Where The Tire Meets the Runway: OJT in Aviation Maintenance
What is on-the-job training (OJT,) and what differentiates it from other forms of maintenance coursework like formal aircraft maintenance initial coursework? The primary difference between OJT and other methods of training is the hands-on practice, while most other methods rely on a theoretical approach. This is not to say these other methods are impractical. They can be, but OJT is definitely “where the tire meets the runway.”
Advisory Circular 145-10 Repair Station Training Program defines on-the-job training as: “knowledge obtained while participating in accomplishing the task under the direction of a qualified person or watching another demonstrate a task or activity, and then accomplishing the same action under supervision until satisfactory results are obtained.”
AC 145-10 further describes on-the-job training as: “an effective method of training for subject matter and tasks that are difficult to understand if described or for which demonstration of capability is essential to correct completion.”
These statements basically indicate OJT has a hands-on aspect. In other words, OJT is a superior method for teaching complicated task steps that are hard to explain apart from participating in doing the task.
This formal definition is wise for all to consider so that we better understand the appropriate place and context of on-the-job training. This appropriateness is even more important today in a world that seems to desire that all training be accomplished online, on-demand and on an individual basis.
Sometimes organizations forget about the other costs involved, such as the cost of compromise in both quality and quantity of learning. OJT has its proper place within the aviation industry, and it should not be short changed. Many times, the best avenue of training in aviation maintenance is as a one-on-one basis or within the framework of a small team. There are times where any other training approach is insufficient alone, with no hands-on experience. Sometimes anything else merely sets people up for failure, which can often lead to catastrophic consequences, while the organization washes their hands of the event by pointing to the operator at the controls saying, “After all, did we not train them?”
Importance of OJT
How important is OJT? This question is worthwhile to ask since how we respond will greatly determine our priority for a particular training method to be implemented over another. If we view OJT as cumbersome, labor intensive and slowing productivity, then we may be more inclined to choose some other way that is quicker, easier and cheaper to administer — but is quicker, easier and cheaper necessarily the best path? If we view OJT as an opportunity to exercise team building, employer stewardship and employee investment, then we may find more incentive to perform additional OJT, and maybe even take it more seriously. OJT can become a lucrative training option that can reap great dividends for individuals and their organizations.
OJT is the backbone of the average technician’s training structure, providing the supporting structure that connects real hands-on, empirical-based training with other means of formal training. OJT also serves as a final knot that cinches tight the technician’s sum of all other training, knowledge, skills and experience attained up to that point. OJT being performed should become an act that expresses the level of professionalism and integrity of the trainer, trainee and the greater organization. OJT should be important because it is important.
14 CFR §65.81 General Privileges & Limitations
This regulation provides some good direction for those involved in aircraft maintenance, particularly for the certificated mechanic.
A certificated mechanic MAY NOT supervise the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alteration of, or approve and return to service, any aircraft or appliance, or part thereof, for which he/she is rated unless he/she has satisfactorily performed the work concerned at an earlier date.
A certificated mechanic MAY NOT exercise the privileges of his/her certificate and rating unless he/she understands the current instructions of the manufacturer and the maintenance manuals for the specific operation concerned!
In other words, the knowing is in the doing. This criteria is clearly not always met for every job task, since NTSB accident reports have listed misunderstood maintenance instructions as a probable causal factor in more than one recent major aircraft accident. [For certificated repairmen privileges and limitations, refer to 14 CFR §65.103.]
What Guidance Is There for OJT?
Consider the ramifications of 14 CFR §65.81, then invest time in thoroughly reading AC 145-10. This Advisory Circular recommends that training programs be standardized and use approved and/or acceptable data from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) maintenance manuals. In the same vein, any instructions for continued airworthiness, airworthiness directive, service bulletin, service letter compliance and referenced tooling and equipment would also be creditable ingredients.
The OJT process should document the person’s performance demonstrated during their ability to accomplish the skill or task, and whether the result was either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The same training process should be used and documented every time. The organization should ensure all OJT policies are adhered to and consistent for every training event.
