A Quick Look At SOJT Programs


My team has started the process of overhauling an onboarding program. Oof, it is a process. So, to help prepare me for this task, I set out in search of various onboarding methods. That’s when I came across Structured On-the-job Training (SOJT) programs, with an emphasis on structured. This type of program does not involve handing over a process checklist devoid of accountability and follow-up; it’s quite the opposite.  

I watched a presentation by Paul Smith, who has become an expert on SOJT programs, in which he outlined the benefits of implementing such a program and laid out the process of building one. I immediately saw the benefit and began thinking about how this type of training could be incorporated into the new onboarding program. I’m going to be sharing this with my team, so I thought I’d share it with you, our lovely readers, as well.  

What follows is a brief breakdown of the SOJT model, what you need to consider when setting one up, and the benefits you can expect from it. 

  • The foundational steps of the SOJT program:
    • Outline what makes someone competent in a role. What are the activities a person in this role must be able to complete? You can find this out through interviews with people currently in that role and with those who oversee, support, and interact with that role. These interviews should give you a 360-degree picture of what someone in a particular position will need to do competently.  
    • Determine how competency will be measured. These are the specific, observable outputs or activities that a mentor can verify and track. Once these are defined, it creates a guide for the learners, mentors, trainers, and leadership. A simple sign-off sheet can act as an accountability tool, stating that the learner can competently perform a specific task. Paul Smith provided a template that I quickly edited to serve as an example in the image below.
    • Create opportunities for that person to become competent. This is where mentors come in; these are the people working in the role who will partner with the learners to show them how to perform the activities and support them as they work toward competency. Learners will need the opportunity to practice and master the activity before asking the mentor to sign-off on competency. A mentor prep program would need to be developed prior to implementing the SOJT model to help the mentors support the learners and to ensure all activities are being performed the same way. A mentor prep program will create consistency across the various mentors.

  • Before you can start designing an SOJT program, you’re going to need three things:
    • Agreement that this is what needs to be done to benefit the business. This should be obvious. If you can’t secure an agreement that this model is what is best for your organization, don’t begin the process of building it.  
    • Support from leadership and buy-in regarding the program. Support from leadership and buy-in from those who would be involved is crucial for any program but may be particularly so in this instance.  
    • Mentors who are on board. If mentors are not on board, the SOJT program will be missing the crucial structured requirement. It will still be an on-the-job training program but will be missing the consistency and accountability that an SOJT program provides.  
  • What you can expect from the SOJT program:
    • Trackable progress. You can see from the accountability tool which tasks have been mastered and which may require additional feedback and training. 
    • Quantifiable, measurable results. By having a structured and consistent on-the-job training program that includes an accountability tool, you can see which training methods are working and which are not. It is easier to fix a problem once it has been identified.  
    • Ability to repurpose and connect existing efforts to create a unified program. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. You can take the parts of department training that are working and the processes that successful mentors use to form the mentor prep program.  
    • Better prepared and more confident person in the role. Learners who receive signoffs have demonstrated that they can perform the specific tasks and have received confirmation that they know what they are doing.  

While I see the benefit of a structured, consistent training program in every organization, I can see this model being particularly beneficial for organizations that experience information retention issues. Since the SOJT program is based on experiential learning, the person will be learning from actively doing the task and will only receive a sign-off from their mentor once they are able to complete a task without error successfully. No one will be able to say, “I don’t know how to do that,” after completing an SOJT program.

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