification not only of learner participation but also work-based results.

Sound too good to be true? That question is a common reaction. While the concept of SOJT is simple, its implementation requires an investment of time, resources and culture change. Many organizations deem the cost of creating and maintaining such a program too high and revert to traditional training approaches that they believe are more affordable and easier to implement. But 2020 upended much of what fueled such hesitation in the past, making our current environment more welcoming to SOJT.

An SOJT program is built on the answers to two fundamental questions: What do learners need to be able to do to be successful in their role, and how will we know that they can do those things?

Notice that the first question does not ask, “What do they need to know?” but, “What do they need to be able to do?”. Too often, training is all about dispensing facts, data and information, when it should always be about behavior change: By completing training, learners should do things differently than they used to. Therefore, the determination of success should be based not on attendance or “head knowledge” but on demonstrated competency in pre-determined areas.

By emphasizing “How will we know?” in the second question, the effective SOJT program ensures that the competencies identified in the first question are specific enough that their achievement is observable. Perhaps it is an action that managers can observe learners performing or an output they must produce. Even if what they’re learning is “head knowledge,” such as critical thinking skills, success may be determined by talking through real-world scenarios that require those skills. Ultimately, the focus when developing the program must be on whether the stated competencies are clearly defined and whether the measurement of them requires minimal interpretation (ensuring consistency).

With this type of SOJT program in place, it is much easier to shift the development of new competencies to the new work environment. Just as leaders have had to adjust to how they supervise their remote or socially distanced team members, so must the observation and confirmation of competency attainment adapt. Replicating the formal classroom experience can prove to be a challenge in this context. SOJT programs that enable learners to progress at their own pace, while pursuing their unique, customized competency areas, can flourish.

It’s not easy to go from the “Survivor” OJT approach to the SOJT approach that can save the day — but the effort to do so can be an investment that pays off for organizations with the vision and commitment to pursue such a path.

Want to learn more on this topic? Sign up for the virtual Training Industry Conference & Expo, and attend Paul’s live session.