On-the-Job Training (OJT): An Intro

On-the-Job Training (OJT) Image

On-the-job training, also commonly known as OJT, is a time-tested, popular, and effective workforce training solution. In fact, as we'll discuss later in this article, it's probably the single most commonly used form of training in workplaces. OJT is also sometimes known as direct instruction.

OJT comes in different forms, as you'll learn below. It can be more or less successful depending on the several factors, including how it's designed and the participants. We'll cover that below, too. And it can make up different percentages of an employee's overall workforce learning & development experience. Yep, we'll touch on that below.

In this article, we'll take a deeper dive into on-the-job training (OJT), explaining what it is, why it's popular, why workplaces should use it, and how to use it so that it's most effective in terms of helping workers develop skills they'll need to perform their jobs effectively and contribute to the overall success of the company they work for.

If you know of us as a producer of online training courses for workforce training, you may be surprised we're writing about OJT. But we strongly believe OJT is an important part of an overall blended learning solution for workforce training, and that's why our learning management system (LMS) is designed to help administer not only online learning but also OJT and other types of training, such as instructor-led classroom training.

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On-the-Job Training, or OJT: What It Is

On-the-job training is a form of job instruction that occurs directly at the worksite while the employee learning is doing his or her job (or working alongside and learning from a more experienced worker).

During OJT, the inexperienced worker performs and/or observes real job tasks being performed in the work area, using the real machines, equipment, tools, processes, and procedures.

The goal of OJT is to provide instruction and practice opportunity so that the inexperienced learner can develop the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to perform the job tasks associated with his or her job role.

What OJT Is Not

OJT is not job training that takes place in a classroom, via a webinar, through eLearning courses, and/or by reading written materials.

Nor is it job training that occurs in an academic or university setting.

OJT As Part of Blended Learning Solution

Although OJT is different than the other types of job training just mentioned above, that doesn't mean a well-constructed, well-structured job training program can't include OJT along with these other types of job training.

For more on blended learning, see our Blended Learning Best Practices article and our Blended Learning for Manufacturing Training article.

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Popularity of OJT

On-the-job training is probably the most common form of job training. Here's how noted learning authority Don Clark puts it at his Learning Juxtapositions website:

On-the-job training is...widely in use today. In fact, it is probably the most popular method of training because it requires only a person who knows how to do the task, and the tools the person uses to do the task.

The graph below, from a Brandon Hall webinar about workforce training, shows OJT as one of the three most commonly used training methods in a survey of employers. It's worth noting that "informal peer-to-peer learning," listed above OJT, isn't a training method, which leads more credence to the idea that OJT is very popular.


Why Is OJT So Widely Used for Job Training?

There are some good reasons for the popularity of on-the-job training.

First, because of its emphasis on experiential learning, meaning learning through experience, it CAN be very effective.

Second, it is a familiar instructional method that has deep historical roots in human society that go back even beyond the need for occupational training. There's an obvious connection between how a parent with extensive life experiences would instruct a child in an early hunter-gathering or agricultural lifestyle and how an experienced worker might instruct an inexperienced worker. OJT also has deep roots in the apprenticeship system.

Third, it is relatively simple. Employers don't have to create much or plan much to get at least the simplest on-the-job training program running. Sometimes it's as simple as "Go follow Joe."

And fourth, there's only a small barrier to entry regarding initial costs of OJT. It costs nothing or very little to set up an OJT program and get one worker to teach another worker how to perform job tasks through direct instruction, observation, and practice.

OJT and 70/20/10

The learning and development world is currently very excited about the 70/20/10 learning model for workforce learning and development, and it's easy enough to see how on-the-job training fits this excitement.

According to the 70/20/10 model, workers learn most of what they need to know about their jobs from skills developed directly on the job, a smaller percentage of what they need to know from social interactions with coworkers and other people, and an even smaller percentage from formally arranged learning events such as classroom instruction and eLearning courses.

The exact 70/20/10 statistics have no solid supporting data and the exact percentages are unknown or are in doubt, but many in learning and development believe that the general idea holds water even if the statistics are in question. As a result, some workforce learning and development experts have abandoned the name 70/20/10 and now talk instead about The Three E's--Experience, Exposure, and Education--to make this same point.

Because OJT is all about experiential learning and information learned directly on the job, the excitement about the 70/20/10 learning model directly leads to a recognition of the importance of on-the-job training (along with associated things such as the importance of performance support and job aids).

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Reasons to Use OJT

We've already touched on many of the reasons to use OJT to help workers develop the skills necessary to perform their jobs, but here they are again:

  1. Effective--When done properly, OJT can be very effective
  2. Inexpensive--OJT requires little initial financial investment
  3. Familiar--People are familiar with the basic instructional technique of OJT, which are in some ways similar to how parents raise children
  4. Proven instructional techniques--OJT takes advantage of proven instructional techniques, including active learning, hands-on learning, and opportunities for practice and feedback
  5. Better retention when training occurs in work area--Studies have shown that when people learn job skills in the work area where they will later be required to use those skills, as they do in OJT, they have a better chance of retaining and later applying those skills on the job

Reasons Why OJT May NOT Be So Great

On the flip-side, there are some reasons why OJT may not be a great training solution. These include:

