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On-the-job training: building a program that works

October 5, 2022 - 14 min read


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What do we mean by on-the-job training?

Is on-the-job training effective?

The benefits of on-the-job training

5 types of on-the-job training

How to create an OJT training program

Also known as OJT, on-the-job training is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — learning how to do the job (or do the job better) while in the role.

Through hands-on teaching and coaching, employees learn the practical skills and knowledge they need to perform their job. The man takes place in a normal work environment rather than outside the workplace in a classroom or virtual setting.

Hiring the right, qualified, person for a job is just the beginning of setting them up for success at work. They’re going to have to learn hands-on the ins and outs of your company and its unique practices and processes. 

And jobs today rarely stay the same. There's learning what you need to know when you start the job, and there's learning all the ways other people have figured out to do the job better. The tools or systems you use often change, and you have to learn how to do the job in a new way.

For employees and employers, on-the-job training is one of the best ways to deliver this type of specific and continuous learning. 

Here’s how to develop a successful on-the-job training program to onboard new employees and the importance of OJT for your business.

What do we mean by on-the-job training?

Both off-the-job training and on-the-job training help employees develop certain skills they need for their job. But OJT focuses on integrating new employees into their everyday work environment.

Rather than hiring a person from outside the organization, OJT is typically a type of internal training. It might be set up as a program, with defined expectations and a set beginning and end, but often it is far less formal. Experienced colleagues, managers, and members of HR take responsibility for helping the individual develop professional skills and capabilities. They tend to focus on "how work gets done here."

A peer or manager might give a mini-lecture or demonstration of how to do something or the steps of a process. Much of OJT comes through side-by-side mentoring, modeling, and coaching where an employee passes their skills and knowledge on to a new or less-skilled employee.

This type of participatory training has several benefits for an organization and its employees. It is an especially useful form of training for onboarding, so try adding it to your new hire checklist.

What is on-the-job training used for?

There’s an additional level of familiarity and certain competencies that employees gain from hands-on training. This experience is difficult to replicate in a classroom or more traditional learning environment or training method. So some roles, such as an aircraft pilot, would use on-the-job training over instructor-lead training environments to get the most value out of the training period.


Is on-the-job training effective?

Training on the job is a cost-effective form of onboarding that encourages employee confidence. By helping new employees adapt faster to their job, you're developing their skills and encouraging career progression. You're also contributing to a more effective, productive, and satisfied workforce.

The benefits of on-the-job training

On-the-job training can have many benefits for new employees and your organization as a whole. Onboarding employees into their new job or role is an in-depth process. Training is just one part of the equation. Getting new workers into a training plan that involves shadowing or on-the-job training can help support your existing teams from the get-go.

How OJT benefits employers

Improved productivity and work motivation

Have you ever had that feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing at your job? That you don’t even know how you got the job in the first place? 

Even if you’ve never experienced imposter syndrome, you can imagine how intimidating and distressing it can be.

On-the-job training prevents new employees from feeling lost and out of their depth. By providing training opportunities that are packed with useful information, you're setting them up for success.

They’ll learn the ins and outs of the business, making them more productive employees who are motivated to take their careers to the next level.

Increased job satisfaction

How can you do a good job if you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be doing?

Explicitly showing employees exactly what is expected of them allows them to fulfill their roles at work better.

They naturally feel more equipped to excel in the workplace when given the skills and knowledge needed to complete their job. They also foster new-hire socialization and boost social capital.

By creating a culture of shared learning, both new and experienced employees feel a sense of belonging. This, in turn, lends itself to increased job satisfaction.

Higher employee retention

Brandon Hall Group researched the value of proper onboarding training. They found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new-hire retention by 82%. It also increases productivity by 70%.

Companies with weak onboarding programs lose the confidence of their candidates. Because of this, they're more likely to lose these employees in the first year.

By using on-the-job training as part of your onboarding program, you can prevent a high employee turnover.

Cost-effective form of training

From a financial point of view, the importance of on-the-job training is clear.

Off-the-job or corporate training often paying for things like a training facility and educational materials and hiring a presenter.

With on-the-job training, these costs aren’t usually relevant. Peer training in the workplace means spending less on those expensive onboarding programs. Higher employee retention from OJT also makes this form of training a sound financial investment.

