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Designing and Accelerating On-the-Job Training (OJT) in Organizational Settings

Accelerating OJT

Systematic-OJT (Jacobs, 2003) is one of the popular methods to build experience and proficiency of novice in any profession.

NOTE: For this blog, read Post-Training OJT (on-the-job training) to mean as Post-Training On-the-Job Experience  (OJE) which an individual typically gets on the job either through structured or unstructured assignments while doing his job. 

Why OJT?

Let’s start from the beginning. Typically a novice’s journey to acquire proficiency starts with some sort of formal and hopefully systematic training event to learn the skills needed at his job. The training helps the novice to acquire the skills and reach to certain level of skill proficiency at the time of exit from the training event. Traditionally training prepares a novice only to reach to a level called “advanced beginner” as defined by Dreyfus’s model (Clark, 2008).

What a novice lacks at the end of the formal training program is necessary experience and time to practice the skills he learned in the training program. More and more organizations have adopted training approaches such as S-OJT (Jacobs, 2003). OJT provides the necessary job experience to the learner to perform his job. Employee learns several tasks during on-the-job training. He learns at a rate which is determined by number of cases or issues encountered, time available to practice and opportunities apply and further his skills (Jacobs & Bu-Rahmah, 2012). This is shown by the curve called ‘conventional post-training OJT’ in the figure.  An example of airline pilot, although the estimate may vary from airline to airline, on an average 3000 flight hours are needed in OJT which include at least 1,500 hours multi-engine, and at least 1000 hours as pilot in command of jet powered aircraft is considered sufficient to fly a commercial passenger airplane with a scheduled airline. In terms of years it may mean about 5-6 years.

This time “T” in which an individual reaches target ‘desired proficiency’ is called time-to-proficiency.  This time includes the training time as well as time spent in OJT.

Is OJT equivalent to Deliberate Practice?

‘Conventional post-training OJT’ is mostly routine practice. Routine practice is performing the tasks while on the job and certain time frame is allocated to individuals to complete the tasks. The question is why would organizations rely on OJT? The answer is simply to build higher level of proficiency in their employees.

I would like to bring a little controversial aspect to this ‘practice domain’. There is a lot written about how ‘deliberate practice’ is critical to attain higher level of proficiency. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) have written a whole lot of literature on it. They contended deliberate practice as primary mechanism creating expert-level performance, and thus for achieving high level of proficiency.

The nature of deliberate practice differs from the practice we are talking about during OJT. Deliberate Practice is highly individualized training on tasks selected by a qualified teacher for the purposes of building expertise in an individual. There are four components: focused goals which are determined by a teacher in order to improve a specific aspect of performance; concentration and effort; feedback from a teacher comparing actual to desired performance; and further opportunities for practice. Individuals use optimal training, deliberate professional practice and extended domain-related activities to incrementally improve their performance (Ericsson et al. 2006). The postulations of deliberate practice have been found true in science, weather forecasting, engineering, military command and control, and so forth (Hoffman, 2007; Klein, 1992; Klein and Hoffman, 1992).

OJT and Deliberate Practice in Organizational Settings

Whether or not deliberate practice is applicable in organizational settings might be questionable.

First question: Do we really give that kind of structured mentorship and deliberate practice support to employees? The answer is no. Time, cost and speed are key factors that would prevent organizations to take deliberate practice route.

Another question is: Do we even need this in organizations at first place? I guess answer to this would be yes but possibly in different format – call it ‘scaled deliberate practice’. Example of it is study by Sonnentag and Klien (2000) suggest that ‘deliberate practice’ mechanism proposed by Ericsson et al. (1993) can also be used in work settings which includes range of activities such as extensive preparation of task accomplishment, gathering information from domain experts, or seeking feedback. They further concluded that performance is direct function of amount of deliberate practice in work settings.

Need for OJT and some sort of ‘scaled deliberate practice’ cannot be denied in workplace. Engagement in routine and deliberate practice during the OJT is imperative to achieve ‘desired proficiency’.  Quality of OJT and practice is the key to level of proficiency an individual can acquire.

