On-the-job training (OJT) refers to new or inexperienced employees learning in the work setting and during work by observing peers or managers performing the job and trying to imitate their behavior. OJT is one of the oldest and most used types of informal training. It is considered informal because it does not necessarily occur as part of a training program and because managers, peers, or mentors serve as trainers. If OJT is too informal, learning will not occur. OJT can be useful for training newly hired employees, upgrading experienced employees’ skills when new technology is introduced, cross-training employees within a department or work unit, and orienting transferred or promoted employees to their new jobs.
OJT takes various forms, including apprenticeships and self-directed learning programs. OJT has several advantages over other training methods. It can be customized to the experiences and abilities of trainees. Training is immediately applicable to the job because OJT occurs on the job using actual tools and equipment. As a result, trainees are highly motivated to learn. Both trainees and trainers are at the job site and continue to work while training occurs. This means that companies save the costs related to bringing trainees to a central location, hiring trainers, and renting training facilities. OJT can be offered at any time, and trainers will be available because they are peers or managers. Finally, OJT uses actual job tasks and occurs at work. As a result, skills learned in OJT more easily transfer to the job.
Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest businesses, uses on-the-job training in its Nagothane Manufacturing Division (a refinery that makes polymers and chemicals). Because of rapid company growth and the demand for experienced employees, the company needed to decrease the length of time required for new engineers to contribute. In response to this need, the training staff identified mentors who would help accelerate learning for the new engineers. The mentors and new hires are carefully matched based on an assessment of the mentor’s training style and the new employee’s learning style. Mentors are paired with up to three new employees each for nine months. The mentors and new employees work together on four learning modules, each of which takes two months to complete. Each module includes predetermined lesson plans and progress is tracked using an online portal. As a result, the length of time it takes new engineers to contribute at work has decreased from 12 to 6 months.
At Sweets Candy, a Salt Lake City, Utah, candy maker, new employees receive training in basic safety and emergency evacuation procedures in an orientation session and then are assigned a mentor. The mentor works with the new employee for two weeks, providing hands-on one-on-one training. Teams hold weekly meetings and managers provide training on safety issues throughout the year. Employees also receive a weekly safety contact card on which they note safety hazards they have encountered on their job and how they have fixed the problem. The safety contact cards are turned in and each month the company has a safety celebration where the cards are put into a drawing. Employees win prizes such as a day off or a $10 gift card. All of the safety contact cards are reviewed to identify safety issues and hazards, which are then communicated to the employees.
OJT is an attractive training method because compared to other methods, it needs less investment in time or money for materials, the trainer’s salary, or instructional design. Managers or peers who are job knowledge experts are used as instructors. As a result, it may be tempting to let them conduct the training as they believe it should be done.
There are several disadvantages to this unstructured approach to OJT. Managers and peers may not use the same process to complete a task. They may pass on bad habits as well as useful skills. Also, they may not understand that demonstration, practice, and feedback are important conditions for effective on-the-job training. Unstructured OJT can result in poorly trained employees, employees who use ineffective or dangerous methods to produce a product or provide a service, and products or services that vary in quality.
OJT must be structured to be effective. Table 7.2 shows the principles of structured OJT. Because OJT involves learning by observing others, successful OJT is based on the principles emphasized by Social Learning Theory. These include the use of a credible trainer, a manager or peer who models the behavior or skill, communication of specific key behaviors, practice, feedback, and reinforcement. For example, at Rochester Gas and Electric in Rochester, New York, radiation and chemistry instructors teach experienced employees how to conduct OJT. While teaching these employees how to demonstrate software to new employees, the trainer may ask the employees to watch other OJT instructors as they train new recruits so they can learn new teaching techniques. Regardless of the specific type, effective OJT programs include:
- A policy statement that describes the purpose of OJT and emphasizes the company’s support for it.
- A clear specification of who is accountable for conducting OJT. If managers conduct OJT, this is mentioned in their job descriptions and is part of their performance evaluations.
- A thorough review of OJT practices (program content, types of jobs, length of program, cost savings) at other companies in similar industries.
- Training of managers and peers in the principles of structured OJT (see Table 7.2).
- Availability of lesson plans, checklists, procedure manuals, training manuals, learning contracts, and progress report forms for use by employees who conduct OJT.
- Evaluation of employees’ levels of basic skills (reading, computation, writing) before OJT.
