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Training & Education

Striking a balance

By Udo O.J. Huff, M.ED.

September 2010 - Say you go and purchase a new laptop. How do you learn to operate the computer after bringing it home? You read the operator’s manual. No further training is required.

Do you have to have a degree in information technology? Probably not. Rather, you get the required information while operating the laptop with some help from the operator’s manual.

Even though it is in an informal context, this situation exemplifies on-the-job training. It also illustrates one of OJT’s primary advantages: With the right tools, a person can learn by doing.

In a more formal or professional setting, such as a manufacturing company, OJT is one way to train employees. Another is an articulated training program. How do they compare?

Exploring options
OJT is a widespread type of short-term training that consists of a quick and safe introduction for a limited operation. It works when the task is not very complex, the operation is limited to a few steps and the cycle time for the job is short (three to five minutes). The manufacturing process requires a short OJT session and some cross-training for other similar operations.

The more effectively a company designs, plans and executes the OJT, the better the production rate will be. However, the unfortunate rule is companies make reductions during OJT on all of the above.

These tenets also apply to OJT:

  • It does not need a trainer or full-time instructor.
  • It is preferable to use job cards with work instructions.
  • It involves short-term workforce planning.
  • It complies with a high turnover of employees in manufacturing.
  • Articulated training programs are another approach to employee training. How are they similar to and different from OJT?

    Long-term effort
    Any defined training program requires a needs analysis and time for planning and designing the training program. For such an effort, a company must have a subject-matter expert, instructor or trainer. However, before a company begins to train its employees, it needs to finance the two steps above.

    Articulated training is a long-term employee-training effort guided by a syllabus and subsequently the training curriculum. A syllabus refers to defining the occupational profile, skills and knowledge; the duration of training; the learning experience and an assessment. Additionally, curriculum refers to subject-matter contents for the academic-related instructions and shop practice, the duration of training and an evaluation.

    The training modules or sequences are based on performance or competency. Long-term training is based on academic-related instructions or classroom training and shop instructions. Qualified personnel determine complex and difficult engineering, manufacturing and production goals.

    These tenets also apply to an articulated training program:

  • It requires commitment from the employer and employee for long-term training projects.
  • It involves long-term workforce-development planning with career opportunities.
  • It provides long-term career opportunities for participants.
  • Seeking success
    To remain competitive in the fast-paced, ever-evolving industrial world, employers need both hourly production workers and a highly skilled workforce. Therefore, companies have to accept OJT as a training tool, which will give them an advantage over those that stick solely with articulated, performance-based, long-term training.

    However, for OJT, not just any worker will do. Employers require new hires to undergo orientation, safety training and job-placement training before they are integrated fully.

    On the other hand, technical staff members must be trained to complete tasks and be able to work in teams.

    The quick changes in today’s technology challenge industries worldwide. They also demand innovative changes and investment in a continuously upgraded and trained workforce.

    Return on investment
    When comparing OJT and performance-based, long-term training, the question of return on investment will arise. In fairness, it is difficult to compare their ROIs.

    OJT allows companies to respond very quickly in terms of production scheme and schedule. Additionally, companies have a stronger impact on the market with quality products when they have a highly trained workforce. The ROI needs to be calculated on a case-by-case basis for each purpose to have a more in-depth and accurate comparison.

    The industry tends to favor the quick solution of OJT, but to stay competitive in the long term, more companies today are deciding to invest in their workforces by implementing longer-term training programs that still have room for improvement. FFJ

    Udo O.J. Huff is an independent consultant with project experience in machine building, welding engineering, training and development. He holds Master of Education and Bachelor of Science in Technology degrees from Bowling Green State University. Questions or comments? E-mail uhuff@sbcglobal.net.

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