5 Steps To Build An Effective On-The-Job Training Program

Let’s start with a terrifying fact for employers: 40% of employees who receive poor (or no) on-the-job training leave within the first year of employment. And when employees leave, it costs you.

You need to have an on-the-job training program in your business. On-the-job training is an investment of time and money, but it’s also an investment into your most important asset: your employees.

What Is On-The-Job Training?

On-the-job training, or OJT, is a program designed to help employees gain hands-on knowledge in the workplace.

This type of training involves employees using the resources available for them at their workplace, and it allows them to learn while integrating into their everyday work environment.

Typically, managers, HR team members and experienced coworkers provide the internal training.

Benefits 0f OTJ

On-the-job training seems like it would mainly benefit employers. After all, well-trained and skilled employees mean increased productivity and growth. But there’s much more to it.

1. It’s Planned to Fit Your Business

Your business is unique and has specific requirements – training employees on-the-job may help you get business needs met more quickly.

2. Happier, More Loyal Employees

When on-the-job training is continually updated and relevant, employees are likely to be more committed to growing their careers at your business. The are also likely to be happier and more excited about their work.

3. Builds a Pool of “Promotable” Employees

By providing on-the-job training to employees, you are creating a highly skilled workforce in your business as well as creating a mindset of “always learning.”

This pays off big when you need to promote managers in the future. You have a loyal and skilled pool of employees to choose from who already know your business.

3. Attracts Employees During Hiring

If your company exists in a tight job market or in an industry where it is difficult to attract (and retain) good employees, on-the-job training can help.

It’s an attractive benefit for employees who want to better themselves, and it indicates the possibility of promotion.

4. Builds Flexibility Into Your Workforce

Gone is the attitude of “that’s not my job” when you have a workforce that is trained well.

While you don’t want to train every employee to do everything (more on that later), training can extend employee abilities beyond a narrow approach of only doing the bare minimum.

When Should You Start On-The-Job Training?

For smaller or start-up companies, it may seem as if on-the-job training isn’t necessary. At some point, though, you will probably need to institute an on-the-job training program. When does that point arrive?

Changes require on-the-job training, whether it’s a change in employees, promotions, or how you do business. Some of the most common changes that need some sort of on-the-job training include:

  • Change in technology. For example, you’ve updated the point-of-sale system that you use or started using an employee scheduling app.
  • Change in business practice. You’ve pivoted, changing your focus or goals as a company.
  • Change in company policies. You’ve changed how your employees do their work, or what you expect of them.
  • Lots of new employee hires. You have a larger number of new employees than long-time employees, i.e. most of your workforce doesn’t know how things work while fewer do.
  • Noticeable slow-down in productivity. Whether on the factory line or in the office, productivity slow-downs are an indicator that employees don’t know what to do. There’s a glitch in your system.
  • Your business is growing.
  • Your current training was the bare minimum.

A good rule of thumb is to watch for chaos or complaints that surround some of the changes listed above. If you see it, you’re already behind the training curve.

A better option?

Assume your company is growing and will need on-the-job training, and get started planning it right now. Don’t wait for the change and subsequent chaos.

5 Steps for a Successful On-The-Job Training Program

Creating a training program is not difficult as long as you break it down into logical steps. The ADDIE method is particularly useful when starting a training program from scratch:

  • Analysis: Assess what your employees need to know in order to successfully do their jobs.
  • Design: Determine what your on-the-job training program will look like.
  • Development: Establish methods, resources, and materials that will be in your training program.
  • Implementation: Decide who/when/how you will implement your training program.
  • Evaluation: Get feedback so you can know if your training met you and your employees’ needs.

The ADDIE method is flexible, essentially asking that you consider what you need and want for your specific business, and then design and measure accordingly.

1. Assess Your Employees & the Skills Needed for the Job

Analysis is a particularly important part of successfully creating a training program. You will be answering questions such as:

  • What do your employees need to know?
  • What do your employees already know?
  • How do your employees learn best?
  • What do I need from my employees?
  • What do my employees expect?
  • What kind of training meets all of these needs?
  • Do I have qualified people to do the training?

Know what you want over the long-term

First, what are your broad and strategic goals? Is it productivity? Profits? Loyal employees? Community reputation? Continued growth, both financially and as a team?

Write down the long-term goals you want to see. Keep these in mind as you follow through with the rest of the assessment process.

Know what each specific job requires

Assessment includes determining the specific needs of specific employees and jobs.

Start by listing the qualifications, knowledge, and hard and soft skills a specific job requires. You are trying to create a definition of what an ideal employee in that specific job is able to do.

Next, list what skills most employees have when they arrive.

Finally, consider times you’ve had to repeat yourself or ask employees to redo work. Recall the communication or teamwork hiccups that slow things down.

