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“I showed them how to do it over and over again, but they just can’t seem to get it right.” Sound familiar? For decades I’ve helped industry focus on training results (a.k.a. learning) rather than focusing on training. Confused? Let’s briefly walk through what can turn on-job training (OJT) into “on-job learning.”

All too often, training programs are set up as just that, “programs” with a primary focus on materials formatting, instructional hours, online modules, a calculated mix of OJT and classroom hours, and the like. Then, the programs typically specify accumulating so many hours of instruction and taking and passing a written “test” before the trainee becomes “qualified” to perform the required tasks. Training structured in those ways often misses the mark. It takes place, but the students don’t necessarily learn. “Training” isn’t “learning.”

Many OJT programs are what we call “shadow training,” where the trainee follows Old Joe, the experienced technician, around and learns by watching Old Joe work. Some Old Joes are impressive mentors who take whatever time is required to ensure the trainee gets things right. Other Old Joes might be less inclined to take extra time, and just expect a trainee to HELP and not get in the way while Old Joe gets the work done.

On-job learning begins by clearly defining the learning outcomes: What is the learner expected to know and do upon completion of the training process. A job analysis typically outlines the job-performance requirements, i.e., the demonstrable and measurable skills and knowledge that shape the on-job learning process from start to finish.

Adults, and any student for that matter, learn at different rates. The on-job learning process must recognize that regardless of the number of hours set aside for training the goal should always be skills mastery not hours of instruction. On-job learning is NOT about getting a grade on performance or written tests. It’s all about learning how to do something right the first time, every time.

Online study, simulations, and replicas of equipment and systems are perfectly fine early in the learning process. But hands-on learning on actual equipment, using the actual tools, materials, and procedures found in the workplace, must all be part of an effective learning process.

Keep in mind that human-performance variation is an enemy of reliability. 
The reliability of equipment, systems, and facilities depends on the elimination of failure causes. No matter how much is spent on increasingly robust and reliable components, those items, too, will fail without reliable human performance. Proper installation, proper operation, proper maintenance, proper repair are the essential elements of reliability.

Regardless of how effective a learning process was, there always will be a tendency for individual variation, i.e.,  “I know that’s how we were taught, but I find it easier and better to do it my way.”  Standardized work procedures and detailed work instructions augmented with checklists and visual cues placed ON the equipment at the points of use help drive out human-performance variation.

Consistent leadership from the top of the organization, all the way down to the plant floor, is another essential element of reliability. Setting clear expectations, responsibilities, and accountabilities for following proven learning processes and detailed work instructions reinforces the interdependent elements of reliability improvement. Alas, reliable equipment and systems are only a dream without reliable human performance at all leadership and plant-floor levels.TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, skills training, workforce development, workforce issues