Resources for OJT
There are ample resources readily available at little to no cost. Visit your local library to find books and videos on the subject of mentoring, apprenticeship and on-the-job training. Ask a librarian for assistance in finding additional materials. Search the Internet for additional knowledge, ideas or useful tools regarding on-the-job training, mentorship or apprenticeship. Solicit input from others at professional workshops or seminars. Seek out assistance from other aviation professionals and/or consultants. In many instances, time and trouble can be saved by enlisting the aid of a professional consultant who is experienced in technical instruction and familiar with the needs of the aviation maintenance industry. Bounce ideas on this matter off of instructors at a nearby aviation maintenance technician school. Many aviation maintenance technical instructors should be able to aid you in your OJT endeavor, since they are already familiar with lesson plans, syllabi and curriculum records. Resources already exist and are available. Use them.
Importance of Recording OJT
A renewed appreciation for the act and purpose of OJT does not necessarily mean we find it valuable enough to keep records of it. The regulation (14 CFR §65.81) does not explain how OJT must be documented (or even if it has to be documented), but then, how else do you determine technician capability (competence) prior to job task assignment to ensure compliance of 14 CFR §65.81? Do owners, operators and repair stations have a responsibility to verify that sufficient hands-on OJT actually took place, especially in a world of wholesale outsourcing of aircraft maintenance?
OJT Recording System
Predominate factors in choosing a recording system should be practicality and adequacy – does the process work and is it sufficient? These two terms (practicality and adequacy) are helpful in describing what a good OJT recordkeeping program ought to look like. Practicality refers to “is it doable?” Adequacy refers to “does it meet the level of need or requirement?” OJT recordkeeping must be adequate for both the organization and individuals concerned, for each of their respective purposes. For OJT to be documented regularly, its recordkeeping process must be trouble-free to carry out, with as little hassle as possible, and such documentation should be mandated by company policy.
The documenting system developed for OJT should be simple, clear, concise and to the point (like any good logbook entry). OJT records should say what they mean and mean what they say. OJT records or cards should provide sufficient details to explain the level of the OJT task that took place.
“Oh brother, are you telling me I should run out and purchase one of those AMT Logbooks so I can notate each and every job I am trained to perform or supervise?” Perhaps, if you and your organization do not already have a formal means of documenting OJT events (i.e. lone A&P technician working as a contractor for a flying club or other noncertificated facility). Consider purchasing an AMT Logbook for OJT proof if you get furloughed and decide to continue working as an independent contractor between intervals of employment at certificated repair stations. This will provide evidence of active engagement within the aviation maintenance occupation and proof of any additional training acquired. If working as an independent contractor, how do you show potential clients your on-the-job training that qualifies you to work on their aircraft?
If you already work for a certificated repair station, then ask about getting copies of all your company-sponsored training events, including OEM training, vendor training and OJT events (of which you should already be keeping track). Given the true nature of being an AMT in this current economy, it is hard to expect to work for a single employer through to retirement. Therefore, in the event of moving to another position somewhere else, wouldn’t it be nice to provide records of all your training? Just as with aircraft records, if you want to get full price for your wares, you had better strive to keep much of your training documentation and keep it well organized. Remember, job losses rarely come with forewarning. When your security badge no longer works is the wrong time to begin thinking about making copies of training records (because you never thought you needed them before).
All repair stations should have sufficient OJT documentation as evidence of their conformance with 14 CFR §65.81 (and §65.103 for repairmen). Another reason for repair stations to keep these kinds of records is that it’s a good (and smart) thing to do, especially since the first thing many folks say when caught doing something wrong is, “I wasn’t properly trained!” Was their training ever documented? Think about the liability of a negligence tort brought on by an aircraft owner/operator when something wasn’t done right. If queried about staff competencies, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to show what training a worker attained?
There are a couple reasons for an organization to keep archived records of personnel (even if they are no longer employed by your organization):
• Most claim litigations (lawsuits) go to trial years after the accident/incident event. Hence, firing an errant employee after an accident/incident is little compensation for a subsequent need to present sufficient evidence of the individual’s training and performance at the time of the accident/incident event. The FAA’s two-year recommendation of keeping training records will most likely be inappropriate for most organizations and individuals; these training records should be viewed as essential credentials of knowledge, experience and expertise.
• The return of a former employee — someone who was furloughed earlier and then returns when filling a new position. This saves needless time and energy of having to recreate a filethat was already in existence.
