Field Tips

2012 Training Top 125 winners share their best practices for accelerating on-the-job training (OJT).

By Lorri Freifeld

Many employees claim they learn best while doing, so they prefer to dive right in and learn as they go when they get a new job or take on new responsibilities. But the most successful and quickest learning on the job takes place when there is a formal on-the-job training (OJT) program—a fact many organizations and managers fail to take into account.

“An effective on-the-job training program should not be simple shadowing,” stresses Craig Goodwin, senior director of Rollins University at pest control company Orkin. “A high-quality program usually requires a substantial investment and should be built using sound instructional design methodology. It should be performance based and contain properly written learning objectives and a trainer guide linked closely to the objectives.”

Likewise, Goodwin says, the presence of qualified field trainers is a must. Orkin deployed a Certified Field Trainer program to ensure at least one qualified on-the-job trainer is located in every field location. Key components of the program include:

  • A competency-based screening process to identify and nominate the best candidates.
  • A train-the-trainer workshop to teach candidates adult learning principles, a formal process for delivering OJT, details of the new-hire curriculum, and the procedure for documenting learner progress.
  • Annual recertification of CFTs for skill maintenance.

Orkin’s Quality Assurance department audits OJT checklists to ensure they are used and properly completed. Locations lose audit points when proper documentation of OJT cannot be found, Goodwin says. “New hires also complete Level 1 evaluations, which ask about their OJT experience. Finally, CFTs must submit a capstone performance checklist to receive their final bonus.”

Orkin’s most effective OJT program is for service specialists, according to Goodwin. “Service specialists are the heart of our business and represent roughly 55 percent of the company’s employee base. We train approximately 1,200 new specialists annually to support business growth and replace employees who left the company.”

The new hire training program is six to seven months long. The first 30 to 60 days are devoted to the initial new hire curriculum. This is a blended curriculum consisting of self-directed training, OJT, and satellite interactive distance learning. “There is a broad range of content in the curriculum, including topics such as defensive driving, specialist sales, customer service, entomology, and service technique,” Goodwin says. “These topics are reinforced by CFTs demonstrating performance objectives on the job and observing new hires perform the same tasks.”

After the initial curriculum is completed, CFTs and managers coach new hires for an additional five months. The final step is participation in an additional satellite interactive distance learning class called Phase II. “Phase II allows for reinforcement of training,
allows for additional just-in-time training, and provides trainees opportunities to have service questions answered by technical experts,” Goodwin explains.

Since extending the CFT program to six months, Orkin has seen service specialist retention increase 7.85 percent, according to Goodwin. “And over the last year, Orkin’s customer base has increased by 5.15 percent. This coincides with an economic period when most pest control companies are struggling to maintain their existing customer base.”

NYP Takes on Tech Training

When providing on-the-job technical training, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) knows it has to meet several criteria, says Mary J. Beaudette, director, COLE – Technology Learning Solutions, NYP. First, she explains, it has to ensure the training database is as close a replication to production as possible. Then it must align the clinical staff and instructors’ availability in order to train as many learners as possible without interfering with patient care. Finally, it needs to create programs that are job specific, as well as competency-level specific.

The solution? “For larger initiatives,” Beaudette says, “we provided multiple delivery options and encouraged staff to take advantage of at least one, if not more. We also worked with the Information Technology group to ensure that the practice/training database could be accessed on the unit in case anyone wanted to try something out or run through case scenarios.” Another solution that has helped, Beaudette notes, is “to continually enlist the support of our Super Users. These are members of the staff who actively participate in User Groups and in other decision-making-type meetings. They attend more detailed training and are known as the go-to people on their units.”

During a “system go-live,” IT support staff (Red Shirts) and onsite Super Users work with staff to address any questions or concerns. The Red Shirts are available on the units for two weeks. The Super Users are typically staff nurses and residents employed by the hospital.

