• Personal Resonance© is a research forum engaged in transforming findings from proven research studies on learning, training, performance and expertise into practical training solutions and practices to 'accelerate time-to-expertise' of organizations and professionals. Aggressive time-to-market drives organizations to develop complex cognitive skills of their employees at faster pace to beat their competitors. Goal of forum is to find and share the answer to that ‘speed’. The forum is trying to develop a core knowledge-base in four areas by systematically assimilating, analyzing and synthesizing the proven research studies in wide range of disciplines like cognitive sciences, neuroscience, psychology, education, learning and brain science, etc.: 1) Accelerated Workplace Expertise: Proven research-based strategies and methodologies to accelerate expertise of organization as a whole through training and learning. 2) Accelerated Professional Expertise: Science-based resonance techniques to accelerate expertise, peak performance and effectiveness of individuals. 3) Strategic Training Management: Experience-based competitive philosophies and processes to manage large-scale complex learning and knowledge operations to produce proficient workforce. 4) Competitive Instructional Design: Advanced instructional and learning design techniques to deliver higher order complex skills like problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, technical troubleshooting.

Does return on On-the-Job Training (OJT) outweigh the costs in Building Expertise?

On-the-Job Training to Build Expertise

I wrote in my other post on how there is need to find strategies to accelerate the OJT. Designing and Accelerating On-the-Job Training (OJT) in Organizational Settings. I will address the strategies to accelerating building expertise through OJT in subsequent posts. Here I will explore some aspects of OJT whether it is a cost or it is tool for return on investment on training.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Need for OJT at Workplace

Typically a novice’s journey to acquiring proficiency starts with some sort of formal and hopefully systematic training event to learn the skills needed at the job. The training helps the novice to acquire the skills and reach to certain level of skill proficiency at the time of exit from the training course. Traditionally training prepares a novice only to reach to a level called “advanced beginner” as defined by Dreyfus’s model (Clark, 2008).

What a novice lacks at the end of the formal training program is necessary experience and time to practice on the skills he learned in the training program. More and more organizations have adopted training approaches such as S-OJT (Jacobs, 2003). OJT provides the necessary job experience to the learner to perform his job. Employee learns several tasks during on-the-job training. He learns at a rate which is determined by number of cases, issues, time to practice and opportunities to further his skills (Jacobs & Bu-Rahmah, 2012. An example of airline pilot, although the estimate may vary based on airline, on an average 3000 flight hours are needed in OJT which include at least 1,500 hours multi-engine, and at least 1000 hours as pilot in command of jet powered aircraft is considered sufficient to fly a commercial passenger airplane with a scheduled airline. In terms of years it may mean about 5-6 years.

State of OJT at Workplace

In a study by Barbian (2002), 77% of the leading companies in Training Magazine’s Top 100 companies offer formal mentoring, 66% have job shadowing (OJT) programs and 51% have job rotation programs. The companies using OJT as a training approach are substantial in number. However, in one study by Rothwell and Kazanas (1990), it was revealed that 365 of managers believes OJT is essential part of company’s training strategy but don’t know how to improve it.

Many corporations still use informal or unplanned approach to OJT. As Filipczak (1993, p.30) explains, “OJT has often meant having a new employee ‘go sit by Nellie’ or follow Sam around the factory floor playing monkey-see, monkey-do”. This is a case of unplanned OJT. However, the paradigm has shifted in last couple of years.

Due to the increasingly complex and rapid manner in which new technologies and innovations must be applied in the workplace, as well as the attention given to quality initiatives and business needs such as ISO certification, structured OJT is become increasingly more common. This planned approach is on the cutting edge of training practice and is “moving to center stage as an effective tool to create learning organizations” (Rothwell and Kazanas, 1995, p.1). Jacobs (2003) recently presented a structured OJT model called S-OJT taking a system view on how to design an OJT and how to evaluate it.

Does OJT Reduce or Increase Cost of Training?

Nevertheless, OJT whether planned or unplanned could be a costly affair. Carnevale and Gainer (1989) made some conclusions regarding companies’ dependence on the OJT.  The estimate still seems appropriate:-

  • 80 to 90% of employee’s job and knowledge will probably be learned through OJT
  • Organizations will spend three times more per employee for OJT than off-the-job training, even if there is no designated budget for OJT.
  • Up to one third of an employee’s first year salary is devoted to OJT costs.

