It’s hard to imagine a workplace that does not use on-the-job training. This useful tool supplements traditional “classroom” training programs. It lets the trainees operate in the job environment while they develop new skills, use new equipment, and learn new procedures in a supervised, fail-safe atmosphere.
On-the-job training is useful for any job. Once the trainees have been provided with an overview of the process and a description of their duties, on-the-job training gives them the practice they need to complete the learning process. On-the job training is appropriate for new employee orientation, job transfer situations, changes in the established work flow, and cross training.
Summary of requirements
Capitalize on motivation. Trainees ready to start on-the-job training are highly motivated. They want to be productive, and they want to succeed. Trainers should take advantage of the trainees’ eagerness by designing the training program for success. The trainees need to start with close, often one-on-one, supervision. They need to be assigned meaningful tasks that reflect their eventual duties. An effective on-the-job training program does not assign the trainees to merely watch other workers or to file paperwork while they learn the ropes.
Close supervision. On-the-job training does not mean letting trainees loose to fend for themselves. A qualified person needs to be assigned to closely supervise trainees and provide structured training. The trainer/supervisor needs to ensure the basic tools and materials for the job are available. The trainer/supervisor can start with a detailed tour of the trainee’s work areas and should introduce the trainee to primary contact people for the job. Demonstrations should break up the job into easy-to-learn tasks and are at the heart of on-the-job training. The trainee must be allowed to try each task with the trainer/supervisor at-the-ready to correct mistakes. In fact, the trainer/supervisor needs to be right there to observe the trainee performing the job duties from the first attempt until the trainee attains relative proficiency.
Evaluations and progress reports. The trainer/supervisor makes the initial employee evaluations and should give ongoing progress reports to responsible parties (such as the trainee’s supervisor and the Human Relations department). The duration of the close-supervision period depends on the job, but it likely will not require a long-term commitment from the trainer. As soon as the trainees have met their initial performance goals and are ready to work independently, the next step in the on-the-job training process can kick in.
Mentoring. A mentoring period helps the trainees gain confidence as they work on their own. An experienced co-worker is formally assigned to act as the trainee’s mentor. The mentor does not provide constant supervision, but is observant without being intrusive.
A successful mentoring program matches trainees and mentors who get along well together. The mentor must be patient and friendly, not an arrogant expert.
The mentor may not work side-by-side with the trainee, but must be available to help on short notice. The trainee will probably have lingering questions on procedures that are not done on a daily basis, and the mentor can be proactive in alerting the trainee to situations that may not have come up during classroom training or the close supervision period. For example, the mentor may say, “When you eventually reach this step in the process, let me know, and I’ll show you what to do next,” or “This is how you follow-up when you get a report back on this issue.” Mentors are also valuable in showing the trainee the in’s and out’s of the job by identifying back-up contact people for certain tasks, showing the trainee how to get supplies, or even letting the trainee know where to get a good sandwich.
The mentoring program may last longer than the close-supervision period. During this time, the mentor can provide input for the trainee’s performance evaluations or make suggestions on improving the previous parts of the training program. As the trainee gains in proficiency, the mentor’s role will diminish. However, on-the-job training programs can include one final component to ensure lasting success.
Coaching. Even trainees who’ve become pretty confident need some encouragement now and then. A coaching program makes sure someone is around to “inspire” trainees to remember training content and follow established procedures. Coaches are experienced co-workers who provide guidance. They are not necessarily “assigned” to monitor the trainee. At this point, the trainee is expected to work independently. The coach is there to provide comments and suggestions that help the trainee remember proper procedures on his own. A coach acknowledges the trainee for correct work and avoids being too critical. However, a coach does keep an eye on his inexperienced co-worker and should alert the supervisor if problems develop.
Evaluation. On-the-job training programs get the job done. Trainees become productive employees because they’ve been given hands-on instruction. But, as with any type of training, evaluations keep the program on track. Since on-the-job training can be a fast-paced process, there should be a timetable of performance goals. The timetable should be communicated to trainees and their trainers at the start of the process. The trainee’s supervisor (or Human Resources (HR) representative) should interview the trainees and trainers at regularly scheduled intervals to determine if the goals are being met. The interview content can be useful in compiling an overall employee development plan for the trainee. Eventually, the training period must come to an end, and having evaluations to review helps those who make this determination.