  1. Removing experienced worker from normal job responsibilities--When instructing a less-experienced worker via OJT, the more experienced worker is, at least in part, removed from his or her normal job responsibilities, and so overall productivity may take at least a temporary hit.
  2. Lack of buy-in from experienced worker--OJT programs can be less effective if the experienced worker playing the instructor role doesn't enjoy that role
  3. Lack of instructional ability from experienced worker--Many times, a highly skilled, experienced worker may struggle to effectively train the inexperienced worker because the experienced worker lacks an understanding of what to do to help people learn--such as an understanding of adult learning principles.
  4. Lack of structure can lead to inefficiency--Some OJT programs lack a structure or cohesive plan that maps out what the new employee should learn and, if applicable, the optimal order of instruction. That leaves the accumulation of knowledge and acquisition of job skills on an ad-hoc, spontaneous, hit-or-miss basis. As a result, the less experienced worker may not learn everything he or she needs to learn in a timely fashion--or ever, depending on job circumstances.
  5. The possibility of multiple and even contradictory training messages--It's possible for the more experienced worker to teach one less experienced worker (Worker A, let's say) how to perform a task one way, and to tell a second less experienced worker (Worker B, let's say) to do it another. This can happen for any number of reasons, including simple chance. The potential for this is compounded in the OJT program at a workplace includes multiple different experienced employees performing the instruction role. This can ultimately lead to a workforce with different understandings about important job knowledge and how to perform specific job tasks.

Types of OJT

There are a couple of common types of OJT programs. In this section, we'll look at a few.

Structured and Unstructured OJT

First, let's consider the difference between unstructured and structured OJT programs.

Unstructured OJT--Job Shadowing, Job Following, "Joe Follow Joe."

Some OJT programs lack specific goals, plans, and objectives. They're not planned out and they don't have a structure. They often amount to nothing more than having the less-experienced worker follow a more experienced worker and hoping the necessary knowledge and skills are transferred.

This type of OJT program is not uncommon. It's common enough sometimes to be known by the catch-phrase "Joe follow Joe."

As you can guess, though, the results are often less-than-optimal. Certainly, some learning and skill acquisition does occur, but the process is inefficient, sometimes ineffective, and generally not comprehensive. On the other hand, these OJT programs require very little time, effort, and financial expense to set up, and they may be more appropriate for simpler jobs that don't require advanced skills.

Structured OJT

On the other hand, other OJT programs are more structured.

This can mean a few things. Most importantly, there's a defined, pre-existing plan for what the goals and outcomes of the job training are supposed to be. There's a list of information and skills the new worker must acquire, and there's even thought to the idea order of that instruction.

In addition, structured OJT programs may include specific, defined roles, including the inexperienced worker (mentee), the experienced instructor (mentor), and an OJT supervisor. Sometimes these programs even include a signed contract.

These programs tend to be more efficient, more comprehensive, and more effective than unstructured OJT programs. On the downside, they take more time, effort, and expense to set up.

Click the following link to read more about structured OJT programs and specific roles within an OJT program.

Check out our article on Structured OJT Programs for more on this.

OJT as a "Stand Alone" Job Training Program and as Part of a Blended Learning Solution

Beyond the issue of structured v. unstructured OJT programs, there's also the issue of using OJT as the sole method of job instruction and using it as part of a blended learning solution. We discuss this in more detail below.

OJT as Stand-Alone Solution for Job Training and Skill Development

Some workplaces use no other training method other than OJT to help their workers develop the necessary skills and learn to perform the required tasks associated with their jobs.

While this CAN work, especially for jobs that aren't especially complicated, this is rarely the optimal solution.

OJT as Part of a Blended Learning Solution for Job Training

On the other hand, other workplaces use OJT as one part of a blended learning solution that mixes and matches different types of training. Most learning and development experts would say this is the more productive manner to use OJT, especially if the skills the worker must acquire, and the tasks the worker must perform, are more complicated.

There are many ways of think of and create blended learning solutions, including:

  • The already mentioned 70/20/10 model, which mixes experience, exposure, and education
  • Blends of formal and informal learning, including social learning (this would be closely related to the 70/20/10 model)
  • Blends that include training plus also performance support and job aids
  • Blends that incorporate OJT, eLearning, classroom instruction, written materials, and more
  • Blends that pick the type of learning best suited to type of knowledge or skill the training is designed to help the worker acquire (facts, concepts, processes, procedures, principles, and problem-solving/troubleshooting). Read our Different Types of Training for Different Types of Learning article for more on this.
  • Blends intended to teach basic job knowledge, simple procedures and tasks, and advance problem-solving or troubleshooting skills

The Participants in an OJT Program

Structured OJT programs that include specific roles, and sometimes written expectations that everyone signs, are often more successful. Here's a quick introduction to the common roles.

For more information about this, the following link about structured OJT programs and specific roles within an OJT program.

Learner-Trainee-Inexperienced Employee

The inexperienced worker who must acquire key job knowledge and skills.

Ideally, this person knows in advance what expectations are, including what he/she should learn and when.

Experienced Employee

The experienced employee who is responsible for transferring some of his/her job knowledge and skills to the inexperienced employee.

Ideally, this person:

  • Knows the basics of how people learn, how to best facilitate learning, active learning, and adult learning principles
  • Knows knowledge and skills the new worker must acquire
  • Knows optimal order for presenting that information, if applicable
  • Has a desire to participate in the instructor role

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Additional Resources about On-the-Job Training

Here are some additional resources that may help you become more familiar with OJT and to use it more effectively at your workplace.

Conclusion: OJT Is Popular, Common, and Well-Liked--and Rightly So

We hope this has helped answer some questions about OJT and point you in some positive directions for using it at your workplace.

Be sure to use it in your workforce training program. And be sure to download the free guide below, too!

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