We need to be cognizant when designing ‘scaled deliberate practice’ at workplace. Sternberg (1998) disagrees that deliberate practice is the exclusive aspect of acquisition of expertise. He adds that deliberate practice is required to work towards expertise but practice requires interaction of 5 skills namely metacognitive skills, learning skills, thinking skills, knowledge and motivation drives this cycle time to expertise, motivation being the central one (Sternberg, 1999). Therefore OJT is not just meant for practice. There is more to it in terms of overall development of expertise. See my earlier post here in regards to how to transform Sternberg’s developing expertise model in practice.

Danger of over-dependence on OJT

It is normally seen that organizations who rely heavily on OJT as the mechanism to build proficiency, their conventional training curriculum is based on basic assumptions that there is only limited level of real-life skills that can be imparted during a training class, that nothing can replace the field experience and that real learning of complex troubleshooting skills happens in the field. These assumptions cause organizations to over-depend on OJT as the sole source of achieving desired proficiency. Over-dependence on OJT results in longer OJT cycle and in return results in longer time-to-proficiency, especially on the complex jobs.

Solely depending on OJT as the means to develop experience has its own flaws. For example, complex problem solving proficiency can only be acquired when individual has acquired the refined schemata and mental representation which is possible only by working on several cases of wide variety. How a professional can ensure deliberate practice on different issues that are encountered in their field? Hoffman, Andrew, Feltovich (2012) state that “A key factor which makes achieving the status of “expert” difficult is that typically, to be considered an “expert”, an individual must be able to solve very difficult problems that most of their peers are not able to address. However, these types of problems are relatively rare, which makes learning by practice on the job problematic since they are seldom encountered”.  Same issue, to a little lesser extent is applicable when we talk about making professionals as proficient.

Training Re-Structuring Vs. Design of OJT

Foundations developed in training are important stepping stone to the success of post-training OJT and reducing dependence on OJT.

a) Designing Training:

Training intervention needs to be re-structured in such a way to build larger portion of proficiency right during training. However, it may mean longer training interventions than required by traditional models.  Some training or non-training strategies need to be implemented to strike the balance between length of training events and length of OJT. Striking such a balance, while still trying to achieve the desired proficiency in reasonable period of time, is the central issue in the study of time-to-proficiency.

b) Designing OJT

On the other hand, as I said OJT is necessary evil for proficiency of individuals. OJT needs to be designed, monitored and mentored accurately. Training experts need to see different ways to incorporate on-the-job experience in the training structure itself or situate training into the day-to-day work on the job.

Controlling Length of OJT

Length of OJT is a big organizational concern. At this moment, two approaches that comes in mind to handle the length of OJT are:

a) Accelerating OJT

Conceptual model in above figure suggests that if we have ways to accelerate post-training OJT curve as shown in dotted line in the figure, theoretically employee can reach the same desired proficiency in shorter time.

b) Re-structuring Training course

In one of the next post I will provide concept how structuring training program correctly can result in reducing in length of OJT heavily.  Here is the post you may want to read to know the approach I proposed: Accelerating to High Proficiency By Raising the Bars with Re-structured Training Curriculum.

Let’s explore and find what strategies can shorten the OJT and /or accelerate the slope of the post-OJT curve. I will share the training techniques to design correct OJT, manage it and accelerate it organizational context in some of my next posts.


About Raman K. Attri

Raman K. Attri is a complex learning strategist, a transformational training consultant and a researcher with over 20 years of experience in engineering, management and technical training. His primary area of focus is to provide strategic directions to organizations in implementing next-generation competitive training strategies. His research interests include complex learning, accelerated expertise and advanced instructional design. He is also the founder of Personal Resonance©, a research forum with a charter to transform proven research studies on accelerated expertise into organizational training practices. His training and learning solutions are strongly founded in system engineering techniques applied to large-scale training programs. Equipped with scientific training methods, he innovated two research-backed complex learning frameworks namely SEAT© (Systems Engineering Approach to Training) and ProBT© (Proficiency Based Training) methodology primarily meant for organizations to accelerate development of complex cognitive skills of their employees systematically at faster rate. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds Professional Doctorate in Corporate Training, MBA in Operations Management and Executive MBA in Customer Relationship Management. Currently he is pursuing another Doctorate degree from Southern Cross University. His personal interests involve writing and painting.
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