What Is On-the-Job Training? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 10, 2020
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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You’ve decided it’s time to look for a new career. Unfortunately, the job you want requires on-the-job training.

How can you get training on the job when you can’t even get the job in the first place?

It’s frustrating but this approach can actually work to your benefit and make you a better employee in the long run.

Sometimes, the best way to learn how to do a job is to do it. That sounds contradictory and kind of confusing, but it’s not that bad. If you want to work in an industry that requires some hands-on knowledge, experience, and expertise, the best way to get that is often through on-the-job training.

What Do We Mean by On-the-Job Training?

On-the-job-training is exactly what it sounds like. You get the job and then you learn how to do it while you’re working. Don’t worry, they’re not going to throw you out into the field to figure out how to do it yourself.

When employers say that on-the-job training is important, they expect to do the training. They know that their industry (whatever it may be) is pretty tricky to navigate and learning how to do it typically takes actual hands on experience doing the job. It could be that the job is very specialized or that the equipment is something most people don’t encounter regularly. The job could also require intimate knowledge of the field.

In fact, when you think about it, every job you’ve ever had does a little on the job training. Even if you’re just going to be pushing buttons every day, you still need to learn which buttons to push.

If you score a job that has on-the-job training, make sure to take advantage of this time to really learn the business. You’ll probably be job shadowing for a while. That means you’ll follow someone around to watch how they do the job. Typically, they’ll explain what they’re doing and why and even give you a chance to try it.

The next level of training will give you some hands-on experience so you can get a feel for the job. This also helps reinforce what you were told. Don’t expect to be perfect here, this is part of the training and you’re still learning.

Finally, you’ll be sent out on jobs and mainly be handling them yourself. You might still have a mentor shadowing you to make sure you’re doing things right but you’re almost a pro now.

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What Are the On-the-Job Training Advantages That Make It Vital Today?

Today, maybe more than ever before, training on-the-job seems very important. Technology has invaded just about every industry, field, and profession and each job has a different way of doing things.

The exact same job in two different companies may have a different approach, different computer programs, and unique ways of handling the job tasks. You could walk into one job, having done it for years for another company, and still not know exactly how to fit in with your new employer.

You should never feel thrown off if an employer requires on-the-job training. And it’s certainly no reason to feel insulted. It’s not that they doubt your ability, it’s just they need things done a certain way.

Sometimes learning while on the job is more about safety than anything else. If you happen to work in an industry that deals with hazardous materials or machinery, it’s crucial that you know how to do your job safely and effectively. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highly recommends on-the-job education and training for workplace hazards to boost job safety.

For employers, one of the most compelling reasons to feature a strong on-the-job training program is financial. Training at work can save money for companies in several ways.

  • Less costly errors

  • Employee retention is higher

  • Reduction in accidents

  • Retained and happy customers

  • Higher rates of production

Types of On-the-Job Training

There are a few different ways of learning while doing when you’re in a job. The interesting thing is that you might be doing more than one of these as you’re getting up to speed in your new position. Each one is designed to give you the practical experience you need to do the job efficiently and effectively, but they take different approaches.

  1. Orientation

    This is probably the most common type of workplace training and it’s often not even considered on-the-job training. When you start a new job, any new job, you’re going to need an orientation to the environment and the processes involved. You may also find that your orientation covers things like the corporate culture, benefits packages, the company’s leadership and policies, and you’ll probably go through all of your paperwork.

  2. Mentoring and Job Shadowing

    This is probably one of the most common methods of training anyone to do a job. Typically, a person who is very adept at the job shows the new hire how to do the job. They will do it themselves and then let the employee try. Often giving suggestions or feedback along the way.

    Sometimes this method only takes a few days or weeks, but in many situations, it can be a very long process that extends for months or even years. It’s crucial, for this technique to be successful, that you have a great mentor.

  3. Co-Worker Training

    In this situation, your training will come from someone who is doing the same job that you will be doing. There’s no hierarchy here and it’s a little different than a mentoring situation. You can expect your co-worker to show you the ins and outs of the job and give you tips on how to do it. But they’re not going to spend months or years teaching you how to do your job. It’s a much briefer experience and less involved. But they may let you in on some office gossip or short cuts to doing your job.

