How do you use on-the-job training to your advantage? Following a few basic project-management guidelines will make all the difference.

With the explosion of growth in the voice/data/video market, cabling contractors are finding themselves beating the bushes for qualified workers. Unfortunately, the search can take weeks or months. When you finally find someone you have to put him or her to work right away - often without proper training.

This situation has forced many contractors to use on-the-job training to keep the jobs moving and avoid missing deadlines. Is this type of training for everyone? No. But as we've explained, in today's fast-paced environment you might not have a choice. The key with this type of training is to somehow transfer knowledge from a highly skilled, experienced worker to a new employee, while maintaining the productivity of both workers. Obviously, this is much easier said than done!

Let's consider some points that will help you better accomplish this task.

- Repetition. Don't expect a trainee to retain all of the information after you've taught it just once. This is seldom the case.

- Teaching over time. Every point you cover should be reviewed on numerous occasions, each at least several days apart. This is not a quick operation - it will take time. If you rush, you may drive the trainee away altogether.

- Ask questions. Have your student answer questions. This way, you can be sure the information has sunk in. Make sure you ask questions some time - preferably days - after you have taught the information. This will verify that the student has learned from the lesson. However, don't ask questions about things you haven't taught yet. This is intimidating, not helpful.

- Use graphics. Have your student draw pictures. Come up with varieties of installations, and especially variations on the installation you are involved with during the training.

- Encourage your student to ask questions. Your student should ask many questions. If questions aren't forthcoming, keep prodding your student. You must locate gaps in the student's knowledge.

- Work hard to communicate well. Try many ways of communicating with your student. Remove all the obstacles you can, such as noise and other distractions. Avoid thinking about other things while teaching. Teach slowly. It's better to be thorough with one idea, than to partially cover five concepts. Explain the same idea in a variety of ways.

- Spend some time before and after work. Remember, training is a big job, and you'll need to have some time that is dedicated to training and nothing else. Also, the things you talk about after work may be remembered far better than the things you cover while walking on the job site. If it's at all possible to go over the newly trained material after work, take advantage of the opportunity.

- Choose your student's tasks carefully. Make sure you don't throw your student into a job that he or she does not understand. The first time your student does something new, you should participate. The second time, you should look over your student's shoulder so that you can answer any questions or concerns.

Final words. On-the-job training is a tough job. Poor training potentially leads to lost productivity, damaged equipment, and reworked installations that can easily put you out of business.

This correspondence course is offered in conjunction with BICSI, but is not directly sponsored by the organization. The intent of the course is to help students prepare for the written portion of the BICSI Installer Registration Program. This BICSI program also requires hands-on training, which is outside the scope of this correspondence course. This course is also offered as continuing education for those already registered as a BICSI apprentice, installer, or technician.

Sidebar: What You Should Teach on the Job

Following are some important technical concepts you should convey to your trainees:

- Basic cabling techniques. Securing cables, pulling cables through raceways and trays, fire-stopping, protecting cables, locating outlets, and installing boxes.

- Basic termination techniques. Punching-down conductors, installing modular connectors, pairing of conductors under 568 and other standards.

- Basic cable and conductor identification. Explaining your company's specific marking schemes.

- Basic testing techniques. Wiremapping, attenuation, and cross-talk are just the beginning.

- Basic networking. Explaining how signals are transferred from one computer to another.

- Basic computer communications and software. Explaining computer language and concepts such as what an NIC card is, and how to install one.

- Basic digital telephony. Explaining ISDN, ADSL, and T1 lines, as well as points of demarcation, protectors, point-to-point lines vs. switched service, etc.