What is on-the-job training (OJT)?

On-the-job training (OJT) is the process of providing practical instruction to employees as they engage in experiential learning in their jobs. In OJT, people may take time to observe more experienced co-workers, perform duties under the guidance of a designated individual, or engage in a company learning and development program. In a sense, every job demands some form of on-the-job training. Typically, however, OJT is prevalent in jobs that require hands-on work, the usage of power tools and machinery, or among people learning to use a new system or tech tool.

Why is on-the-job training important?

OJT offers a cost-effective way to support productivity and nurture self-confidence. By providing the tools to help people succeed, employees are more likely to feel engaged and want to stay at their jobs. Moreover, finding an appropriate candidate for open roles, especially in a high-turnover climate, can be challenging. By facilitating OJT in the form of upskilling, HR professionals can help boost performance. In turn, OJT can contribute to building a larger talent pool so HR leaders can fill vacant positions with suitable candidates.

What are some advantages and disadvantages of on-the-job training?

It’s important to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of OJT so that you can get the most value from it and avoid the pitfalls that can make it more of a hindrance than a help.

Advantages  Disadvantages
More cost-effective than other training methods. Potentially time-consuming for the staff doing the training.
Enables new employees to get up to speed quickly. Not all employees make good trainers..
Can be tailored to the specific needs of your organization. Unlikely to bring new ideas and skills to processes.
Can be used to assess employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Can be repetitive and boring if not well designed.

Best practices for on-the-job training

HR can also take several steps to establish an applicable and effective OJT program: 

  • Identify the strategy. Some companies may establish a systematic, step-by-step process of training new hires that involves milestones and evaluations. Other companies may prefer a less structured approach that relies primarily on shadowing and mentorship. The OJT strategy also depends on the type of job, its complexity, and the people’s competency level. Organizations should also consider whether to run OJT independently or integrate it into an existing L&D program to encourage constant micro-learning.
  • Analyze the skills gap. Evaluate the skills people may be lacking. This analysis can help HR leaders determine who needs more training to elevate their performance. Furthermore, analyzing the skills gap can help HR leaders improve succession planning for vacant positions. 
  • Pinpoint high-potential employees. Take note of people with high potential and essential characteristics such as emotional intelligence, resilience, or good work ethic. HR leaders can also use 360-degree reviews, performance reviews, or build a high-potential employee program to facilitate on-the-job training for budding talent.  
  • Identify employee experts. Instead of outsourcing training and turning to external experts, identify team members with expertise. They can offer a wealth of knowledge, as they know the ins and outs of the company. Allowing people to share their knowledge can further fuel engagement while increasing collaboration and strengthening workplace relationships.

How can you integrate OJT with other forms of training?

In some workplaces, OJT alone may be enough to prepare an employee for their new role. By shadowing an experienced staff member and getting supervised hands-on practice they may be able to learn everything required for less complex roles.

However, they may benefit from integrating OJT with other forms of training to give them even better preparation. For instance, a morning could be spent doing OJT, followed by going over written materials or watching videos in the afternoon to reinforce what they have learned. Alternatively, a few days of OJT could be followed by attending a classroom or online course with more formal training methods.

This type of blended learning can be particularly useful when complicated tasks are involved or where there are specific procedures and processes that employees must understand and follow at all times.

How can you assess the effectiveness of OJT?

On-the-job training should be regularly evaluated to ensure it is fully effective. There are several ways to do this:

  • Evaluate learning. Both during and after the training, test employees on what they should have learned so far to ensure they understand everything they have been taught and are able to carry out the tasks themselves.
  • Get feedback. Ask both trainers and trainees what their experience was like during OJT. This can be in the form of a short questionnaire which may provide valuable insights into what works well, what doesn’t, and what could be changed in the future.
  • Review job performance. Use KPIs to measure the performance of employees who have been through OJT and compare this with other team members.

What are some examples of on-the-job training programs?

OJT can be effective in all kinds of roles, but it is most often used where employees will be working with their hands, tools, or new technology. Here are some common examples:

  • An HVAC engineer attending service calls with an experienced colleague to observe how they interact with customers and practice using the necessary equipment while following safety procedures.
  • A call center worker shadowing a colleague to understand how they use the call-logging system and observe how they deal with different customer queries in the most efficient way.
  • A warehouse worker observing the correct way to handle and store goods and practicing using machinery while being supervised by experienced staff.

Why should on-the-job training be part of modern HR strategy?

Incorporating OJT into the modern HR strategy enables people to overcome learning curves and perform quality work. In turn, helping people to succeed in their job contributes to their engagement and the overall proper functioning of the organization.