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On- The-Job Training

Need some clarity about how to structure training for your incoming employees?  Take a look at three scenarios and decide which would work best for your organization.

After the initial orientation step, another type of training is needed in order to get new hires working in their actual jobs. The success of this step depends on the degree of preparation that the department and organization make before new hires arrive. Let’s go over three types of technical training for new hires.

Job Shadowing

Job shadowing, also called the buddy system, involves placing a new hire next to an experienced worker, who is asked to buddy up and show the new hire the ropes. An advantage of this approach is that it provides a one-to-one help from the trainer, and it is a hands-on approach

A disadvantage of this method is that if the expert gets pulled away, the trainee is expected to hold things together. Another potential weakness is inconsistency in training due to lack of structure and differing training skills. In fact, some experts may truly dislike training others.

Here is an example of the buddy system’s drawbacks. Sally has worked at a manufacturing company for three months. She is assigned to work with Paul to learn how to use the carton packer and cruncher. It is a rather complex piece of equipment that can take a few days to learn and use successfully.

Paul is usually in a hurry and doesn’t like to train new people. He feels he has the highest level of knowledge on the machine, and he isn’t going anywhere, so why does he need to train anyone? Sally is slightly nervous about working with him.

On the first morning, Paul spends several minutes setting up the equipment while Sally stands to the side, watching him. He asks her to hold the crunch lever in the up position while he goes off to get the lubricant. He explains that sometimes the lubricant is needed, but not often. He quickly squirts some into a narrow gap in the gear system while the machine is still running. (The machine guard is not connected.) He then shows her how to take cartons off before they hit the floor.

Later, while Paul takes his break, he asks Sally to watch the machine. “Don’t worry, it practically runs itself.” Sally is anxious while he is gone. She hears a few noises that sound wrong and hovers near the emergency stop button, the only button that is clearly marked. She is late taking the crunched cartons off the belt, and several drop on the floor. She is relieved when Paul comes back. He continues to silently run the machine, occasionally making adjustments. He doesn’t seem to be in the mood to talk and answers her many questions with one or two words.

Notice the lack of a manual, labels, and a communicative trainer.1   Trainees in these situations have more anxiety, are more likely to hurt themselves and tend to learn by making mistakes.

Structured On-the-Job Training (S-OJT)

Basically, S-OJT means adding structure around the training approach. Instead of a buddy, manufacturing leaders select a trained trainer. Instead of taking an off-the-cuff approach, the trainer teaches from an approved manual or standard procedure. Before signing off, the trainer evaluates the trainee’s skills with a quiz or other method.

A potential weakness of this method is that supervisors often see two workers rather than a trainer and a trainee. They may continue to urge high productivity numbers from two people who are busy with learning and teaching. Another drawback is that even in an S-OJT environment, it is still easy for new hires to make mistakes and hurt themselves.

Simulation Training

Simulation areas are set up in a dedicated area, use dedicated equipment, and are highly structured. The end-to-end teaching of the topic is self-driven by the trainee, with minimal direction but several structured evaluations by experts. This type of training is used mainly in the military, the medical field, in training pilots, and some industrial settings. Designing simulation training is time intensive up front. But once the design is done, simulation-training facilities need minimal care.

A research study on technical training compared self-led simulation training with the same topic taught by an instructor. Both methods resulted in a significant increase in knowledge and skills as measured by pretests and posttests. But participants in the simulation group retained more of the information, as measured three months after training. They also rated their own confidence on the topic more highly than the other group did, and their confidence levels positively correlated with performance ratings.2

Those results favor simulation training, but not all organizations have the internal expertise to build a simulation training area or the money to have a vendor set one up for them. You can spend loads of money on 3D simulation software that shows trainees the inner workings of the equipment through virtual means. However, you can also start easier by simulating entry-level technical training, exposing trainees to low-stakes repetitive techniques that help build expertise.

At a pharmaceutical company, I designed a simulation area to teach eighteen general technical topics to sixty new bio-technicians. Previously, all training was done at a one-to-one ratio. With the simulation method, one trainer facilitated the learning of five to eight trainees, all rotating through each learning station. The typical training time was reduced by two-thirds, and the trainees’ competence levels were highly rated by leaders. The new hires were able to leave the simulation area and get straight to work, reducing the typical burden on the trainers and supervisors.

Keep in mind that some jobs take a few years to learn completely, especially when it comes to judgment, advanced troubleshooting, and complex and expensive equipment and batch setups, For those types of tasks, simulation training is likely unreachable, and your organization will have to rely on S-OJT instead. For more information on simulation training methods and facilities, contact Katy Caselli, +1 919-564-6855 between 8:00 AM and 5:00PM Eastern Standard Time.


  1. Adapted from author’s Train the Trainer class-What not to do in On The Job Training.
  2. Brydges, R., Nair, P., Ma, I., Shanks, D., & Hatala, R. (2012). Directed self-regulated learning versus instructor-regulated learning in simulation training. Medical Education, 46(7), 648-656.
  3. An except from Building Giants: A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce with Effective Training, by Katy Caselli, Building Giants Press, 2016.