Ensuring that you have the right people in the right place at the right time is vital. After all, your people are what make up the organization. Part of making certain that the “right” people are in each position is training. There’s a little method to help make sure your team is firing on all cylinders. It’s called on-the-job training.
In many cases, employees are hired because of their existing skillset. That allows them to jump right in without missing a beat. However, that is not the only option available.
In many cases, promoting from within and filling existing positions with talent already in-house is a better option than hiring from outside. Doing so:
- Demonstrates loyalty to your current employees
- Reduces the time required to fill empty positions
- Cuts the costs associated with recruiting and onboarding
- Allows you to build your team over time and as you see fit
- Encourages employees to remain with your organization
However, how do you handle the skills gap? In many cases, a vacant position may require skills that other employees do not possess. How should organizations go about promoting from within if their current workforce does not have the skills necessary for the position?
Actually, the solution is simple – on-the-job training or OJT. In fact, OJT can be used for a broad range of needs, including cross-training, new-hire training, and much more. Unsure what on-the-job training is all about, how it works, or why it needs to be part of your organization? We will explore those topics and more below.
What’s OJT All About?
We will begin with the basics – what’s on-the-job training all about? Simply put, it’s right there in the name itself. OJT is training for a job within a normal work situation or setting.
It is a proven method of teaching employees new skills while they work the job itself. To some extent, it’s used virtually everywhere and in all positions. For instance, a new hire will need someone to show them around the office, where specific equipment is located (and sometimes how to use unfamiliar equipment) and the like. Formal on-the-job training simply takes things to a deeper level.
At heart, OJT is all about using existing people, tools, and equipment to impart skills, knowledge, and competencies to someone else. It has been used since the dawn of human history – think of apprentices learning from journeymen and master craftsmen. OJT should also be a central focus for modern organizations.
The Problem with Conventional Training
In many cases, training occurs within a formalized framework. It happens within a training facility, conference room, or classroom. While that might be good for cutting out distractions, it is bad for one reason: it creates a disconnect between the person being trained and the environment in which they will need to put their skills to work.
With conventional learning, employees are often required to master skills in theory, with little practical application. Or, if there is a practical application aspect, it is in a strictly controlled environment that resembles the employee’s workspace not at all. The challenge here is that this leads to challenges in actually applying what they have learned when it comes time. Everything is affected, from knowledge retention to familiarity with their work environment.
On-the-job training overcomes those challenges. It provides a hands-on, immediate way for employees to learn their responsibilities within the environment where those responsibilities will be carried out. That creates immediate familiarity with the unique conditions within the environment, from stressors like working with other team members to the need to move quickly to satisfy others, and much more.
OJT also leads to better knowledge retention because, rather than being something that employees are given, training becomes participatory. They are deeply involved in the training because it is their day-to-day experience. It’s not a classroom-based lesson, but the reality that they will live performing the duties they are currently learning.
How Effective Is On-the-Job Training?
Before making any large changes to your organization’s training regimen, it’s important to understand just how effective on-the-job training truly is. Why is that? According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it did just one thing – helped them in the learning process.
Now, that help can come in a wide range of ways. A modern learning management system (LMS) is critical, particularly for mandatory corporate training and other forms of upskilling. However, OJT is also an option that can provide capabilities that far exceed what can be accomplished alone through even the most advanced cloud-based LMS.
To be clear, your LMS has a central role to play in training. What’s more, your HR department can also be a strong element of your OJT initiative.
Benefits of OJT
We have touched on some advantages offered by on-the-job training, but to truly understand how critical OJT is to modern organizations, we must take a deeper dive into these benefits.
On-the-job training takes place on the job site. Therefore, it is automatically more realistic than other options, particularly theory-based learning in which an instructor speaks about topics and attempts to explain ideas and processes in a way that employees can understand. With OJT, employees see for themselves (and participate) in how processes work by being involved in them from the very beginning. They can master concepts faster because they can see (and experience) those concepts as they are put to use. It’s all about removing one of the (several) barriers that stand between learners and mastery of the material being taught.
How much does your company spend on formal training? How much of that cost could be reduced with on-the-job training initiatives? These are much more cost-effective than paying for classroom-based training or other instructor-led learning because there are no special tools, equipment, or materials to purchase, and no instructor to hire. The employee learns right in the workplace, using existing materials and equipment. And in most cases, training is provided by another employee, which brings with it additional benefits.
