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Corey Brown


How On-the-Job Training Is Hurting Manufacturing

Repurpose your current procedures instead

Published: Monday, December 16, 2019 - 13:03

While on-the-job training is practical for certain applications, manufacturers rely on it too heavily as a method for onboarding and training employees.

Companies looking to train a new workforce should be aware that on-the-job training can:
 • Hurt productivity
 • Increase safety risks
 • Impact quality costs

Training without standards

On the surface, the concept of on-the-job (OTJ) training makes sense: Follow an employee around and watch what he does so you know how to do the same. Unfortunately, the desired outcome rarely comes to fruition. OTJ training methods rely too heavily on mentor/mentee relationships and are by their very nature, nonstandardized.

A new recruit may experience a completely different training process depending on:
 • Availability of mentors
 • Variance in tribal knowledge
 • Accuracy of the job demonstration
 • Nonstandardized work practices across mentors

The unreliable reality of on-the-job training

Although OTJ training methods may seem effective, in reality, this practice can produce a variety of results that will negatively impact quality and safety standards. Results could include:

An untraceable game of telephone
Subpar performance can be passed down from employee to employee until it is accepted as the norm. If the employee performing the job is unskilled, the new hire will learn the wrong way of performing the required tasks. Management might not be aware of the employee’s incompetence in specific areas and unqualified to take steps toward corrective action. Like a game of telephone, this has a rippling effect that will foster cultural problems within the organization.

Exaggerated performance
When employees being observed know they are being watched, they put on a show for the trainee and display an unrealistic view of their work. Performance might even be exaggerated to demonstrate the value of the employee’s role. With OTJ training, there is no guarantee that the employee is projecting her job functions in a realistic way.

Limited scalability
OTJ training methods are limited by the number of people who can observe a job in progress. It can also be limited by the type of work happening during varying production cycles. For manufacturers that need to hire and train fast, traditional training methods are a bottleneck for scaling operations or retraining during high turnover.

Quality assurance

This lack of consistency among training methods is having a direct effect on industry quality standards. In fact, 85 percent of quality issues are caused by worker errors. This means that lack of procedural adherence or poor training practices are still where most quality issues originate.

Given all the automation available to the industry, manufacturers should appreciate the valuable impact that good training programs have on the bottom line. More than 55 percent of manufacturers believe that better training methods are the best way to decrease quality costs.

In order to train and develop the skills of their employees, companies will need to look toward creative solutions and move beyond the limitations of on-the-job training. Innovative tools that enable them to standardize and scale training programs will help ensure that quality and continuous improvement are always at the forefront of their employees’ minds.

With 3.5 million jobs needed to be filled by 2025, manufacturers have a big challenge ahead of them. The average U.S. manufacturer is losing an estimated 11 percent of its annual earnings (EBITDA), or $3,000 per existing employee, due to the talent shortage. Companies need to move beyond the limitations of on-the-job training programs and turn their documented procedures into standardized training programs for new hires, retraining, and upskilling.

First published Aug. 23, 2019, on the Dozuki blog.


About The Author

Corey Brown’s picture

Corey Brown

Corey Brown is the lead researcher and editor for manufacturing resources on Dozuki.com. With a background in engineering and technical communication, Corey specializes in quality management, standard work, and lean manufacturing.


Agree and Disagree

I was encouraged to see this article...Deming talked about this extensively up to his death in 1993. He used "telephone" to illustrate Rule 4 of the Funnel (Nelson's Funnel experiment, popularized by Deming as a follow-on to the Red Bead during his famous 4-day seminars). Rule 4 is especially wicked, because as time goes on, the standard is lost, and the output drifts further and further from what was intended. It doesn't just apply in manufacturing, though. It's probably worse in service, and takes a bigger toll, because the "last one written" is often used as the template for the new one (even though it drifted from the standard template long ago). This results in overruns, waste and a lot of rework (if the differences are caught), sometimes on a grand scale. Just look, for example, at government spending. At the end of the year, almost every agency and operation in the government struggles to ensure they spent all the money they got last year, because if they don't, they can't get that much next year (and they still ask for more each year). In that environment, realistic budgeting is a fool's errand. So, kudos for bringing this principle forward again! 

On the other hand, it seems we have drifted away from what we learned in the 90s again..."85% of quality issues are caused by worker errors?" That's opposite of what's actually going on. Systems thinking and the theory of variation teach us that we can not separate the performance of the worker from the performance of the system. Deming's contention was that 85% of the problems are caused by management (because only they can provide the constancy of purpose and resources to improve the system). Later in life, he pushed that to 94 or 96%. This is illustrated in the next sentence of the article, "This means that lack of procedural adherence or poor training practices are still where most quality issues originate." You can't hold the process workers accountable for errors if the system trains them to make errors, does not properly monitor for errors, does not improve systems and their associated processes through mistake-proofing, etc.