July 24, 2023

How to Make On-the-Job Training Work for Your Business

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways:

  • On-the-job training involves teaching employees about their new position through hands-on learning.
  • If done correctly, on-the-job training can speed up new employees’ ramp-up times and increase retention.
  • Strategies like creating training plans or investing in learning management systems can enhance your on-the-job training so employees acclimate to their new roles faster.

Jul. 24, 2023: We revised the article to define on-the-job training and provide strategies for implementing it in your business.

Check out our on-the-job training overview video below or our Employee Training Software Guide for solutions to supplement your training programs.

What is on-the-job training?

Just like it sounds, on-the-job (OTJ) training involves teaching new hires about their position while in the workplace. OTJ training focuses on experiential learning — learning through doing — compared to offsite training.

According to the 70-20-10 learning model, 70% of learning occurs through hands-on experience. This is because employees receive immediate feedback on their mistakes, think critically in each situation, and test and refine their skills in real time. Thus, if done effectively, OTJ training is one of the most critical areas of your company’s learning and workforce development functions.

Typically on-the-job training includes the following steps:

  • Observation: Employees take notes and ask questions while observing their managers, trainers, or peers perform their duties.
  • Supervision: Employees perform or practice their duties in the presence of their managers or trainers, who provide constructive feedback.
  • Independence: Employee performs their duties unassisted, with occasional questions or follow-ups.

On-the-job training vs. off-the-job training

Compared to on-the-job training, off-the-job training involves learning away from the work site. This could include:

Compared to OTJ training, off-the-job training focuses more on theoretical than practical learning. However, for some positions, learning theory before practice is necessary. In manufacturing roles, for example, learning first about safety procedures and how the machines they will use work can limit the chance of workplace injuries or accidents.

What are the benefits of on-the-job training?

OTJ training is inexpensive, can be implemented quickly, and may result in faster time-to-productivity rates for new employees compared to self-taught methods. As a result, it is the go-to training technique for most employers.

Even when investing in the right tools for successful job training — such as learning management systems (LMSs) — OTJ training is still less expensive than off-the-job training. This is because it does not require renting outside facilities to host training sessions, hiring consultants to conduct training, or paying for employee travel or training costs.

Because OTJ training occurs in the same environment where new employees will perform their roles, it doesn’t always require additional materials, equipment, or workspaces. Likewise, your trainers are usually internal staff, meaning you do not have to research, hire, and craft your unique training program with outside services.

OTJ training does not divert new employees from productive output to attend lecture-led training sessions. As a result, you benefit from the new employee’s labor even as they learn. Moreover, since employees can correct mistakes while they work, OTJ training means faster time-to-productivity rates for your new hires. In turn, you improve your recruitment metrics and speed up the onboarding process.

What are the challenges of on-the-job training?

OTJ training can reduce productivity, especially if conducted by ineffective coaches. Also, OTJ training does not accommodate every type of learner.

OTJ training requires managers, peers, and trainers to leave everyday activities behind to dedicate time to training new recruits. This could result in delayed responses to customers, clients, or coworkers and slower output as your team integrates the new hire into their role.

Not everyone possesses the skills to teach. Directing employees to train new hires about their roles solely based on their tenure or stellar performance does not always translate to great coaching.

Ineffective coaching could end up discouraging new employees, increasing the chance of turnover. Even worse, trainers more concerned with returning to their daily work than the new hire could instill bad or unsafe habits from rushing instructions or failing to correct mistakes.

Although OTJ training is a great way to learn, it is not the only way. For some new hires, being forced to work immediately in their role without gradual integration can feel overwhelming.

Moreover, sticking to one learning style at the expense of others could alienate new hires who think or work differently. Neurodivergent folks, for example, may appreciate learning in a less-distracting, simulated environment before stepping into real-world scenarios.

What are the types of on-the-job training?

There are five main types of OTJ training: orientation, mentoring, job rotation, apprenticeship, and internship.

  • Orientation: This training takes place during the employee’s first one to two days and involves managers or HR departments giving a general overview of the business, its culture, benefits, and work expectations.
  • Mentoring: In this type of OTJ training, new employees are paired with seasoned employees to learn the practical skills of their jobs and freely ask questions outside of the manager-employee dynamic.
  • Job rotation: Often used in industries like manufacturing or retail, this OTJ training involves employees moving between different positions to understand how they function as part of the larger whole or to become competent in multiple areas.
  • Apprenticeship: This OTJ training involves teaching and paying employees to learn how to perform duties in highly technical positions, such as electricians, plumbers, or software engineers.
  • Internship: Whether paid or unpaid, internships involve onsite training for students or recent graduates in a temporary capacity.

5 strategies for an effective on-the-job training program

By using the strategies below, you can craft an OTJ training program that is effective and increases the likelihood of employee satisfaction and retention.

