Smart technology enables us to access just about anything on-demand — whether it’s the news, the weather forecast, our favorite stores or our closest friends. With advances in workplace technology, the same on-demand function is increasingly applied to employee training programs.
Using a “micro” approach to job training, organizations across industries are saving time, money and resources by enabling employees to access task-specific training materials at any time and learn on the job. Here, we discuss the methods and reasoning behind “just-in-time” training, as well as its proven benefits.
What Is Just-in-Time Training?
In a manufacturing setting, the phrase “just-in-time” typically refers to an approach to production. Just-in-time (or JIT for short) manufacturing is the practice of producing only enough goods to meet demand, rather than producing a surplus of goods in anticipation of future demand. JIT manufacturing can save on production and inventory costs, streamline operations, reduce lead times and increase speed to market.
Just-in-time workplace training, therefore, refers to employees seeking and receiving training only when they need it, not before and not in excess amounts. The idea is borrowed from the Toyota Corporation’s philosophy of lean manufacturing, wherein “each process produces only what is needed for the next process in a continuous flow.”
It helps to think of JIT training as training “on demand” — giving employees access to only the information they need exactly when they need it. In day-to-day life, this could be compared to looking something up on your smartphone: someone asks what the weather will be like tomorrow, you type “weather” and your location into your browser app and you have the information right in front of you in seconds.
In the workplace, JIT training resources can take the form of:
- Quick-reference guides
- Online tutorials
- Interactive modules
- Visual job aids (like diagrams)
- Real-time guidance from mentors or subject matter experts
The format of these resources depends on the specific workplace, industry, available technology or the presence of trainers. Regardless, the information should be highly accessible, concise, easy to understand quickly and specific to the task at hand.
Of course, not every part of an employee’s training can or should be formatted for JIT; foundational occupational knowledge, specialized skills, safety protocols and compliance rules are a few examples of training that should be covered at length by more traditional programs.
Benefits of Just-in-Time Training
JIT training can help lean organizations meet their goals of eliminating waste and optimizing their existing resources — including their employees’ time and talents. Organizations in the manufacturing industry and beyond experience the following benefits of just-in-time training.
- Process standardization: If all employees are accessing the same training program, they receive the same information — variation is practically nonexistent. Standardizing processes leads to faster onboarding times, higher productivity, fewer product defects and a more competent and confident workforce.
- Greater availability and flexibility: Many professional development courses are offered on a predetermined schedule, or only when the class has enough participants. With JIT training, there’s no need to wait weeks or months for the next available class. Whether the training is delivered through quick reference guides or online tutorials, it’s possible to train employees from anywhere on any timeline.
- More efficient use of time: Taking short courses via the internet and mobile devices frees up more of employees’ time to do their actual jobs. If employees can learn on the job, that’s time and effort that would have been lost or delayed if they needed to sit in a classroom or at a computer for an hour or more during the workday.
- Greater accuracy: With immediately accessible training information, employees can perform their jobs more accurately with fewer mistakes. Preventing rework is a top goal for many organizations when they invest in training — and since it helps employees do the job right the first time, JIT training has a direct impact on the bottom line.
- Faster updates: This applies to both digital and physical JIT training materials. Since JIT training modules are meant to be short and bite-sized, making updates can be as simple as adding a new page or editing the digital learning management system (LMS). This avoids the significant investment of time and money required to update entire training manuals when they become outdated and ensures the content stays relevant and timely.
- Improved knowledge retention: There is such a thing as not having enough room in your brain for more information. Knowledge retention is our ability to hold on to new information, and it starts to decline the more content we’re asked to digest at once. JIT training dispenses with any extraneous information by providing only what employees need in a given moment, improving the chances of knowledge retention and reducing the risk of information overload.
- Higher employee engagement: Feeling unsupported at work is a major factor in employees becoming disengaged from their jobs. With JIT training tools, employees are empowered to access the information they need, without feeling adrift, ignored or impatient while waiting for a busy manager or supervisor to make time for them.
- Better operational performance: Since JIT training materials cut down on training time and are often accessed on the job, employees can focus on improving their performance rather than committing long procedures to memory. This helps to cultivate a mindset of creative problem-solving and continuous improvement, rather than simply following standard operating procedures on autopilot.
How to Utilize Just in Time Training
Successful JIT training requires matching the proper tools and resources to the types of learners in your workforce, all while coaching and reinforcing a culture of improvement. The following are several best practices for designing, implementing and utilizing a JIT approach to training.
- Create a culture of learning: In a culture of learning, training is not treated as a separate process, but rather an integral aspect of the business itself. Maintaining an active learning and improvement culture — even outside of the training process — is one of the best ways to produce better business results, both qualitative and quantitative.
- Use the right technology: Responsive technology makes a significant difference in the success of JIT training methods. The courses and LMS (if used) need to be compatible with multiple devices and platforms, such as laptops and mobile devices, so learners can access them from anywhere.
- Targeted toward learners: Content for just-in-time learning methods should be short, concise and highly relevant. For content to be most effective, it should be developed using data from employee engagement surveys, focus group discussions and on-the-job observations to understand what learners need.
- Provide social support: The asynchronous nature of JIT learning can risk some employees falling behind or being left out of collective knowledge. The LMS should enable employees to contact their peers, consult subject matter experts and access training coaches for extra support at any time.
Examples of Just in Time Training
While the JIT approach may not be appropriate for all types of training, it is highly effective in a broad range of applications and industries.
- A sales representative needs to access product information. A customer inquires about a product that a sales rep is unfamiliar with, or asks for information the rep does not know off the top of their head. With access to a JIT LMS, this employee can use a mobile device to search the company database for the appropriate information or a corresponding short course — providing them with the right information, at the right place, at the right time, and increasing the company’s value to the customer.
- An IT professional is informed of a massive software update. With limited time to prepare and only a vague familiarity with the updating process, the technician can review a short video or visual aid that explains how to manage the update step by step. JIT training can also provide troubleshooting help for common issues.
- A healthcare worker discusses medication with a patient. While JIT training is used less often in healthcare, it can help with quick references in the exam room. When recommending a new medication to a patient, a nurse practitioner can review the potential side effects in the LMS, note any drug interactions, compare similar pharmaceuticals or brands and even consult best practices for addressing sensitive health matters.
- A newly hired field worker heads out on their first call. JIT training tools can include field service equipment lists to ensure workers have everything they need before each call. Once in the field, a worker may encounter scenarios that were not addressed in their initial onboarding. Using their mobile device, they can troubleshoot, answer client questions, access product information or even review tutorials for specific tasks or scenarios.
In addition to using machine learning and robotics to handle certain aspects of the production process, an increasing number of manufacturing organizations are relying on technology to enhance their employee training programs. Not only does it save time and resources, but JIT training tools empower employees to seek answers for themselves and develop a mindset of problem-solving and resourcefulness on the job.
Along with our world-renowned training methods, the TWI Institute is now leveraging industry-leading training software from Dozuki to amplify our programs’ success. Dozuki’s easy-to-use JIT training materials include step-by-step job instructions, equipment and materials lists, process photos or videos and even analytical tools to help employees identify opportunities for improvement. Where JIT training is not sufficient, our master trainers can bridge the gap between self-directed training and personalized, task-specific instruction, embodied in the TWI Job Instruction method.
To learn more about this amplified training program or to request a demo, reach out to the TWI Institute team today.