What It Is
Workplace training is training provided to employees at their place of work to familiarize them with the organization’s policies, work culture, and to provide them with the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their job.
Workplace training may significantly overlap with professional development. However, professional development is undertaken primarily with the benefit of the employee in mind, whereas as workplace training is provided primarily to benefit the organization. This training will be specific to the organization and essential to the roles that the employee plays at the organization.
Workplace training is also generally distinct from education and certifications that an employee may need to undertake in order to be hired for the position. That said, for some kinds of jobs there are not formal educational opportunities outside of the workplace. Typically, workplace training serves as a bridge between a person’s educational background and the labor they perform in the workforce, or even as a bridge between similar jobs performed at different organizations.
Why It Matters
Many of us have had the unpleasant experience of being new to a job and making an embarrassing mistake or some other faux pas early on. More than likely, these mistakes are not the result of poor judgment or lack of intelligence, but because the employee was simply not aware of some crucial information about how their new place of work operated.
At its most basic, workplace training is a way to acquaint new hires with the policies and procedures of your organization as well as the fundamentals of their new job. Ideally, this will make them more effective at their jobs sooner. Even if a new hire has performed very similar work at another place of business, no two organizations are structured or operate in exactly the same way.
Training is important at other junctures as well, such as when new policies, processes, or regulations are instituted, or when new hardware or software is added to the workspace. Training can also be undertaken to acquaint workers with developments in the field, or to help them transition into new roles at the organization.
Studies indicate that training employees benefits the organization, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction and higher retention rates. Researcher Steven Schmidt summarizes studies that have found that “employees who received training scored significantly higher on job satisfaction surveys than those who had not,” and that “an employee’s willingness to leave an organization… was negatively influenced by organizational learning culture and job satisfaction.” In general, these studies consider both basic training required to perform the work and professional development activities in their assessments.
Training can also be an important means for combating workplace discrimination and improving safety, when coupled with other measures such as a formal grievance policy, equal employment opportunity hiring policies, and so on. Including this kind of training early on and reinforcing it through follow up trainings can help prevent these problems and ensure that you have done your due diligence should they arise. To cite just a few statistics, in 2008 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 95,000 complaints alleging workplace discrimination and 32,000 sexual harassment complaints. Combined the EEOC received over $350 million in monetary damages on behalf of complainants.
Studies have also found that training is more likely to be offered for high-wage and highly educated workers. This may seem counter-intuitive, but high-wage workers are more likely to expect ongoing training as part of their work experience. Consequently, training and professional development options are more frequently offered by companies to entice these hires. Low-wage workers, however, benefit more from workplace training options. They are less likely to have the opportunity to engage in educational ventures outside of the workplace, and are at greater risk of not being able to adapt to a changing job market. Consider training activities for all of your workers, and not just those higher on the pay chain.
How to train your employees is a contentious issue. There are many schools of thought on what the best approach is. The resources provided at the end of this guide represent a variety of methods for different audiences. We recommend reviewing some of these and determining what approach will work best for your employees and your organization.
Some believe that the only training that counts is learning on the job, and this might be true for certain kinds of work. However, for any job there will be best practices and basic organizational dynamics and processes that you should acquaint your workers with before they plunge in. When learning by doing seems best, providing a coach that new employees can check in with or work with for their first few weeks is a reasonable way to allow the employee to learn as they go without throwing them into the deep end completely unaided.
Ultimately, let common sense guide your training initiatives. Create a climate in which new employees feel comfortable—and have the opportunity—to ask questions and seek out guidance.
- Step One: Provide an orientation to the organization.
- Step Two: Provide introductory training specific to the work performed.
- Step Three: Provide training when process and policy changes occur.
Step One – Provide an orientation to the organization
Every new employee should have some kind of orientation to your organization, even if it’s a small operation. While this might take several days at a large organization and involve several online training modules, this training doesn’t have to be high-tech or take a long time to be effective. The goal with this kind of training is provide everyone at the organization with a basic understanding of the organization’s operation, structure, ground rules, and human resource policies and benefits. The orientation should introduce new hires to the organization as a whole, so they have some understanding of how they fit in, and company policies about dress, conduct, communication, and so on. It should also cover any policies that you have regarding discrimination, safety, and related topics, and also let employees know who and how they should contact if they have questions about benefits and other topics that are not specifically related to their job function.