For example, the OJT program utilized by Borden’s North American Pasta Division has many of these characteristics. Not all managers and peers are used as trainers. Borden’s invests in trainer selection, training, and rewards to ensure OJT’s effectiveness. Employees and managers interested in being instructors are required to apply for the position. Those chosen as instructors are required to complete a demanding train-the-trainer course that involves classroom training as well as time on the manufacturing floor to learn how to operate machinery such as pasta machines and to correctly teach other employees to use the equipment. Borden’s also builds accountability into the OJT program. Trainees are responsible for completing a checklist that requires them to verify that the trainer helped them learn the skills needed to operate the equipment and used effective instructional techniques.
Self-directed learning has employees take responsibility for all aspects of learning— including when it is conducted and who will be involved. Trainees master predetermined training content at their own pace without an instructor. Trainers may serve as facilitators. That is, trainers are available to evaluate learning or answer questions for the trainee. The trainer does not control or disseminate instruction. The learning process is controlled by the trainee. Self-directed learning for salespersons could involve reading newspapers or trade publications, talking to experts, or surfing the Internet to find new ideas related to the salesperson industry. Also, self-directed learning could involve the company providing salespersons with information such as databases, training courses, and seminars while still holding the employees responsible for taking the initiative to learn. Because the effectiveness of self-directed learning is based on an employee’s motivation to learn, companies may want to provide seminars on the self-directed learning process, self-management, and how to adapt to the environment, customers, and technology.
For example, at Corning Glass, new engineering graduates participate in an OJT program called SMART (Self-Managed, Awareness, Responsibility, and Technical competence). Each employee is responsible for seeking the answers to a set of questions (e.g., “Under what conditions would a statistician be involved in the design of engineering experiments?”) by visiting plants and research facilities and meeting with technical engineering experts and managers. After employees complete the questions, they are evaluated by a committee of peers who have already completed the SMART program. Evaluations have shown that the program cuts employees’ start-up time in their new jobs from six weeks to three. The program is effective for a number of reasons. It encourages new employees’ active involvement in learning and allows flexibility in finding time for training. A peer-review evaluation component motivates employees to complete the questions correctly. And, as a result of participating in the program, employees make contacts throughout the company and gain a better understanding of the technical and personal resources available within the company.
Self-directed learning has several advantages and disadvantages. It allows trainees to learn at their own pace and receive feedback about the learning performance. For the company, self-directed learning requires fewer trainers, reduces costs associated with travel and meeting rooms, and makes multiple-site training more realistic. Self-directed learning provides consistent training content that captures the knowledge of experts. Self-directed learning also makes it easier for shift employees to gain access to training materials. For example, Four Seasons hotels faced the challenge of opening a new hotel in Bali, Indonesia. It needed to teach English skills to 580 employees, none of whom spoke English or understood Western cuisine or customs. Four Seasons created a self-directed learning center that enables employees to teach themselves English. The center emphasizes communications, not simply learning to speak English. As a result of this emphasis, the center features video recorders, training modules, books, and magazines. Monetary incentives are provided for employees to move from the lowest to the highest level of English skills. Besides English, the center also teaches Japanese (the language of 20 percent of the Bali hotel’s visitors) and provides training for foreign managers in Bahasa Indonesian, the native language of Indonesia.
A major disadvantage of self-directed learning is that trainees must be willing to learn on their own and feel comfortable doing so. That is, trainees must be motivated to learn. From the company perspective, self-directed learning results in higher Development Cost, and development time is longer than with other types of training programs. Several steps are necessary to develop effective self-directed learning:
- Conduct a job analysis to identify the tasks that must be covered.
- Write trainee-centered learning objectives directly related to the tasks. Because the objectives take the place of the instructor, they must indicate what information is important, what actions the trainee should take, and what the trainee should master.
- Develop the content for the learning package. This involves developing scripts (for video) or text screens (for computer-based training). The content should be based on the traineecentered learning objectives. Another consideration in developing the content is the media (e.g., paper, video, computer, Web site) that will be used to communicate the content.
- Break the content into smaller pieces (“chunks”). The chunks should always begin with the objectives that will be covered and include a method for trainees to evaluate their learning. Practice exercises should also appear in each chunk.
- Develop an evaluation package that includes evaluation of the trainee and evaluation of the self-directed learning package. Trainee evaluation should be based on the objectives (a process known as criterion referencing). That is, questions should be developed that are written directly from the objectives and can be answered directly from the materials. Evaluation of the self-directed learning package should involve determining ease of use, how up-to-date the material is, whether the package is being used as intended, and whether trainees are mastering the objectives.
