Case Study

Structured On the Job Training

NiSource

The OJT Coach role has allowed more consistent and targeted employee development beyond the classroom. They bring a commitment and the skills needed to help our employees advance more quickly to a desired level of competence.

Mark Chepke, VP of Training

About NiSource

NiSource is one of the largest fully regulated utility companies in the United States. The company’s utility subsidiaries—Columbia Gas and NIPSCO—provide natural gas and electric service to approximately 4 million customers across seven states in the Midwest, the South and New England.

Establishing Best Practice: Structured on-the-job training coaches

Due to high retirement rates and increased hiring to support capital projects, NiSource is faced with the challenge of having less experienced employees in the field. As NiSource embarked on an initiative to strengthen its formal training programs, leadership recognized that employee development outside the classroom could not be adequately supported. In response, the training organization and operations leadership partnered to blend foundational instructor-led training with a focused and formally supported OJT program delivered by designated OJT coaches to develop field employees to full competence.

NiSource’s mandate is to give students just enough information and practice in formal classroom training to serve as a foundation, and then to rely on structured OJT to provide the broadening and deepening of skills that moves employees to full mastery. To support this, the company created an OJT coach position, and embedded dedicated resources throughout their geographically disperse field operations groups to support the development of field employees as they perform work.

The primary responsibilities of an OJT coach include:

  • Working with field leaders and schedulers to ensure new employees are getting the necessary exposure to different types of work based on the training they’ve completed.
  • Assessing gaps and weaknesses in demonstrated knowledge and skills, and intervening where needed to provide additional training and development opportunities.
  • Signing off on OJT completions when students demonstrate the necessary level of mastery in targeted skills and tasks.
  • Delivering targeted training to all field operations employees as new processes and procedures are introduced.
  • Supporting the development of field supervisors hired from non-traditional roles or industries that lack technical job experience.

The structured OJT program itself consists of batches of segmented tasks that are assigned to students based on their role and the classroom training they have completed. These tasks include a combination of self-study, job assignments, targeted conversations with supervisors, standards reviews, and more. When a student feels confident in their knowledge and ability related to a specific batch of OJT, they take a mini quiz. If they answer all the questions correctly, an OJT coach will do a ride-along to observe the student completing the related work, and then sign off to progress that employee to the next phase of training. If they get questions wrong or fail the ride-along, additional OJT steps are required.

NiSource’s OJT program structure provides the following business benefits:

  • OJT coaches are funded by operations and embedded in operational groups, allowing them to stay aligned with the needs of the workforce and identify learning gaps.
  • Coaches work closely with front line leaders and the dispatch group to make sure students are exposed to the right depth and breadth of work based on the training they’ve completed.
  • OJT coaches report to a training lead to maintain consistency and create accountability for OJT responsibilities.
  • OJT coaches have five to ten students assigned to them at a time, enabling them to mentor the same group of employees throughout their development, and provide personalized interventions and support as needed.
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