It Builds Relationships
In instructor-led learning, employees are taught and then released into the work environment. They have no opportunity to meet and get to know anyone with whom they will be working. However, with on-the-job training, they will learn by working with the people they will be spending time with every day during the normal course of their duties. This helps build stronger relationships faster than would otherwise be possible. Not only does it help foster employee-employee relationships, but it also helps establish trainers as authorities within the particular department, which lends them authority and builds trust.
It Is Simpler to Arrange
How much time and effort goes into arranging instructor-led training? Chances are good you spend a great deal of time trying to find a trainer in the first place. Then you might have to arrange for a venue if you cannot hold the training within your business, schedule time for people to attend, and more. A great deal of time, effort, and cost goes into even basic training experiences. With OJT, much of that goes away. You will rely on your existing resources – equipment, material, people, and space. In fact, on-the-job training can (and will) happen every single day without the need to find a trainer, a training facility, or make a single change to employee schedules.
It Saves You Money Over Time
How much does your company spend on onboarding and new hire training? If your organization is like most, it’s a significant amount. While OJT won’t eliminate your need to hire people, it can have a positive effect on the lifetime costs of training.
With on-the-job training and a focus on promoting from within, you build a more loyal workforce, which reduces turnover. Lower employee turnover results in decreased recruiting, onboarding, and training-related costs. That also results in better overall productivity, as reduced turnover means less time spent allowing new hires to learn the ropes and get up to speed.
It Helps Cement You as an Employer of Choice
Organizations must establish strong reputations as employers of choice. Today’s workers are empowered – they will actively seek out the best employers first. Therefore, if you want to ensure that you attract top-tier talent, you must be a top-tier employer. Increasingly, those employers promote from within and offer their employees robust options for self-improvement (training/L&D).
As you can see, there are many advantages to OJT. However, some potential drawbacks must be considered before implementing an on-the-job training strategy.
Benefits of OJT for Employees
The advantages discussed above are largely employer-focused. It’s important to establish those, as the employer will be responsible for instituting OJT programs and footing the bill here. However, there are important benefits for employees, as well. These not only make the company an appealing place to work but speak directly to the employee experience. Some of the benefits OJT offers employees include the following:
- Paid Training – In the past, employees were often responsible for paying for their own training, but with OJT, that training is covered by the employer. Not only does that benefit the employee monetarily, but because the training is worked into their schedule, they have fewer claims on their already-short time.
- Skill Development – Employees actively want to learn and grow. OJT provides a defined path to achieving exactly that. It ensures that they can develop new skills, find more enjoyment in their daily activities, and even pursue new career paths.
- Teamwork – Employers want employees to work as a team, but employees also find value in the arrangement. With OJT, employees form stronger bonds and create deeper relationships than they would otherwise be able to do in the same amount of time.
Potential Drawbacks with On-the-Job Training
While on-the-job training is highly beneficial, cost-effective, affordable, and results in both better knowledge retention and a better employee/position fit, there are considerations that you must make when implementing such a strategy.
Who Will Coach?
One of the first considerations will be who you will assign to coach employees as they learn their responsibilities. Whomever you choose will likely need to have their own schedule reworked to some extent to provide additional time for the required training. Decide how much time the individual will need to allot for training and then find ways to work that into their schedule. It may be necessary to have some of their regular responsibilities covered by other employees. Cross-training provides the redundancy necessary to ensure this occurs seamlessly.
There’s Still a Productivity Lag
New hires routinely suffer from a productivity lag during the time they are getting acquainted with their role and responsibilities. OJT does not completely eliminate that, although it can streamline and reduce it to a considerable degree. However, decision-makers need to realize that there will still be some productivity lag while new employees (or those new to a particular position) learn the ropes and complete their training. Some managers may be tempted to shorten the training period to get the employee up to 100% productivity as quickly as possible, but this should be avoided. It can lead to shortfalls in training and result in less than complete results.
Mistakes Will Happen
One of the most challenging things for decision-makers and managers to come to grips with is the fact that mistakes and errors will happen. Not only will they happen, but they will occur during regular activities, rather than during “safe” training periods. This is an unavoidable offshoot of on-the-job training.
However, if you have built the right corporate culture, one that is tolerant of mistakes and treats them as a crucial part of the innovation process, it becomes easier to roll with the punches, so to speak. The way to handle inevitable errors and mistakes is to 1) understand that they will happen and there is no need for punitive action and 2) have a plan in place to accommodate any resulting rework requirements.
OJT versus Formal Training
A great deal of focus has been placed on diploma/certificate/degree programs in the past couple of decades. Does the rise of OJT supersede formal training? How does on-the-job training stack up to formal training options?