A “Good” OJT Program Is Well Planned
For training to be effective, it must be structured, organized and consistent. These qualities require two special components: a good training plan (policies and procedures) and a good mentorship program (investment in those who conduct OJT sessions). A well-documented plan should exist to spell out how OJT events will unfold and what the expectations are for both trainer and trainee. This plan should already be within the organization’s Repair Station Training Program Manual for current certificated repair stations. A good OJT plan should have a method of recording each OJT event accomplished, complete with results. Some record vehicle must exist to substantiate that pertinent training was indeed completed, and completed successfully.
Per AC 145-10, training information recommended to be provided on training records should include:
• Course title or description
• Course objective
• Date training was completed
• Test results (i.e., by percentage, pass or fail)
• Total hours of training received
• Location of the training event
• Name of instructor and/or instructor qualifications
• Signature of employee
Other helpful items recommended, in addition to those listed above, include:
• References to technical data used (i.e., maintenance manual chapter and subchapter, task number, item code, job card, etc.), and any special instructions (i.e., instructions for continued airworthiness, airworthiness directives, service bulletins, service letters, etc.)
• Listing of any special tooling and equipment used, such as calibrated devices (i.e. nondestructive testing/inspection equipment)
• Comments/remarks block for trainer and/or trainee (this provides a vehicle to enter any other pertinent information with respect to the training episode, which either the instructor or learner may deem of value); this also offers the opportunity to place any restrictions and/or limitations upon learner qualification, particularly for instances where staged levels of achievement may be required
• Trainer-trainee agreement statements (this is vital for mutual confirmation of both competence and confidence for the trainer and the learner)
“The trainer signature certifies the indicated training was satisfactorily completed, and the employee is released to perform all intended job functions, processes and procedures directly related to said training per appropriate technical data.” This instructor statement serves as a means of accountability for the trainer, whereby they assume responsibility for the quality and thoroughness of the training episode. This includes all aspects of testing and performance measurement of the learner as well.
“The learner signature certifies the indicated training has been adequately received and said individual is now capable and competent to work on the same job task item trained. If, for any reason, the technician does not feel they have mastered a level of knowledge and proficiency required to properly complete the task, the technician must notify his/her supervisor, so the required training may be sought from an authorized individual.” As with the instructor agreement statement, this learner statement serves as a means of accountability for the one trained, whereby they assume responsibility for their capability and competence necessary to perform the task for which they were trained. This also serves as an expression of their confidence of their own abilities and skills required to perform the indicated task properly and completely, without fail.
Expectations must be explicit, clearly defined, objective, measureable and reasonable. One tool for sample performance expectations is the FAA Aviation Mechanic Practical Test Standards. In a time where lean seems to rule, individuals are often set up to fail in their work (whether any executive management team chooses to believe this or not). This is commonly typified as unrealistic objectives that are vague and unclear at best. Some individuals view these fuzzy demands as loopholes of responsibility and accountability, falsely believing this somehow takes them off the hook. Without clear goals from the outset, subsequent training can frequently become haphazard and confusing, leading to extreme frustration for both the one teaching and the one being taught.
The role of the Mentor
A formal plan should be instituted to build-up successful mentors, complete with a succession plan to bring other junior employees up through the ranks. A solid mentoring program creates a medium whereby senior mentors pass their teaching batons on to more junior mentors, prior to moving on to management ranks or another duty assignment, the goal being an enduring legacy of succession.
Becoming and being a mentor should be an honor. Not just anyone should be a mentor. Being a mentor should mean something as a matter of pride and self-accomplishment. It should never be a “who wants to train this new guy (or gal)” kind of thing, especially if we recognize the importance of accurate job accomplishment for the future.
There is more to mentoring effectively than just knowing a particular model of aircraft or system. Many of us have either experienced or observed an occasion where someone was very talented and knowledgeable as a technician, yet they neither had the patience nor the skills required to impart this same knowledge and talent to someone else.
Every mentor must be qualified, certified and authorized to perform the same action they are about to train another on. It is important to keep in mind any recurrent requirements which must be met; just because a person may have done a job a long time ago doesn’t necessary mean they can teach someone else how to perform the task adequately without a substantial review of the job task at hand.
