OJT1Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

This is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood concepts in employee training and development: On-The-Job Training (OJT). All too often, businesses use the "throw them in the deep end and see if they float" training technique and call it on the job training. Oh how wrong that is; unless your goal is to either drown your employee right from the start or create an adversarial atmosphere between the management and the employee staff. Whether you are hiring a non-skilled employee or a skilled employee there will need to be some type of in-house training.

OJT2Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

A newly hired college graduate with a degree in accounting is hired by a banking firm. Obviously the new employee knows the best practices in accounting; however, he/she does not walk into the organization with the knowledge and experience in handling all the bank's accounts, investment programs, customer services and other organizational specific job skills requirements. Even a new employee that worked in a previous banking environment will not have the entire skill-set particular to the new bank job position. The new employee's missing skills represent a skills-gap. Almost every employee that has ever been hired to a new job will have a skills gap. These gaps must be filled and the solution will be in some form of training, whether it is a structured training program or by throwing him or her in the deep end and he or she either swims or drowns.

Think about your business or organization when you hired someone that had all the skills and already knew all your unique jobs needs. Were they already skilled with your forms and documentation requirements? Were they already skilled with all the equipment unique to your business? Were they already familiar with and skilled in your business's soft-tools such as business websites, the organization's own intranet, software, reporting, meeting methods etc.? Not likely - unless they worked for you before, recently. Even employees that previously worked for the business have to be retrained. Employees that transfer or are promoted have to be trained and evaluated to the new position standards. So we have two primary options: first we can either put the employee through a formal training program that pulls them away from the job for the duration of the training or we can provide them some form of On-the-Job-Training.

Note: This article is NOT a discussion regarding the United States Department of Labor's reimbursement program titled, On-The-Job Training, that encourages businesses to hire unqualified workers.

OJT3Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

OJT can be performed formally or in-formally. It can be anything from an apprenticeship program similar to taking a semi-skilled or non-skilled employee and training them from the ground up in the business's skills requirements. It can be a formal training activity on the work site or an informal mentoring program.

The Military Model is A Practical Model

In the military we used a standard model for training individuals and small groups on any skill: Tell them what you are going to teach them, show them (demonstrate) the skill in action, explain how to do it, crawl them through it (slowly perform with them each step by step), then walk them through it a little faster, then let then run through it (perform) it at the full speed, have them explain how to do it, then review and conclude what was accomplished. If there is still a skill performance problem, then you retrain them again - with patience. Now think back about any time that you have tried to teach someone a skill. How did it go?

How We Learn?

There is an old rule of thumb that says we learn through:

  • 10% of what we read,
  • 20% of what we hear,
  • 30% of what we read and hear,
  • 50% of what we hear and see,
  • 70% of what we say ourselves,
  • and 90% of what we do ourselves.

What does this mean to you? If you want to get the most out of training an employee, take advantage of the most effective methods that will result in the best learning and enhance skills retention. You need to apply multiple modes of communication such as: provide reading material with graphics, speak with and encourage verbal feedback, incorporate questions and answers, make it hands-on training, include hands-on in the job place performance, evaluate performance and communicate the results to the employee, coach and mentor until the skill is second nature to the employee.

OJT4Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Structure OJT

Develop a Job Skills List: What are the skills, tasks and activities employees are required to perform in order to be considered successful and qualified performers? You will also need to qualify performance standards in quantifiable terms. Without performance standards it is difficult to be objective as to whether an employee has met the requirement.

OJT Model

  • Name the skill, explain what is it and why does it exist, why is it necessary, and how does it benefit the business.
  • Tell them how it is done as in performed. Break the task down into manageable steps and describe step by step.
  • Demonstrate the task and explain what you are doing, why, and the standard for satisfactory performance of the step/task.
  • Allow the employee to perform the steps in sequence. Observe and mentor the employee making correction as the task progresses.
  • Have the employee execute the task again, at a moderate pace, slow enough to avoid mistakes but fast enough to get closer to the expected speed and standard of performance.
  • If the employee has demonstrated the ability to perform the task properly to this point, then let them execute the task at full speed, in other words, in accordance with the business's performance standard.

Assess whether the employee meets the training performance standard. If they are successful, move on to the next task; if not, continue to train on that task if time permits. When time is an issue, then tasks that are not performed to standard at the completion of the training, assigning a skills mentor to the trainee allows for continued one-on-one training while the job is actually being performed on a day-by-day basis. The mentor is responsible to continue the training and assessing performance, and if necessary, due to continual failure to meet task performance standards, advise the manager/leader of the situation so that alternatives may be pursued: re-assignment, altering job requirement to tailor to the employee's skills, or let the employee go (the unfortunate need to fire or lay-off).


In an OJT environment an "Instructor" is the person that conducts training in a formal or semi-formal setting and may have one or more student employees to teach. A "Coach" is often an employee or leader that is skilled in most if not all the skills as well as managing and leading teams. Coaches always have several employees to oversee in training. A coach may use both formal and informal training methods, and team meetings. A "Mentor" is usually a one-on-one, employee to mentor relationship. The mentor works with specific employees on specific tasks in a purely informal and in a truly on the job setting, having the employee perform the job tasks in the normal work environment and teaching, guiding, advising, encouraging them on a day to day basis.

OJT4Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Make the experience positive and enjoyable

You are not a military drill instructor and you are not running a military boot camp or basic training. Avoid negative talk - don't degrade the individual if they don't perform the task perfectly the first few times. Don't belittle the task (this is sometimes hard to do) because it is not the most enjoyable activity to perform. Do tell them why the task needs to be done, as in, why it is important or how it fits into the bigger picture. Do acknowledge a tasked performed well. Once the employee has successfully performed the first set of OJT tasks, allow them time to perform them on the job until they are second-nature, and then challenge them with newer skills. Let them grow as contributors to the business success.

Document the Training

The best training programs document the skills required, the training performed and assess the performance of the employees to the business standard. These training records become part of the employees human resources record and are useful in making and justifying promotions, raises, re-assignments or lay-offs and firing (if necessary). Training records allow you to qualify and quantify employee career action decisions.

Final Word

On-the-Job Training is a method of training new employees in the business environment by leveraging the organization's skilled employees as instructors/coaches and mentors. OJT provides a unique opportunity for employers to hire and save money on training at the same time.