  1. Understand the new hire’s learning style before their first day.
  2. Create a training plan.
  3. Train the trainers.
  4. Evaluate the program and adjust.
  5. Leverage learning management systems.

1. Understand the new hire’s learning style before their first day

Employers should not assume that employees will know what to do when they walk in the door on their first day. Instead, collaborating and understanding their learning style ahead of time can ease their nervousness and adjust your expectations.

Dr. Liz Wilson, a behavioral scientist and founder of Include Inc., notes that asking new hires about their learning preferences ensures you give them the tools to do their best work. “Never assume all people have the same lived experience or inclusion needs,” she says, “[and] provide a range of alternative delivery methods to accommodate people’s preferences for learning.”

Check out the different types of learning styles employees prefer below:

Data source: SHRM and TalentLMS’s 2022 Workplace Learning & Development Trends Research Report

Why this works

When employees learn in the manner best for them, the likelihood of them retaining and acting on their training improves. And according to Michelle Rhee, cofounder of BuildWithin, it prevents one of the biggest mistakes of OTJ training: assuming.

“When employers make assumptions about what new workers can or can’t do (or what they know or don’t know), it can often lead to confusion and frustration for both the employee and manager,” says Rhee. Instead, understanding the new hire’s strengths and limitations beforehand can help temper expectations while boosting the new hire’s time-to-productivity, among other HR metrics.

Similarly, Barbara Schifano, Senior Director of Learning and Development at the University of Phoenix, argues that exploring different learning preferences can help employees better understand their purpose in the company and keep them engaged during training. As a result, new hires are more likely to feel supported by their organization and willing to do well.

2. Create a training plan

A training plan should include an agenda of when and what the new hire will learn and any standard operating procedures (SOPs) or manuals. Providing these materials to employees beforehand, such as during preboarding, can mentally prepare new employees. It even gives them the space for self-learning.

Why this works

With a training plan and other written materials, new employees can see and follow along with their training expectations.

Moreover, incorporating written materials into your OTJ training can help reinforce their position’s practical and theoretical elements. And training plans create consistency, serving as a guide for your trainers and managers during onboarding.

3. Train the trainers

Managers and trainers aren’t always the best coaches because they sometimes lack the soft skills needed for effective teaching. To combat this, you or your HR department should invest in training your trainers by reviewing employee training procedures and expectations.

Additionally, provide them opportunities to learn how to train. Performance management software 15Five, for instance, offers a coaching module to help managers become better trainers and drive engagement.

15Five displays coaching notes for a manager's professional development and growth.
15Five’s Coaching Hub helps managers become more effective trainers. Source: 15Five

Why this works

Effective trainers motivate new employees to do well and understand how their contributions matter to your organization. And, because well-trained trainers understand how to adjust to different learning styles, control frustration levels, and leverage encouragement and positive reinforcement, trainees are more likely to feel safe, take risks, and increase their productivity.

4. Evaluate the program and adjust

Evaluation and feedback cycles should be a critical part of your OTJ training to understand how well it works. You should also not limit feedback to post-training surveys. Mary Ann Haskins, senior HR consultant for Flex HR, notes that adjusting your teaching style during OTJ training can help align it to the new hire’s preferred way of learning.

Why this works

Learning what works and what doesn’t during training will allow you to pivot your training strategies to satisfy your recruits’ needs best.

According to SHRM and TalentLMS’s 2022 Workplace Learning & Development Trends Research Report, more than half (55%) of employees feel they need more training to perform better in their jobs. Thus, frequently evaluating your OTJ training can help you quickly address problem areas so new hires can feel more confident in their roles.

If you need a way to evaluate the effectiveness of your training, Qualtrics EmployeeXM offers training surveys to track what worked and what didn’t throughout employee training.

Qualtrics displays charted results from an employee training survey.
Qualtrics analyzes training survey results and provides actionable insights at a glance. Source: Qualtrics

5. Leverage learning management systems

LMS solutions can help you create courses to augment your OTJ training while accommodating different learning styles. You can use pre-built courses or create your own to fit your company’s industry and needs. Plus, most LMS integrate with human resources (HR) software to preserve employee data as they progress from onboarding modules to training and retention.

Why this works

Learning management systems close the loop between training plan creation, execution, and continuous development. LMS solutions also allow employees to control their personal career development paths and when and how they learn.

Some examples:

Also read: Game-Based Learning To Improve Employee Engagement

Start optimizing your business’s on-the-job training

Effective OTJ programs prepare new hires for their roles through hands-on experience, relevant content, and quick feedback. With the right instructors, OTJ training can acclimate new hires to their roles faster with little downtime.

Pairing your OTJ training with LMS software also maximizes the efficiency of your training programs while ensuring consistency among your organization and complying with labor laws.

If you’re unsure where to start looking for your training software, check out our Learning Management System Software Guide for a complete list of solutions.

Jessica Dennis Avatar

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