When employees grow, their company grows too. Given it takes just six months for a new employee to decide if they’re in it for the long haul, you may find that your organisation is in a never-ending battle against employee attrition.
On-the-job training is one of the best ways to attract and retain highly skilled (and happy) employees. It’s also one of the easiest ways to upskill employees in the workplace, and is a highly flexible process that can be framed around day-to-day activities.
So just how can you design an effective and successful on-the-job program, and why should you? We examine the different types of on-the-job training, how they’re beneficial, and how you can implement it in your organisation in this blog.
What is on-the-job training?
On-the-job training is a hands-on method of teaching the skills, knowledge and behaviours (aka capabilities) needed for a specific job role. It differs from a baptism of fire (being thrown off the deep end with no preparation) or learning by experience (an organic process that happens in and outside the workplace) in that it is a pre-planned, intentional form of learning.
It’s used so that employees understand the context these capabilities will be used in—negating the need for any tools that aid in transferring learning and development to the workplace. It usually takes place in the course of an employee’s day-to-day environment, often while they perform actual tasks.
Why is on-the-job training important?
The first and more obvious reason on-the-job training is a vital component of workplace training and development is the minimal outlay needed. You’re not paying for seminars, conferences, travel, guest speakers, or the days off work employees might need for these things. There’s then no lag between what is learned and when it is applied, which could result in key pieces of information being forgotten or possibly misremembered and therefore applied incorrectly.
Basically, on-the-job training is so advantageous because:
- It’s easily and immediately applicable
- It’s cost-effective
- It saves time and increases productivity
- It’s flexible
- It lends itself to social learning.
On-the-job training is also easily introduced into the workplace, provided you understand what your employees need and what training resources you already have available.
Types of on-the-job training
As discussed, on-the-job training is not simply learning how to do one’s job. It’s a specific training initiative that intertwines day-to-day activities with learning new skills, knowledge and behaviours.
It takes two forms: structured and unstructured. The former uses planned instructional materials to guide employees to master new capabilities that they can then apply in the workplace. The latter is more free-form and is usually dictated by feedback and suggestions that another party provides.
For example, some types of structured on-the-job training include:
- Stretch assignments
- Capability development plans.
Unstructured approaches lean more towards coaching and peer-to-peer learning—basically learning that happens somewhat naturally within the flow of work.
Specifically useful for new recruits, coaching offers a positive team- and goal-based approach to training. Coaching generally ties the work of an individual contributor to the team and wider business while seeking to comprehensively train employees in their specific tasks. Coaches can be a manager or team member, but a key part of this type of training is that it is delivered one-on-one.
Consider coaching if…
You want to acclimatise an employee into the office culture and increase their confidence in meeting organisational expectations.
As opposed to the one-way flow of information in a coaching environment, mentoring is a reciprocal form of training where:
- A more senior employee imparts knowledge and technical training to a newer employee.
- The support provided by the senior employee helps set the tone for communication, which both mentor and mentee can utilise in future interactions.
Mentoring works best when catch ups are regularly scheduled and the mentor and mentee are fairly matched on role, expertise, career path/aspirations, and personality. It’s also an excellent way to more clearly demonstrate career pathways for employees, promoting retention and encouraging self-motivation.
Consider mentoring if…
Employees have career aspirations but need certain attitudes, experience and skills to be developed and nurtured.
The practice of moving a new employee through several different roles is a mainstay of graduate programs. It gives new recruits an array of experience, trains them in a variety of capabilities, and helps both employers and employees realise where the latter’s strengths are best utilised.
Job rotations also help spotlight the team dynamics and points of contacts in different departments, which is important for inter-departmental relationships. Hot tip: providing job rotations for employees who are experiencing a career plateau can help to revive waning engagement.
Consider rotations if…
Your organisation wants to cross-train employees (and is looking for a cost-effective way to do so).
One of the most popular aids to on-the-job training today, eLearning pathways are guided method of learning. The most effective development plans match capabilities to learning content, to offer a truly contextual learning experience. This is a key element of our first-of-its-kind performance learning management system (PLMS). Designed to guide learners step by step through the capabilities needed to succeed in their roles, Acorn PLMS enables you to collect tangible evidence of behaviour change post-learning.
You’re then sure that training design is impactful, both to employee needs and business performance. Breaking learning down by capabilities also gives you the ability to track individual progress at the same time as workforce capability, in order to make proactive talent decisions.
Consider an eLearning solution if…
You need to create learning pathways for a large number of employees at one time and have limited time and resources for one-on-one/face-to-face training.
The above are the most common forms of on-the-job training around (you may be utilising them already). But they’re not the only ones with merit. It’s worth mixing and matching your methods, particularly to complement your learning solutions.
For example, you may provide certification through your own capability academy, in which case more formal methods like secondments are required for experience.
In that case, you may also want to consider:
- Shadowing. Refers to when an employee “understudies” or shadows a superior they are preparing to assume a role from.
- Secondment. A more formal type of job rotation wherein an employee is temporarily assigned to another organisation, usually to provide or receive expert training that could be beneficial to their original role and/or team.