The mentor should be knowledgeable, experienced and well versed in the task prior to training someone else in how to perform the job. A more
subtle quality of a good mentor is approachability and willingness to share knowledge. Another facet that is many times ignored is that a good mentor/trainer not only needs to know how to do the job right, but also how it is typically done wrong, as well as of all pitfalls that might snare the unsuspecting one being trained.
It isn’t enough to know how to do the job properly; a good mentor/trainer must be a superior and thorough communicator to interface with another throughout the complete OJT process. There is more to OJT than merely telling someone how to do the job. Being a good mentor means reading the other person’s body language. Is the learner engaged? Do they show signs of agreement and confirmation of what is being taught? Do they seem puzzled, confused or distracted? Being a good mentor also means asking the right questions for confirmation and validation that knowledge transfer has indeed occurred.
A good mentor uses appropriate judgment and discernment on the capabilities demonstrated by the one being trained. This means knowing how far to let the learner continue and sometimes even allowing them to make a mistake (depending on the circumstance). Mistakes can sometimes make for excellent teaching moments, but know the lines that should never be crossed. It is important to care for the learner by not allowing them to tread in water that is too deep (sometimes even when they think they already know how to swim). Respect, integrity and ethical behavior should be universal staples of all good instructors/trainers/mentors.
Tips for a “Good” OJT Program
Keep the OJT form/record as simple as possible. If you know what you want, but have difficulty in creating forms using word processing software, then solicit help from an administrative associate. Figure 1 is an example of a simple form created on MS Word. It contains all the recommendations offered in AC 145-10 Repair Station Training Program. There are a few aspects included that make this straightforward form both workable and versatile. Probably the best is the use of pull-down menus (denoted by the yellow highlighting) for consistent information that does not require any typing. Text fields (denoted by the red boxes) are installed for typing specific information which does not lend itself easily for pull-down menus.
The General Indoctrination and Technical Training lines have two separate pull-down menus each. The first item options for both General Indoctrination and Technical Training include Initial, Recurrent and Other.
The second item options for the General Indoctrination line include: Regulatory Requirement, Company Policy/Procedure/Practice, General Hazardous Material (DOT), General Occupational Safety (OSHA), General Environment Protection (EPA), Maintenance Human Factors, Maintenance Computer System/Software, Facility Security and Other.
The second item options for the Technical Training line include: Specialized or Advanced Technical Training, Remedial Technical Training and Other.
The Method of Training section has options that include: Formal Classroom, On-the-Job Training (OJT), Computer-Based Training, Distance Learning, Embedded Training and Other (Self-Study, Case Study, Seminar). A text field is also provided for any additional notes for more information or clarification, especially regarding the “Other” option if selected.
The Source of Training section has options that include: Vendor/Original Equipment Mfr. (OEM), Aviation Maintenance Technician School (Part 147), Operator/Other Repair Station, Government Agency, Trade Association and Other. A text field is provided to identify the respective entity. For instance, for the “Vendor/Original Equipment Mfr. (OEM)” option, the training entity might be “Billy Bob’s Aircraft School Inc.”
The Training Information Block sections have text fields for information that is typed in. These items include: Employee Name/No., Course Title/Description, Course Objective, References Used, Special Tooling/Equipment Used, Date Completed, Grade/Results, Total Hours, Location, Instructor, and Additional Notes/Remarks/Comments. There is also a box to check if a certificate was issued by the training entity. Note the trainer-trainee OJT “clarification” statement, as previously mentioned.
Relevant information may be completed easily on the form. Then the form cvan be printed for instructor signature and learner signature. A photocopy of the completed form may be provided to the employee and the original form can then be filed in the employee’s training file for later review. Here is an opportunity to save money, paper and even space. Rather than making a copy of every training certificate and every record of training form, consider scanning the images by using the scanning option on your copier. These images can then be filed electronically in folders and subfolders, just as you would do with a physical hardcopy.
Thomas Shecker is President and Senior Consultant of Expert Aerospace Solutions LLC, a multi-discipline consulting agency specializing in aviation problem solving. The firm, established in 2010, engineers technical and non-technical responses to several issues experienced within the aerospace industry, such as safety, compliance, training and quality interventions. Thomas may be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.