It’s best practice to do this for each position or team in your company. Now you have a better picture that compares what an employee needs and what they generally have. That gap is where your training is going to fill in.

Identify necessary tools and systems

Look at the list you made where you identified gaps in employee performance. Was it solely based lack of the employee’s skills and education, or can blame be placed on the tools and systems they had to work with?

Before you can create a training program, you need to be sure those tools and systems are in order. All the training in the world won’t improve employee productivity and output if what they have to work with is broken.

Common areas of breakdown are:

  • Communication systems. Do you have a complex or vague communication system? Communication breakdown is fixed most often by simplifying the system, but also by enforcing adherence to it.
  • Technology. Being trained to use new technology is exciting and can instill a sense of loyalty. Make sure to update your technology before investing in training for outdated tech.
  • Job boundaries. If one employee expects a job description to be honored and others are busy doing everything, you’ll have lots of conflict. Are employee work boundaries (or the lack thereof) made clear?

Be sure you aren’t asking your employees to use broken tools and systems. Get things streamlined and up-to-date so that any training feels like forward motion instead of a waste of time.

2. Design the Training Program

Decide which formats and materials will fit best with your objectives and your workplace: classroom-style training, mentorship and structured programs are all options.

Structured on-the-job training programs are the most basic, task-oriented and are useful for employees who are performing repetitive tasks, such as an industrial job.

Using a company-standardized checklist of necessary tasks, the trainer (usually a coworker who regularly performs these same tasks) works with the new employee. Once the new employee has demonstrated the necessary skill, they are signed off to begin.

However, if the job at hand is more fluid than repetitive, you will need a trainer who is a skilled teacher. Not everyone learns the same way, and a good trainer has to determine how an employee learns in order to apply the training to them effectively. Some people learn by:

  • Doing: Practice doing actual tasks or through simulations.
  • Feeling: Participate in role playing, group activities, or talk about personal experiences that relate.
  • Thinking: Prefer independent activities, reading, or taking tests.
  • Observing: Attend lectures and seminars, solve specific problems, or discussions.

While you may not be able to tailor an entire training course to each learning style, this at least allows you to create a set of possible options.

For example, you may allow a new employee to choose whether to take a written test, have a conversation, or do role playing to illustrate their new knowledge.

3. Develop Your Training With the Right Materials

Once you know how your training will look, you can find and store materials to flesh out your training objectives outline in a variety of places:

Decide how often the training will occur

On-the-job training is rarely a one-time event, and periodic training throughout an employee’s career is common. For example, on-the-job training might include circumstances such as:

  • Learning about company policies.
  • How to work the factory line.
  • How to respond to customers.
  • Using the new inventory system.
  • How to fill out business expense and financial reports for reimbursement.
  • Updates on changes to communications systems.
  • How new laws affect employees and their jobs.
  • Refresher course on last year’s teamwork training.

Clearly, training ought to be an ongoing matter since most employees, depending on their job, will need to stay informed as the business changes.

Use an outline

Design the on-the-job training program much as you would an outline, with each main section being the objective you want the employee to achieve before moving onto the next section.

At the end of each section, determine how you will measure employee success. Do they need to demonstrate a skill to you? Pass a test? Role-play scenarios dealing with an irate customer? Each objective should have a defined success that must be met before the employee moves on to the next step.

4. Implement with the Right Trainers

Implementing a training program isn’t easy. Before you dive in, be sure you know the best people to conduct the training, whether it be a manager, coworker/mentor or a designated training coordinator.  

You also may choose to outsource your training and use an in-house coordinator to work with the company handling the training. This can be helpful if you do not have the resources or knowledge to conduct successful training, or in cases of highly-specialized systems or equipment.

5. Evaluate with Employee Feedback

Determine how successful your on-the-job training program is with a simple approach: just ask.

Use a survey

Use a carefully planned survey that allows for anonymity, and consider giving the survey during, immediately following, and several months after the training. 

Look for improvement in employee work

Improved employee performance will almost always positively impact profit and growth.

You can measure employee improvement by comparing productivity markers from before training to after (e.g. higher commissions from sales, more items assembled, etc.).

Monitor employee retention

Take note: are your trained employees staying on longer than what you’d experience before training?

Some things are more difficult to measure; however, like customer service and attitudes. Observation and conversations with managers will help you be more aware of what’s going on across departments.

Overall, you should trust your gut. If you notice an improvement in workplace culture that coincides with hitting company performance goals, that’s what you’re looking for.

On-the-job training helps you build the future of your business with your employees as the foundation. Hopefully, this guide helps you get started making OTJ a reality in your business.

5 Steps To Build An Effective On-The-Job Training Program