Interview 100 employees in your organization and ask them one simple question: “How did you learn the key skills you are using for your job?”
Will the majority say e-learning, training, social learning, corporate intranets or the latest mobile app? Nope. Most workers will tell you they learned it on the job, through conversations with peers, managers or others in the workplace. OJT, the phrase used for decades to describe on-the-job training, is a huge and often unmentioned dimension of learning and development.
Do an Internet search for LMS, authoring tools, leadership seminars or assessments and you will see dozens of ads from vendors of these products and services. Do a search for OJT, and you will rarely see any ads and few providers. Ask an instructional designer for his or her models of developing OJT assets, and you may see a blank stare.
During World War II, women were asked to take over factory jobs, replacing men sent off to war. Rosie the Riveter, one of my learning icons, is the representation of how these women were trained and deployed in new jobs. OJT was the primary instructional approach.
There are great examples of how OJT resources, job aids and approaches to get workers to teach each other in a systemic and on-the-job fashion — often accomplishing competency faster and less expensively than the previous classroom-based training models — were used to train the men they replaced.
I would like to advocate that we take a fresh and modernized look at OJT. In many ways, the technology and methodology changes in learning during the past three decades make this the perfect time to revisit it. Let’s look at how OJT in 2013 and beyond might look:
Job posters — print and digital: Let’s use posters, including infographics and 3-D representations, to assist workers teaching others new processes and steps. These can be displayed on their tablets, but don’t forget the job poster that might hang in a cubicle or workplace wall as well.
Video-based OJT: The co-worker does not have to be in the same workplace. The new employee’s coach can be almost anywhere, connected by desktop- or device-based video. They can be accessed frequently as the worker attempts new roles.
Badges for small skills: We can break down a job into a series of micro-skills and give a badge to workers as they master each task. This was used with Rosie the Riveter to reward the women for 10 steps in effective airplane welding. The badges provide a focus, with different peers helping on each skill.
Gamification: One might consider leveraging a gaming approach to OJT where workers gain recognition or even points toward a free cappuccino in the cafeteria when they hit a new competency. And perhaps their teaching peer gets one, too.
Teachable skills: Organizations can build OJT skills into job descriptions for managers and line employees. We can break these skills into several simple steps that can be modeled, reinforced and assessed in performance reviews.
Learning systems like the LMS and LCMS can also be harnessed for OJT. Less than 25 percent of such training touches an LMS. In fact, we underreport the cost, scope and time spent on OJT, and little attention is paid to it when content is authored and distributed by an LCMS. It is time to tweak our learning systems usage to support OJT.
OJT is often part of a mix. A worker may need or request it after attending a face-to-face, webinar-based or e-learning-delivered course. OJT is often key to helping with the final step of transferring newly learned skills to the work setting. Organizations should connect the dots.
Rosie the Riveter saved lives and learned differently. She taught us as she was taught and then became a teacher. Sadly, most Rosies were fired after World War II, and the teaching models returned to the classroom. Let’s honor OJT and give a wave to Rosie by refreshing OJT in the age of technology, collaborative learners and connected workers.