When NYP upgraded its EMR system, Beaudette says, the hospital needed to train five campuses (including clinic sites) in two phases. Phase 1 included 7,000 employees on three campuses. Phase 2 included an additional 7,000 employees on two campuses. The audience group included physicians, nurses, ancillary staff, and clerical staff in Inpatient, Emergency Department, and Clinic settings.

“As well as participating in the Clinical and IT decision-making groups, we established a cross-campus learning committee,” Beaudette says. “This group made decisions on and approved the content, case scenarios, and assessment questions. It also advised on the timing of the training and organizing of learning groups.”

As a result, NYP created one program that addressed all phases and staff:

• Created and launched an online learning program that had three overall sections:

a. Highlights of the new features and functions.

b. Best practices specific to physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff.

c. Scenario-based assessment specific to physicians,nurses, and ancillary staff.

• Facilitated drop-in practice lab sessions for those who needed a more structured environment and guided learning.

• Conducted rounding sessions where the instructors walked through the units asking staff specific questions about the new release and the training they attended.

• Provided job aids and a pocket guide highlighting the changes, as well as reinforcing the key processes practices.

According to Beaudette, the number of issues and questions received during the first two weeks of go-live were minimal, and the acceptance of the new release was high.

ESL Gets Front-Line Buy-In

The biggest challenges ESL Federal Credit Union has encountered in its OJT programs are time-related ones, particularly for front-line employees, note ESL Training Manager Kelli Loveless and Instructional Designer Jim Darby. “As a financial service institution, member service takes precedence. Our front line is constantly challenged with finding a balance between employee development and meeting the financial service needs of our members.”

For example, after Assistant Branch Managers (ABMs) complete their comprehensive three-week training program, they follow a well-defined OJT program to continue their professional development and prepare them for the demands of the position. “We have found, however, that ABMs and their mentors and managers periodically will forgo activities in the established OJT program due to the day-to-day challenges that arise in our branches,” Loveless and Darby say.

In response, several years ago, ESL’s Learning & Development team implemented a formal mentor program designed “to ensure the long-term success and professional development of the more than 250 people who interact with our members every day,” Loveless and Darby say. Mentors are recommended by their managers, or they volunteer to participate in this on-the-job training program in which they share job knowledge and exchange ideas with trainees and provide other constructive forms of support. Mentors and trainees also complete a mentor checklist and an online survey, which Learning & Development uses to identify and address any skill or content gaps in the front-line training curriculum (including traditional instructor-led training, self-paced training, and OJT).

Despite the presence of the mentor program, however, Learning & Development recognized that greater buy-in and support for this program was needed from ESL leadership, Loveless and Darby say. “L&D collaborated with front-line management to address the OJT challenges and adapted the content and activities to meet the daily realities of the branch. In return, front-line management agreed to bear greater responsibility and accountability for following the OJT program as it is designed. Employees and their mentors and managers are all held accountable for completing the activities designated in the OJT curriculum.”

For example, when the branch center merged the ABM position with the branch supervisor role, L&D was asked to create a training solution flexible enough to teach the required skills to a varied audience: existing ABMs; branch supervisors transitioning to the ABM role; and new employees who were unfamiliar with the position.

To accomplish this task, L&D designed a custom OJT program, which includes a customized manual that serves as both an instructional guide and a reference tool to help ABMs acquire the skills needed for success. The OJT manual outlines the training requirements and recommends ongoing learning opportunities needed specifically for the ABM’s development plan.

Beyond the manual, Loveless and Darby explain, ABMs gain greater insight into the new position through a series of department visits with experienced ESL employees. “These structured visits include one-on-one consultations with the ABM’s District Manager, Audit, Physical Security, Marketing, People and Organization Development, and Member Service Support, and cover skills ranging from hiring to coaching to branch balancing.”

Throughout this learning experience, the ABM’s manager serves as his or her primary mentor. Each week, the manager/mentor and ABM review a checklist that evaluates the ABM’s progress in the position. The length of the program varies depending on each participant’s skill level and job history, but the ABM training program includes 6.5 weeks of new hire training, plus 152.5 hours of additional role-specific training.

