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

Instructional Design Basics

I spend a lot of time working with new customers in the manufacturing sector who are just beginning to use our Convergence 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 the processes, procedures, and machines in their workplace. 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, the 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.

Naturally, our customers want to facilitate the transfer of critical knowledge and skills to these new workers. Ideally, they can get the new hires up to speed quickly, and they can 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 I’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. You know what I mean — 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 me that it was ineffective and that they’re frustrated with the lack of knowledge transfer, I 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, it also makes the experience more satisfying for the experienced worker (since it’s clear what they should be doing).

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.

Read more about adult learning principles here.

Clearly define the learning objectives

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.

Read more about learning objectives here.

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.

Read more about identifying the skills necessary for a job role here, and more about identifying and closing a skills gap here.

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.

Read more about assessments and about writing multiple-choice questions.

Check out the Convergence Mobile app, which is useful for in-the-field assessments of job skills (skill demonstrations and evaluations).

Create a training plan

Once you’ve identified the list of training activities and the appropriate assessments, print out a list and then have all three members of the team read, review, discuss, and sign the list. This training plan becomes an official agreement between all members.

Some 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.

Read more about blended learning here.

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.

Check out the learning management systems by Convergence Training here.

And watch this brief overview video of the Convergence Enterprise LMS.


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.



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Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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