Tailored to the business and new employee

OJT is generally just more effective for improving someone's ability to do their actual job in a specific work environment.

Combined with organizational training, OJT supports your business’s specific needs at a moment in time. It meets the employee's need to learn how to do something right when they encounter it, so it is relevant, and they are motivated to learn it.

Contrast that with waiting months for a class to be scheduled (or maybe even developed) and getting approval to take it. Training new recruits on the job can help you get business needs met more quickly.


How OJT benefits employees

Faster learning

As humans, we learn better by doing. Training new employees while they work in the role helps them learn the necessary skills faster and in a way that is more relevant to them.

The experiential nature of OJT creates an opportunity for valuable and memorable personal learning.

Training is paid

Some jobs do not pay employees for the time they spend in training. Rather than having to complete a training program before receiving a paycheck, OJT lets employees continue earning while getting up to speed on the job skills of their new role.

New skills

The training a new hire receives on the job grows their skillset in areas they may not otherwise be exposed to. The nuance of OJT lets new employees broaden their skillsets and strengthen the skills they already have.

5 types of on-the-job training

Let’s take a look at five types of more formal OJT that you could use at your workplace:

1. Orientation

Workplace orientation provides new employees with basic information about their new roles. Most companies have some form of orientation in place, even if they don’t consider it on-the-job training.

Through this popular type of OJT, a supervisor helps a recruit become familiar with the organization. They share information like workplace culture, employee benefits, and the company mission.

2. Internship

Whether paid or unpaid, an internship is a temporary position. They’re mostly sought out by students and graduates.

Rather than focusing on employment, the position focuses on career growth. The period of work experience gives exposure to the real-world working environment.

3. Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship program is typically for adult learners to earn money while they learn in a real job. While an internship focuses on experience, apprenticeships focus on training.

An apprentice should already know they want to work in that particular field. This type of on-the-job training is often used for highly skilled jobs that require a lot of practical training.

4. Job rotation

This technique involves moving employees between their assigned roles. It promotes experience and variety by switching a new employee around a range of positions.

This is a great way to give employees an overview of the entire process. It also gives team members a better sense of what their colleagues do for the organization.

5. Mentoring programs

Assigning a mentor to a new employee has many benefits, including learning on the job. The new hire gains practical advice, encouragement, and support.

This method of training also teaches the current experienced employee how to be a teacher.


How to create an OJT training program

The first step to creating an on-the-job training program is deciding on who’s doing the training. It should be someone who’s already part of the organization.

Most often, it’s a colleague or peer who can confidently perform the job being taught. But a people manager or member of HR can also be involved in getting a new employee properly up to speed.

Here are a few tips for employers on how to efficiently set up an OJT program:

  • Determine requirements. What does the new employee need to learn? Make a note of everything you think they need to know in order to competently perform their job. Prioritize it so it isn't too overwhelming. As they go through their training period, share the list with them and refer to the list of requirements to check their readiness.
  • Make the program employee-specific. Everyone has different learning styles. In order for the OJT program to be a success, ensure that the training is flexible to take people's differences into consideration. The training should also take into account what the new employee already knows and what they don’t need training on.
  • Identify trainers and set expectations. Because OJT is internal, existing employees (team members and supervisors) will be doing the training, coaching, and mentoring. Consider giving new employees a buddy or OJT "point person" who they can turn to with questions and who keeps track of whether any important training is falling through the cracks.
  • Select the right people within your organization to shape your new employees. Remember, they will have a huge influence on what the new employee understands about the work but also about the culture and work environment. Teaching managers and supervisors to act in a coaching mode will increase the effectiveness of this type of internal development.
  • Regularly evaluate the program. Here’s a scary statistic: only about one in 10 employees think their employer does a great job of onboarding new employees. To prevent this, get regular feedback from your employees through surveys or discussion groups. If the program isn’t working, identify what needs to change.
  • Create a safe environment. Employees must feel comfortable speaking up when unsure of what they are being taught. Create a workplace atmosphere that encourages new employees to ask questions.

Grow your company with on-the-job training

As Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

On-the-job training is the perfect example of this. An effective training program lets employees learn from leaders, peers, and on-the-job.

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Published October 5, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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