- Committee assignments. Here, a group of employees are given an actual organisational problem to solve, developing their teamwork skills over a shorter period of time.
- Internships. Involves an individual undertaking either a paid or unpaid learning experience in the workplace as part of tertiary study to understand the context of their developing skills.
- Apprenticeships. Much like an internship, except that an apprenticeship is usually the beginning of the career for those in skilled trades rather than a unit of study.
Training through interpersonal relationships
Now we’ve talked about types of on-the-job training, there’s the question of who delivers the training. It’s common for HR teams or external providers to provide training, given the budget and resources for it.
But as an inherent quality of on-the-job training is that the trainer needs to the unique knowledge of the job role in question, it makes sense that someone already familiar with the workplace culture, performance expectations, job tasks, and the business landscape should actually deliver employee training.
Managers as trainers
There are almost no disadvantages to training managers to train employees. (In fact, you should already be doing it.) Not only do you increase the effectiveness of your internal training (as new employees particularly will respond to the authority of a direct manager), but coaching and mentoring becomes a natural part of a manager’s role—meaning they may utilise it outside of formal training parameters and in their day-to-day people management.
Why you should train managers to train employees
Managers are the link between higher-level business objectives and the day-to-day activities that achieve them. They are best equipped to ascertain the skills lacking or those in surplus considering they directly impact how learning is viewed in the workplace.
Employees as trainers
Your employees (for both good and bad) are familiar with the inner workings of your organisation: company strengths and weaknesses, culture, expectations and environment. This gives a distinct advantage over an external trainer with the added benefit of strengthening the dynamics between employees through knowledge sharing.
Another point where a PLMS can help is in capturing key interactions between peers. Best practices then become shareable learning assets that promote knowledge exchange at scale, further offering contextual learning opportunities.
Why you should train employees to train coworkers
Not only does it ensure older employees are abreast of standards and expectations, but it helps to solidify their knowledge by articulating it to others. The good old buddy system during onboarding is just one example of employees helping to skill up their coworkers.
Benefits of on-the-job training
Effective on-the-job training can provide new employees with all the job preparation they could ever need and up or reskill existing employees who may be experiencing a lull in motivation. And this is only the baseline for the benefits of on-the-job training.
Benefits for employees
- Paid training because who wants to take time off or take a hit in pay just to learn skills that are relevant to their actual job?
- Development in both careers and personal skills, which fosters loyalty in their organisations and interest in continual learning.
- Better knowledge retention as employees can immediately apply new skills, which in turn leads to…
- Improved job performance and job satisfaction, as employees feel more confident in their skills and competence.
- Better team dynamics as a result of teamwork, peer-to-peer training, and coaching and mentoring from superiors.
Benefits for organisations
- Reduced attrition and employee turnover thanks to both satisfied employees and a larger pool of highly skilled candidates to choose from internally.
- Lowered L&D costs as the need for external venues, days off work and guests speakers is lessened.
- It’s also cost-effective for employees to immediately use new skills as revision is less likely to be required.
- Expectations are set and acculturation to culture happen early on, so misconceptions and assumptions are proactively remedied.
- Rather than the generalised training an external provider might teach, on-the-job training is highly specific to your organisation’s needs.
Designing a successful on-the-job training program
It’s a lot easier than it may seem. Creating an on-the-job training program from scratch starts with a few questions.
What skills do we need?
A skills gap analysis is the step we strongly suggest you do not skip. It helps you ascertain what your employees already know and what they need to know, how they learn best, where you want your organisation to be in future vs where it will be on its current track, and the long-term goals you are trying to achieve through a training program. Without knowing what you are a) addressing and b) want to achieve, your program will have no guiding star.
How will we administer training?
Not all forms of on-the-job training will be applicable to or even feasible for your organisation. You might be too small for mentoring. You may lack the budget for an eLearning solution. Aligning the delivery of on-the-job training with the skills you need will help answer the question. For example: you find your onboarding process leaves a lot to be desired. Peer-to-peer training may then be the solution to helping new hires feel comfortable in their first few months in a new environment.
What training materials should you use?
Company handbooks, internal systems, industry resources and, yes, even external professional development programs can all complement on-the-job training. As it’s an ongoing process, different training materials will be relevant at different points of an individual’s training. In this sense, you can create certain learning milestones you want employees to achieve before moving on (to a new skill, activity or even job).
When does training end?
Broadly speaking, it shouldn’t ever ‘end’. But you can certainly set an endpoint for a current delivery cycle, at which point you can determine if it was successful in the eyes of trainees and against any business outcomes you were hoping to affect. Use surveys to garner feedback, monitor job performance for improvement, staleness or possibly even a downturn in work, and even keep an eye on employee retention by checking in with managers. This data can be checked against those initial goals and skills gaps you outlined—and those results will tell you what needs adjusting, what’s working and what might need to be scrapped altogether.
Why you need to know this
If employees are the foundation of a successful organisation, on-the-job training is the tool to creating said successful organisation. If you implement on-the-job training with no purpose, no measure for success and no clear idea of how an added responsibility is actually going to benefit employees (who are, after all, the ones undertaking training), you’ll likely find enthusiasm and engagement is low and whatever resources you did put into it are wasted.
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