On-the-job training is a critical consideration that can result in many benefits. However, it does not necessarily replace formal learning. Instead, it should be used to augment it. For instance, earning a pilot’s license requires both theory and practical, hands-on training. The same is true for CPR, operating print/bind equipment, or driving a forklift.
The best training program will combine both formal and on-the-job training to create a cohesive development plan that builds up employees, helps create a flexible workforce, and ensures that employees are good at doing what they are supposed to be doing (hands-on, OJT), but also understand why things are done the way they are (theory and formal training).
Types of OJT
When you think about on-the-job training, what comes immediately to mind? Organizations can actually pursue this type of training in many ways. There is no “right” way – it varies from organization to organization and even from situation to situation. What works correctly for one role may not work well at all for another. It helps to understand the various approaches to OJT here.
Structured or Unstructured?
While the discussion of structured versus unstructured training probably conjures up images of the formal versus on-the-job training argument, the truth is that OJT can be either structured or unstructured.
Structured – A structured OJT initiative provides a lot of benefits. It ensures that you have a plan for how an employee will progress through training for the various responsibilities they will have in the position. This can include things like flowcharts, checklists, details about who will supervise various stages of training, and more. However, while it offers structure and guidance, it isn’t as flexible as some organizations require.
Unstructured – Unstructured OJT is the opposite of the structured approach. In this situation, an employee might shadow another one as they go through their duties, rather than having any sort of formal training, so to speak. It lacks the rigidity and defined nature that stem from having checklists and charts, and it can sometimes lack accountability. However, it can work quite well for several roles, most of which do not require highly-specialized skills.
Standalone OJT versus Blended Learning
In addition to the structured/unstructured argument, you also need to consider whether to pursue standalone OJT or if blended learning might be a better fit for the situation.
Standalone – Will on-the-job training be enough to ensure the employee has the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their role? If the role is not all that complicated, this may be an excellent, time-efficient approach. However, it may not be the right fit for roles with more specialized or complex needs.
Blended Learning – Blended learning combines formal training with on-the-job training and is the better fit for roles where specialized skills are necessary, or where complex operations are the norm. Blended learning can include a broad range of training types, from job shadowing to mentoring to training with your LMS to classroom-based learning and everything in between.
Which of these methods is right for your organization? There is rarely a single option that works for all positions within a business. Most employers must decide on a case-by-case or role-by-role basis, as what works well within one position may be poorly suited to another. Factors to consider when deciding on structured OJT versus unstructured, or standalone OJT versus blended learning include the following:
- The complexity of the tasks to be performed
- Specialization of the skills needed
- Safety-related considerations
- Whether the position requires both practical and theoretical knowledge
Who Should Train?
One important benefit of on-the-job training is the flexibility it offers. That extends to your choice of trainers. In fact, anyone and everyone within your organization can become a trainer – everyone has something that they excel at.
Keeping training within your organization also offers many important benefits, including:
- In-house trainers understand company culture in a way that outside trainers cannot.
- In-house trainers understand your company’s unique structure.
- In-house trainers can tap into shared experiences to drive home important lessons.
- In-house trainers can show employees that training is taken seriously, particularly if senior managers are deployed as trainers.
- In-house trainers can work with employees in a broad range of ways, including group instruction, shadowing, mentoring, and much more.
- In-house trainers are familiar with your company’s goals and the work environment in ways that an outside trainer will never be.
So, who should train? Your managers should be trained to be trainers, but your employees should also take an active role in on-the-job training for one another.
The Importance of Tracking On-the-Job Training
OJT offers potent benefits. However, it is not enough to simply create a plan and then move forward. As with all other talent development-related efforts, it is important to know where each employee begins and how they progress forward. Tracking on-the-job training performance and progress is critical. It can be challenging, though.
Not only must you track progress, but you must also document an employee’s knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitude before beginning OJT. Will the employee benefit from the training? Is the employee well-suited to the position? Do they have the aptitude required for the task and responsibilities?
Tying It All Together
Ultimately, on-the-job training is a critical tool that offers major benefits for both employees and employers. However, it is not as simple as letting employees “sink or swim” while learning the ropes in a new position. To achieve success here, employers must take a measured, informed approach, have an understanding of what type of OJT is best for each position in the organization, and can track employees before, during, and after training.
At eLeaP, our cloud-based LMS delivers powerful tracking and analytics and dovetails with virtually any on-the-job training requirements you might have. Contact us today to learn more about eLeaP or how we can support your OJT initiatives.