Back to basics use of job aids to jumpstart employee learning to performance
Today, disruptions and new business models are frequently occurring that changes the dynamics of the markets. Organisations need to be more agile and innovative in competing in their industries. Their main source of competitive advantage, the human capital, is the driving force for most organisations to remain sustainable. Developing this talent pool of professionals can be challenging coupled with an intergenerational workforce.
Challenges of employee learning and development
Training usually consists of a short-term event that occurs in either a workshop (classroom) setting or online session. Recruits or mid-career individuals face challenges in retaining their learning especially if they are from a different industry. When the training is carried out, they are then deployed and expected to apply what they have learnt from the training. There are some inherent limitations of training, and it should not be deemed as a silver bullet to solve performance gaps or effective acquisition of new skills. Some common limitations include:
- Inflexibility in personalisation. Training often uses a "one size fits all" structure. The lack of flexibility to address different learning styles and pace.
- Disruption of work schedules where employees are pulled away from their job to complete their training, interfering with work productivity.
- Currency and applicability of material. Training materials can be challenging to maintain and may not reflect the latest and accurate information.
- Misalignment of job expertise. There is often a gap between the training material content and actual job knowledge.
How can organisations jumpstart employee learning to performance? The answer is to equip employees with job aids that empower faster transfer of learning and on-the-job competency to performance.
What is a job aid?
A job aid is a tool or resource which provides just the right level of task guidance, at the moment of need, as part of work. For example, a computer would not be a job aid. However, a software application such as a tutorial would be. In other words, it is a tool that employees use to access the information they need to perform their tasks quickly.
Benefits of using job aids
Job aids have many different configurations, including informal tools such as handwritten notes, pictures, diagrams, etc. They have evolved into computer-based versions which have more functionality than traditional handwritten notes, charts and figures.
Key advantages of using job aids include:
- Increase work productivity through the use of digital job aids. They save time by providing employees ready access to the right information when they need it. Employees become more empowered in carrying their job.
- Increase learning flexibility - provides more functionality than simple hardcopies of instructions and greater flexibility catering to different levels of user needs. The incorporation of videos and illustrations enhance the employees' learning experience.
- Greater clarity when performing the job - provides specific task-based instructions makes it quicker for employees to learn and retain task information needed.
- Support organisational change. Helps employees adapt to business changes by guiding them to re-learn critical tasks of their job more efficiently and effectively.
When to use job aids?
There are several situations that job aids can be particularly useful. For example:
- When a task is straightforward and repetitive, job aids speed up the work and remove ambiguity and reduces or eliminates chances of error.
- When a task is complicated, job aids can help to simplify or streamline parts of the task and brings greater clarity to employees to focus on essential aspects of the work.
- When organisational procedures, processes or performance targets are significantly changed, job aids can be used to "guide" employees to adopt the new way of doing things.
- When an employee needs consistent performance, job aids minimise changes that can cause problems later.
- When a work process requires voluminous documentation, job aids can track activities and generate reports.
Applying the right job aids
|Task or situation||Job Aid|
|· Where the task is a series of steps that must be in sequence (e.g. linear). · Where no decision making of the task required by the employee.||Step-by-step type · Represents information and directions in a sequence Example · Illustrated steps for handling and storing hazardous chemicals. Instructional videos.|
|· Where task completion is dependent on the answer given at each decision point. · Where several yes or no decisions are required in the job task and are not in a specific order.||Flowchart type · To guide the employee in the completion tasks, and decision making based on a set of conditions stipulated Example · Troubleshooting guide for equipment, process map|
|· Where task consists of steps that are completed in a specific order · Documentation needed to be used to complete the work.||Template types (Form, worksheet) · Guides employee through a process with recorded responses. Example Format and sample for work or calculations.|
|· Where task does not consist of steps to follow in a specific sequence. · Where task involves checking, observing or planning; and consistency is a critical factor of the work.||Checklist type · Represents a group of items to be checked for the task. Example List of items to be checked before departing the machine.|
|· Where task does not consist of steps to follow in a specific sequence · Where a task requires reference information versus performing a process or procedure.||Reference source type · Provide information required for completing a task. Example Digital searchable information listing or videos such as part catalogues, equipment specifications, analysis reports.|
Tips for designing job aids
What makes an effective job aid? The following table provides a summary of the considerations.
|Content and structure||Language||Visual elements|
|· Place the critical information in the first and final parts of the sentences or sections of the job aid. · Present the information concise and straightforward manner. · Use short sentences and short phrases to describe or list the steps, processes, calculations or decisions. · Ensure the content used is relevant and accurate. Use only the necessary steps or information required. · Minimise the 'nice-to-know' or 'good-to-have' information.||· Use the common language, practised at the workplace. · Avoid long, complicated words and jargon with exceptions to those technical terms relevant to the specific task. · Use verbs and action words, particularly when describing a task and the performance standard.||· Use simple designs of drawings, charts, graphics, diagrams and images to illustrate information for steps or concepts. · Maintain consistency in the style of visuals that are used. · The visuals elements used should complement and support the critical applications of the job aid.|
Technology advances have made job aids a valuable tool for sustainable learning and increased productivity. Job aids allow reduced time to competency development of an employee and complements are training methods used in the workplace. Today's digital job aids offer a versatile approach to learning and performing at work, and continue to play a huge part in organisations.
Johnson Wong is a Learning Strategist and Director of Empower Training and Consultancy Pte Ltd., where he provides services for clients in learning design, learning technology solutions (e-courses), business design, human capital development and training advisory.
Job aids speed up the work, remove ambiguity and reduces or eliminates chances of error