Expert On-the-Job Training and the Aging Workforce

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ABSTRACT
Approximately seven years ago, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati-Wastewater Treatment Division realized there was no standardized training system in place and there was no gauge to measure the success of the training being performed. It also realized it had an aging workforce that is now nearing retirement and the knowledge that could potentially be lost with each retired employee was a major concern. A program known as Expert OJT was investigated and later implemented within the Wastewater Treatment Division, to address this problem. As of today, job aids can be seen posted in the field and in the control room. Experienced personnel are using them to refresh their memory when performing infrequent or unfamiliar tasks, while new employees will use them as one of the tools to learn new tasks.

INTRODUCTION
The task that confronted Ken Wegenhart, Treatment Supervisor in charge of the Process Support and Training section, began when it was identified that the supervisors had always been responsible for the on the job training of their subordinates, but were never given the tools nor were told what was expected from the training that they were giving, a problem that he had long before realized and had seen first hand. When promoted, employees became supervisors. It was the thinking of most of management that they automatically became expert trainers, even though they had no past experience in performing this task and had never been tested for their ability to be trainers. The workers, good at what they did, were now given the responsibility of passing their knowledge and experience on to their subordinates through their training and communication skills.

The solution to this problem was identified. Supervisors needed a tool to assist them in their training needs. Train the employees with the on the job training that would require the steps being performed to complete the tasks, be consistent and the training results measurable. The tool needed was to include written documentation of the supervisors’ expectations and the results of the task, after the person performing the steps, could call the task “completed”.

THE PROBLEM
Though not considered to be the primary concern of MSDGC initially, it was soon realized that the experienced supervisors were soon to be reaching the age that they could retire from city service and the experienced supervisors were now going to be leaving with all of their knowledge in their heads and nothing was documented for those taking over their responsibilities. The age of downsizing was upon us and we did not have the luxury to have the new supervisors shadowing the soon to be retired supervisors. This had already been proven not to be the best approach when training employees. There must be a tool that could be used to document the tasks these employees had been doing for the past years. The skills and knowledge of the experienced employees had to be documented quickly but also meet the desired standards of the MSDGC management.

CHALLENGES
In any type of new training program, there would be challenges and MSDGC knew there would be challenges to face with this training program. One of the challenges was to convince the supervisors that the time and effort they would be putting into the documentation of the tasks would reduce time spent in training new employees and the evaluation of the existing operators. They would be able to analyze non-work performance to conclude if training would be the solution to the problem or if there were other issues to be addressed. There would be no need for useless training when training wasn’t the problem or the correct solution. Their attention could be directed to a positive solution to the identified problem. A training program that identifies the skills and knowledge the trainee would need, prior to being trained on the task. The supervisors were invited to attend a session of the Expert OJT workshop and once they completed the twoday workshop, it wasn’t difficult to convince them of the benefits of the program. The other challenge was to convince some of the MSDGC plant mangers that this would be beneficial to their supervisors and worth the costs involved in implementing this program in their treatment plants. After attending a session of the program and the support from the Director’s office. They were convinced this would be worth the costs and time involved.

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