Closing the Skills Gap with On-The-Job Training (OJT)

Closing the Skills Gap with On-The-Job Training (OJT)

Vector Solutions spends a lot of time working with new customers in the manufacturing sector who are just beginning to use our Vector Solutions learning management system (LMS) at their workplace as they try to close a skill gap at work.

At many of these businesses, a large part of the workforce is older and nearing retirement. These older workers are very experienced and have a lot of knowledge about their workplace processes, procedures, and machines. Unfortunately, that information is typically just "in their heads" -- it's rarely written down, documented, or recorded in any way.

As these more experienced workers retire, manufacturing companies are scrambling to hire newer, younger workers to take their place. These workers are ambitious and work hard, but they know only a fraction of the stuff they need to know to operate as effectively as the more experienced workers they'll need to replace soon. Check out our webinar, Closing the Skills Gap: Training and Upskilling the Next Generation of Talent, to learn how leading chemical manufacturers train the next generation of employees through improved learning and skills competency.

Naturally, our customers want to facilitate the transfer of critical knowledge and skills to these new workers. Ideally, they can quickly get the new hires up to speed and capture that critical knowledge before the more experienced workers retire.

Unstructured Following/Shadowing Programs (And How They Don't Effectively Close the Skills Gap)

Normally, by the time we've begun working with one of these customers, they've already tried to set up a knowledge transfer process by creating job-shadowing (or "following") programs -- a less-experienced worker is told to follow a more experienced worker around the work site and "soak up" all the knowledge and skills possible.

The idea sounds good, and sometimes it works well. But often, the results are less than encouraging. There can be a number of reasons for this. For example, it may be because the more experienced worker doesn't really want to pass along the knowledge. Or, maybe he or she wants to but lacks some of the interpersonal skills necessary to be an effective mentor.

Another common reason these programs fail is that they have no real structure. For example, it may not be clear exactly what the less experienced worker is supposed to learn. So, whether or not the new worker learns the truly critical information is left up to chance -- sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

Close the Skills Gap With Structured OJT

When a customer describes their informal job shadowing procedures and tells us that it was ineffective and that they're frustrated with the lack of knowledge transfer, we often suggest they'll have more success with a formal, structured on-the-job training program. The structured OJT program would include clearly defined roles, expectations, objectives, and standards. Having these in place will not only help the inexperienced worker learn more, but it also makes the experience more satisfying for the experienced worker.

Elements of a Structured OJT Program

Here are some simple steps you can follow to set up a structured OJT program:

  • Create a team with defined roles - Create an OJT team with individuals filling three roles: the new worker acting as the trainee, the experienced worker as the mentor, and a supervisor who pairs the trainee and mentor, helps guide them through the shadowing process and supervises the OJT program.
  • Select an effective mentor - Not every experienced worker is an effective trainer/mentor. Select mentors based on their interest in passing on knowledge, their communication skills, and their understanding of training basics, most importantly adult learning principles.
  • Clearly define the learning objective - You can’t assume that the experienced mentor will automatically know everything to teach and will remember to cover it all. Start creating the program by coming up with a list of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that you want the trainee to acquire during the mentoring process.
  • Identify the trainee’s skill gap - Once you’ve identified the learning objectives, determine which of them the trainee can already perform. There’s no need to train someone to do something he or she can already do. The gap between the learning objectives and what the trainee can do now is the skill gap that must be closed.
  • Determine the necessary training activities - With the skill gap determined, list the training activities the learner should complete to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.
  • Create a plan for assessing skills and knowledge - Don’t count on your mentor to simply guess if the trainee has mastered all the training. Create a defined set of assessments to determine what the trainee knows and/or can do.
  • Create a training plan - Once you’ve identified the list of training activities and the appropriate assessments, print out a list and have all three team members read, review, discuss, and sign the list. This training plan becomes an official agreement between all members.

Additional Thoughts for Closing Your Skills Gaps

Use a blended learning approach

Blended learning approaches that incorporate different types of training, such as written materials, online computer-based training, hands-on/in-the-field training, and instructor-led training, have been shown to be more effective than programs that use only one type of training. When you create that list of training activities, consider blending methods for the greatest benefit. Pick the activity type based on training effectiveness, delivery cost, training logistics, and other considerations.

Use a learning management system (LMS)

A learning management system (LMS) can be a helpful way to assign, deliver, credit, and report on training programs like these.


By replacing an unstructured, poorly-defined job-shadowing program with a structured, well-conceived OJT mentoring program, you'll find you can greatly increase the transfer of knowledge and skills from your more experienced workers to your less experienced workers. This ability to effectively "pass down" knowledge and skills is critical, as it will help you close the skills gap that your younger employees and/or new hires typically face.

Need help getting this set up at your workplace? Contact us and see what we can do for you.


Want to Know More?

Reach out and a Vector Solutions representative will respond back to help answer any questions you might have.