SME Support at Suffolk Construction

At Suffolk Construction Company, Vice President of Learning & Development David First says the biggest on-the-job training challenges are:

Employee buy-in: Proving there is value for them that warrants them putting in the time and effort to learn.

Enterprise coordination: Managing delivery across vast geography and for diverse trainees.

Measuring progress: Content tracking and measurement of impact.

Consistency of delivery: How do we ensure that this training is being done the same way regardless of subject matter expert and/or location?

“To ensure employee buy-in, we do our on-the-job training just in time when our stakeholders know they need it,” First explains. “Our Instructional Design team in collaboration with our subject matter experts (SMEs) has codified our programs. We provide a menu of options for every project, and delivery is executed by a team of SMEs who have been trained by our corporate learning team. We provide ongoing training for our SMEs to ensure consistency. When we can’t bring our SMEs to a jobsite, we utilize features on our iPads such as Facetime.”

These SMEs are responsible for tracking the scope of training that has been delivered, as well as attendance and reporting back to Learning and Development. Post-delivery, there is ongoing communication between SMEs and employees so they will always have a resource to provide ongoing support. Finally, First says, “we have established competencies and measurements that have led to development of a regular assessment for
every project team in our company. This assessment provides us with information on developmental gaps that need to be filled while also commanding attention from trainees while learning on the job.”

One example of on-the-job training at Suffolk Construction is Project Start-Up Team Training. This is a package of critical policy and procedures training, plus best practice and technical training, that is delivered on every project. Traditional 30-person classroom instructor-led delivery is replaced by detailed on-the-job, practical, experiential learning techniques.

“We work with the project leadership to determine what training is needed depending on the scope of the job, experience level of the team, and other factors,” First says. “Because project start-ups can be one of the most critical times on a job, we ensure that training is happening just in time and work with the team to determine the best times to deliver.”

Topics include Safety/Crisis Management, Insurance Procedures, Risk Management, Quality Management, and various technology training. Depending on the size of the project, First says, this training could take anywhere from four to six weeks, with approximately six to 10 per training.

“We assess every project to ensure it is following our Standard Operating Procedures,” First notes. “Before we implemented this training, our assessment scores were in the 70 to 80 percent range. After implementing this on-the-job training, we saw a dramatic increase in these scores. One particular project, which really embraced the team training concept, received the highest score on an assessment to date: 99 percent. We can clearly see that providing customized, project-specific training to teams at their job sites can be a huge asset.”

Quick Tips

  • Gain senior management support and reinforcement for OJT programs. Classroom training typically has more support from managers, while OJT sometimes is viewed as discretionary. You want all stakeholders to be accountable and responsible for completing the OJT as designed and not treat the curriculum’s structure as optional or “nice to know/do.” There must be an effective partnership between Operations and Learning and Development for the program to be successful.
  • Meet regularly with the stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of the program. Identify behavioral, skill, and/or knowledge gaps and adjust the OJT program accordingly.
  • Make sure on-the-job training is the correct approach to meet the learning need. Think about all the methods and approaches available to you as Learning professionals and don’t be afraid to mix and match delivery options.
  • Make OJT a part of a blended solution, ensuring the most effective and efficient delivery methods are used for the identified learning and performance objectives.
  • Design a series of quick, 15- to 20-minute learning chunks and concise exercise/activities rather than lengthy topics.
  • Identify skills and resources needed by the persons delivering OJT and ensure they get them.
  • Make certain the OJT program instructionally is sound and includes modeling of tasks, plenty of practice opportunities, and constructive learner feedback.
  • Focus OJT “beyond the course” for sustained employee performance. Identify someone who can be a helper and coach after the formal training program or event is completed.
  • Support your subject matter experts so they will want to continue to be instructors.
  • Work with participants to provide the training when it would best meet their scheduling needs.
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.