Step Two – Provide introductory training specific to the work performed
You should also provide new hires with training specific to their job functions. No doubt, you hired them because they were qualified and capable for the position. Nonetheless, it’s best to not hope that new employees can intuit how your office does things. The degree and intensity of this job training will vary considerably depending on the job, the organization, and the specificity with which the work performed must be done. In many instances, assigning someone a temporary couch or point person to work alongside them and answer their questions may be enough. If the nature of the work is very exacting or potentially dangerous, for instance, work that involves high tech equipment, you will likely need to develop a thorough training curriculum and perhaps even testing to ensure that the work is done correctly and safely.
Step Three – Provide training when process and policy changes occur
Employees should be re-trained anytime there is a major update to a company policy, process, or when new software or equipment is introduced. If you expect that a new process or policy will be a work in progress, let employees know this, and provide a way for them to communicate their thoughts and feedback before the process or policy is finalized.
- Step One: Provide cross-training.
- Step Two: Document processes, policies, and roles at your organization.
- Step Three: Provide relevant and helpful trainings that aren’t mission critical.
- Step Four: Provide training to address deficiencies and strengths.
Step One – Provide cross training
Cross training is when you train employees to perform multiple roles at their place of work. The goal is not to have them move into these positions, but to provide them with training that will allow them to cover other employees should they become sick, take a leave of absence, or leave the organization. Cross training is an excellent way to protect your organization against attrition, allowing you to minimize your need for temporary workers when you are seeking out new hires for vacant positions. Cross training also expands the skill set of your existing workforce, and provides them with a better understanding of the organization’s operations.
Step Two – Document processes, policies, and roles at your organization
To avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time you train an employee, you should document your organization’s policies and procedures. Document both your human resources policies and procedures and best practices for performing specific tasks at your organization.
This can be helpful for a number of reasons. For instance, this will allow you to more readily identify inefficiencies in how work gets done. Documentation will also provide a template for your training. Include current employees in this process. Have them draft documents that detail how they perform each of their job functions, or have them update existing documentation. Larger organizations may have a technical writer or communications person who can finalize and edit this information, or you might assign the final editing and writing work to someone who is skilled in this area.
While group and one-on-one training may be ideal, in a pinch a manual that explains how to perform specific tasks will do. This documentation will also be a helpful resource for employees to return to once training is over.
Step Three – Provide relevant and helpful trainings that aren’t mission critical
Provide training that is relevant to the specific job duties of your employees that may be helpful but not mission critical. This could include training in new software or methods. You might use this as a way to try out new processes or workflows at your organization. Doing this on a somewhat regular basis will also help you to keep up with and anticipate changes in your field. Solicit suggestions from your workforce about what trainings might be useful to undertake, especially from personnel in occupations that you are less familiar with.
Step Four – Provide training to address deficiencies and strengths
Use employee performance evaluations as an opportunity to identify your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. In some instances, training might be required to address a deficiency that a particular employee has or to improve their efficacy at a given task. You can also focus on an employee’s strengths and provide them with additional training to empower them to do an even better job or prepare them to move into other roles.
- Step One: Provide professional development opportunities.
- Step Two: Encourage employees to pursue certifications and other specialized training.
- Step Three: Provide sustainability and community engagement training.
Step One – Provide professional development opportunities
For more information on developing professional development opportunities and programs, see our Green Plus guide on the subject.
Step Two – Encourage employees to pursue certifications and other specialized training
Provide the time and payment for certifications and specialized training that will allow employees to do their jobs better or that will allow them to move into new positions at the organization. Check with local colleges and universities and professional organizations for relevant training opportunities.
Step Three – Provide sustainability and community engagement training
Consider your organization’s mission and values, and how specialized training can help your employees to better meet those mission goals and values. For an organization that values sustainability, you could recruit employees who have an interest in the topic to learn about how to implement green measures at your place of work. Similarly, you may decide to form a team who is focused on learning about and developing community engagement projects at your organization.
Pridgeon & Clay
Pridgeon & Clay is a large, independent, value-added manufacturer and supplier of stamped and fineblanked components. It is a family-owned company and employ more than 1,000 skilled employees around the world.
