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When On-the-job Training Backfires

On-the-job training – when done right – enables an employee to gain the skills they need to perform everyday job tasks.  But it does more than that!  On-the-job training lets an employee try out new skills within the context of a real work setting under the supervision of an experienced employee.  In fact, there can be many benefits to implementing on-the-job training, including:

  • Employees continue to be productive during training hours
  • Employees learn in a real (or realistic) work environment
  • Employees learn job-specific skills
  • Employees benefit from the job experience of trainer
  • Employees foster a sense of healthy workplace culture
  • Employees understand the performance standards expected of them

However, on-the-job training can go awry if there isn’t a standardized program in place.  To show you how, let’s look at two scenarios where mentoring, a common on-the-job training method, was implemented poorly.

SCENARIO 1

Kendra has spent 12 years as a retail sales associate at your store.  She enjoys her job and is great with your customers.  With her experience and boundless enthusiasm, she seems like a great person to train your new recruit, who is a student at a local high school with no previous work experience.

The student, under Kendra’s guidance, has become very adept at customer relations.  However, a few weeks after the student started working with your store, you start to notice a bad pattern.  Deposit slips are incomplete, returns are being processed improperly, and the stockroom has never looked worse.

As it turns out, Kendra has been passing on to the student only what was important to her – that is, her approach to customers.  She didn’t spend much time training the student in the job’s technical skills because those skills were almost second nature to her after 12 years.  The student, with no previous retail experience, was just doing their best based on the training they had received.

Analysis:  If the retail store had a standardized on-the-job training program in place, Kendra would have known which subjects to cover during the training period, and the student would be equipped with the skills necessary to perform well.  Good mentoring programs guide the mentor through all the topics necessary to training new employees, allowing for sufficient skill demonstration, knowledge discussion, and performance review.

SCENARIO 2

Judith has been a dedicated resident care worker your facility for 23 years and has been chosen to train a new employee, Carl.  Judith and the new employee feel that their mentorship experience has been positive, but you are starting to get complaints about Carl’s performance from his supervisor.  You are told that Carl has been using task “shortcuts” he learned from Judith instead of following your facility’s standard procedures.  While Judith was just trying to make Carl’s job easier, these shortcuts could negatively impact the quality of your clients’ care and increase the liability of your facility.

Analysis:  The mentor-learner relationship described above just served to pass on incorrect behaviours to another generation of employees.  A structured mentorship program would be founded upon the facility’s occupational standard of performance – that way, the new employee’s training would be tied directly to actual organizational procedures.

About Bernadette Allen

Bernadette Allen is President of The Competency Group.
Tags: performance management, performance standards, skills development, training