Self-directed learning is likely to become more common in the future as companies seek to train staff flexibly, take advantage of technology, and encourage employees to be proactive in their learning rather than driven by the employer.
Apprenticeship is a work-study training method with both on-the-job and classroom training. To qualify as a registered apprentice under state or federal guidelines, apprentices in most cases must complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and must obtain 2,000 hours, or one year, of on-the-job experience. Once their training is complete, apprentices are called journey workers and they earn certification from the U.S. Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency. Table 7.3 shows the top occupations for apprentices. Apprenticeships can be sponsored by individual companies or by groups of companies cooperating with a union. As Table 7.3 shows, the majority of apprenticeship programs are in the skilled trades such as plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, and pipe fitting. Table 7.4 is an example of an apprenticeship program for a machinist.
In an apprenticeship program, the hours and weeks that must be devoted to completing specific skill units are clearly defined. The on-the-job training involves assisting a certified tradesperson (a journeyworker) at the work site. The OJT portion of the apprenticeship follows the guidelines for effective OJT by including modeling, practice, feedback, and evaluation. First, the employer verifies that the trainee has the required knowledge of the operation or process. Next, the trainer (who is usually a more experienced, licensed employee) demonstrates each step of the process, emphasizing safety issues and key steps. The senior employee provides the apprentice with the opportunity to perform the process until all are satisfied that the apprentice can perform it properly and safely.
A major advantage of apprenticeship programs is that learners can earn pay while they learn. This is important because programs can last several years. Learners’ wages usually increase automatically as their skills improve. Also, apprenticeships are usually effective learning experiences because they involve learning why and how a task is performed through classroom instruction provided by local trade schools, high schools, or community colleges. Apprenticeships also usually result in full-time employment for trainees when the program is completed. From the company’s perspective, apprenticeship programs meet specific business training needs and help attract talented employees. At its manufacturing facility in Toledo, Ohio, Libbey Glass has apprenticeship programs in mold making, machine repair, millwrighting, and maintenance repair. These programs are viewed as the best jobs within the company because the wage rates are high and because most apprentices are scheduled to work day shifts instead of afternoon or midnight shifts. The apprenticeship program has been costly for the company but has paid dividends. Each apprentice requires the support of a journeyworker for each work assignment. This means that work is being performed by two employees when only one worker is normally required. The program also requires apprentices to be evaluated every 1,000 hours to meet Department of Labor standards. The reviews are conducted by a committee that includes management and department journeyworkers. The committee also develops tests and other evaluation materials. The committee members cannot perform their normal duties during the time they are reviewing apprentices, so their workload has to be spread among other employees or rescheduled for some other time. The program offers many benefits to Libbey: The company is developing employees who are more receptive to change in the work environment; work can be performed at Libbey so the company does not have to outsource jobs to contract labor; and Libbey is given an edge in attracting talented employees who like the idea that after completing an apprenticeship they are eligible for promotions to other positions in the company, including management positions. Also, the apprenticeship program helps Libbey tailor training and work experiences to meet specific needs in maintenance repair, which is necessary to create and repair production mold equipment used in making glass products.
Apprentice-like programs are also used to prepare new managers. The president and chief executive officer of Goldcorp, a company in the mining industry, offers the chance for MBAs to apply for a nine-month apprenticeship. The apprentice shadows Goldcorp’s CEO and observes board meetings, negotiations, mine acquisitions, and other important aspects of the mine industry. Goldcorp hopes the apprenticeships will attract more MBAs to the mining industry, which is viewed by many graduates as an unsafe and dirty business. Hyatt Hotels offers several programs in which management trainees complete training in the areas of facilities, culinary arts, sales, hotel operations, accounting, and catering. Trainees rotate through all parts of the hotel and perform all aspects of each job, ranging from washing dishes to catering, and then spend the rest of the training time in their specialty area. Employees who complete the training are placed in entry-level management positions.
Besides the development costs and time commitment that management and journeyworkers have to make to apprenticeship programs, another disadvantage of many programs is limited access for minorities and women. Also, there is no guarantee that jobs will be available when the program is completed. Finally, apprenticeship programs prepare trainees who are well trained in one craft or occupation. Due to the changing nature of jobs (thanks to new technology and use of Cross-Functional Teams), many employers may be reluctant to employ workers from apprenticeship programs. Employers may believe that because apprentices are narrowly trained in one occupation or with one company, program graduates may have only company-specific skills and may be unable to acquire new skills or adapt their skills to changes in the workplace.