  4. Job Rotation

    Job rotation training is typically designed to give you an overview of the entire process, not just one position. It’s a great way to look at the big picture and see how each piece of the job puzzle comes together.

  5. Internship Training

    This is the workforce development position that every college student craves. Getting an internship and then the valuable training that comes with it can mean everything when it comes time to start your career. This training is usually done more for the benefit of the intern than the company. Their whole focus is to give you experience in the real world but not necessarily their company specifics.

  6. Self-Instruction Training

    This can be the trickiest method of learning how to do a job, especially if it’s new to you. Some people prefer the figure-it-out-yourself method and others simply flounder. If you are doing self-instruction, just know that there are people to help you along the way. It’s also important to give yourself a break and don’t expect to be perfect – this is training after all.

  7. Apprenticeship Training

    You’ve probably heard of apprenticeships. Being an apprentice is usually a stepping stone between some education or curriculum-based training and becoming an expert or a tradesman. An apprentice has some knowledge of the field, but they still need to learn a lot and hone their job skills. It depends on the profession, but many apprenticeship jobs last for a few years until the employee is ready for some type of certification.

  8. Benefits of On-the-Job Training

    If you happen to land a job that features on-the-job training, be grateful. While some people may see working and training at the same time as a slow-down on their path to their dream career. Other people will see it for what it is, a great chance to be even more successful, and here’s why.

  9. Paid Training

    Let’s face it, you don’t know everything. If you have an employer who is willing to teach you new things and improve your knowledge base while paying you – well, that’s a win.

  10. Improved Skills

    Everyone can stand to work on doing their job better. Whether it’s detailed work that takes the finesse of an artist or you simply want to be faster or do more, improving your skills is a fantastic goal.

  11. The Team Spirit

    When the whole crew is working together and everyone has been trained in their area, it’s a beautiful thing. Training gives everyone on the team a place that they understand. It starts the entire process off on the right foot with clear delineation of duties. This establishes expertise and promotes competence and confidence.

  12. Hands On Learning

    For some people, being told how to do something is one thing but doing it is another. If you’re a haptic learner, then you know there is no substitute for on-the-job training. It lets you physically, visually, aurally, and interactively learn how to do something. That means you’re going to retain the knowledge and feel much more confident in your abilities.

  13. Examples of On-the Job Training

    There are some industries that rely on on-the-job training, typically apprenticeships, to round out their employee knowledge and expertise. You might have had one occupation in the back of your mind through this whole article that does this. These careers simply couldn’t function as well as they do if they didn’t have strong employment training programs in place.

  14. Plumber

    This is one profession that is well-known for its apprentice program, which is a big part of the road to becoming a plumber. The pay is great, and the training is extensive, which makes this the perfect career for some.

  15. HVAC Technician

    If being an HVAC Technician is your career goal, you’re going to be thankful that there are extensive on-the-job training procedures. Expect to follow seasoned technicians around, watch and practice operating tools and equipment, learn how to manage customers in person and usually on the phone, too. Review safety standards, protocols, and procedures. And master the ins and outs of the equipment you use and that which is installed in people’s homes and businesses.

  16. Factory Worker

    There is a level of safety required in all factory jobs, mainly because of the equipment involved. If you’re interested in working in a factory, you can expect to have quite a bit of on-the-job training. It’s not uncommon to learn many positions in the factory, not just yours, so you have a broad understanding of the importance your role plays in the overall picture.

  17. Medical and Healthcare Jobs

    Many careers in medicine and healthcare include internships. Even your doctor performed an extensive internship or residency where they were allowed to treat patients but still doing so under a mentor or supervisor. This on-the-job training is crucial to them being great doctors who understand the difference between book learning and education and working with an actual human being.

  18. Teachers

    What is a student teacher? It’s really just someone who is training to become a teacher while working on the job. Student teachers are a fantastic example of on-the-job training because, as students, most people have experienced this type of career training. You got to see their training first-hand and be a part of it. It’s proof that this type of professional experience works.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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