Pridgeon & Clay’s net sales increased 40% in 2010 and net earnings more than tripled. It has a 100% educational reimbursement policy, and all of the company’s model makers are currently enrolled Grand Rapids Community College to earn their associate’s degree in manufacturing. The company has shifted from a policy of mainly training floor leaders to also training frontline workers. Management believes that training and educating its frontline workers increases team leadership and empowers workers, aiding in the transition to higher levels of technology and lean manufacturing. Pridgeon & Clay’s policy of reimbursing tuition is a rarity, as only 37% of metalformers fully reimburse tuition for employees.
The participation rate of employees in training programs is impressive. 75% of production workers, which make up 75% of the workforce in Grand Rapids, have engaged in in-house training programs, including automatic press operator (APO) and on-the-job training programs.The APO Certification Program is a way to formally train press operators, with 21 courses covering all components of operating a press. 32 Employees have taken the APO training, and 480 employees have participated in the on-the-job training since 2009. 12 employees have also been reimbursed for recently taking an external training skills course in leadership development.
Pridgeon & Clay is also a member of a local employee support nonprofit organization, offering classes in computer skills, English as a second language, finance, introduction to home ownership and home maintenance. 45 employees have utilized these programs over the past 3 years. Pridgeon & Clay’s investment in its workforce has created loyal, independent-thinking, driven, creative employees.
Resources for More Information
- Workplace Education for Low-Wage Workers by Amanda L. Ahlstrand, Laurie Jo Bassi, and Daniel P. McMurrer
- Training on Trial: How Workplace Learning Must Reinvent Itself to Remain Relevant by Jim Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick
- Training Older Workers and Learners: Maximizing the Performance of an Aging Workforce by James Moseley and Joan Conway Dessinger
- Structured On-the-Job Training: Unleashing Employee Expertise in the Workplace by Ronald L. Jacobs
- The Workplace Learner: How to Align Training Initiatives With Individual Learning Competencies by William J. Rothwell
- Training the Trainer: Performance-Based Training for Today’s Workforce by Mary Jo Dolasinski, Anna Graf Williams, and Karen J. Hall
- Training Programs: A Compilation of Basic Workplace Learning Programs, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)
- American Society for Training and Development
- “Effective Workplace Training,” State of California Department of Industrial Relations
- “Workplace Training,” Training Today
- Aimee Charest, “Training Ideas,” Inc. (provides links to variety of Inc. articles on this topic)
- Ilya Pozin, “4 Things Your New Hire Training Is Missing,” Inc.
- Vanessa Merit Nornberg, “A Proven 8-Step New Hire Training Program,” Inc.
- Geoffrey James, “Train Employees to Be Exceptional: 5 Rules,” Inc.
Training your workforce, especially new workers, can increase their levels of job satisfaction and improve retention. Training eases the transition into a new job, and helps employees to become effective sooner. It can also help prevent potential safety, discrimination, and harassment problems by educating and reinforcing your company’s policies on these issues.
Glossary of Related Terms
Cross-training: Training employees to perform multiple roles at their place of work.
 Steven W. Schmidt, “The Relationship Between Satisfaction with Workplace Training and Overall Job Satisfaction,” Human Resource Development Quarterly, 18, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 484. Schmidt abstract available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hrdq.1216/abstract. See also: Robert Hoffman, “Increasing Opportunities for Learning Can Lower Turnover,” Inc., 15 May 2000, http://www.inc.com/articles/2000/05/19087.html, accessed 26 July 2013.
 “Workplace Training,” Training Today, http://trainingtoday.blr.com/employee-training-topics/Workplace-Training, accessed 26 July 2013.
 Amanda L. Ahlstrand, Laurie Jo Bassi, and Daniel P. McMurrer, Workplace Education for Low-Wage Workers (Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employement Research, 2003), 2-3. Preview available online at: http://books.google.com/books?id=7U_BYRAzkLUC&source=gbs_navlinks_s
 Brad Kuvin, “Pioneer Metalformers Invest in Workforce Development, Case Study: Pridgeon & Clay, Grand Rapids, MI,” Metal Forming Magazine, 1 December 2011, http://www.metalformingmagazine.com/magazine/article.asp?iid=71&aid=6420, accessed 26 July 2013.