There is popular belief that OJT reduces training cost. This is true to some extent. Hurley Heat and Air (n.d) did an experiment by making a technician learn the new HVAC machinery through OJT and hence was able to learn faster. However, over dependence on OJT after the training may itself be costly.

As pointed out by Rothwell & Kazanas (2004) salary expenses particularly those linked to one to one OJT training can be substantial investment. Precise size of this investment is suggested by results of a research study in 1989 by Barron, Balck and Loewenstein. According to this, during their first 3 months of employment, new employees spend approximately 30 percent of their time in OJT.

OJT cost also implies the cost of lost production from experienced workers who are assigned to help newcomers learn the ropes and cost increased scrap rates if newcomers make costly mistakes while participating in OJT (Evans & Herr, 1978).

Quality of an organization’s OJT directly impacts how long it takes to train newcomers, how much turnover organization experiences (Prickett, 1997, Winkler & Janger, 1998), how well the organization manages the transfer of knowledge from one generation of workers to their successors (Lahiti, 2002)

It is also worth noting that many organizations have experienced major benefits from planned OJT. Examples includes Boeing (Barron, 1997), SGD Tool company (Case study: OJT in action”, 1994) and Norton Manufacturing (“Case Study: Tutoring”, 1995).

How About Accelerating Expertise Through OJT?

However, as the systems and technologies are becoming complex and complex, the dependence on OJT is increasing and it is infact resulting in longer OJT to become proficient to desired level.  The basic expectations of these organizations are that employee should be able to performance at certain level of proficient, if not like an expert after certain length of OJT. Whether planned or structured, the significance of OJT stays as it due to its power of providing actual on-the-job proficiencies to the employee, ability to apply some of his skills, get initial sense of achievement and drive more improvement.

The fundamental question becomes is that up to what extent organizations are prepared to bear the cost of OJT, whether direct or indirect.  Organizations need to look at overall training cycle (including pre-, during and post) to see how overall training cost can be brought down. At the same time focus needs to be on how fast the expertise can be build with or without OJT.


  • Barron, J. M., Black, D.A., and Loewenstein, M.A. (1989). “Job Matching and On-the-Job Training.” Journal of Labor Economics, pp. 1-19
  • Clark, R. (2008). Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. San Fransisco: Pfeiffer
  • Carnevale, A. P., & Gainer, L. J. (1989). The learning enterprise. Retrieved August 25, 2007. from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1e/70/d5.pdf.
  • Evans, R. & Herr, E. (1978) Foundations of Vocational Education, 2nd edn. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing.
  • Jacobs, R. L. (2003). Structured on-the-job training: Unleashing employee expertise in the workplace (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  • Kazanas, H. C., & Rothwell, W. J. (2004). Improving on-the-job training: How to establish and operate a comprehensive OJT program. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
  • No author (n.d.). Report by Hurley Heat and Air, Retrieved January 04, 2011, from http://randolphjoblink.com/component/content/article/42/105-on-the-job-training-program-reduces-training-costs-for-hurley-heat-and-air.html
  • Rothwell W.J, Kazanas H.C. (1995). Human resource development: A strategic approach. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press.
  • Rothwell, W.J., Kazanas, H.C. (1990), “Planned OJT is productive OJT”, Training and Development Journal, Vol. 44 No.10, pp.53-60.
  • Winkler, K., & Janger, I. (1998). You’re hired! Now how do we keep you? Across the Board, 35(7), 16-23.

 Image Credits: John E. Woods via Wikimedia

About Raman K. Attri

Raman K. Attri is a complex learning strategist, a transformational training consultant and a researcher with over 20 years of experience in engineering, management and technical training. His primary area of focus is to provide strategic directions to organizations in implementing next-generation competitive training strategies. His research interests include complex learning, accelerated expertise and advanced instructional design. He is also the founder of Personal Resonance©, a research forum with a charter to transform proven research studies on accelerated expertise into organizational training practices. His training and learning solutions are strongly founded in system engineering techniques applied to large-scale training programs. Equipped with scientific training methods, he innovated two research-backed complex learning frameworks namely SEAT© (Systems Engineering Approach to Training) and ProBT© (Proficiency Based Training) methodology primarily meant for organizations to accelerate development of complex cognitive skills of their employees systematically at faster rate. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds Professional Doctorate in Corporate Training, MBA in Operations Management and Executive MBA in Customer Relationship Management. Currently he is pursuing another Doctorate degree from Southern Cross University. His personal interests involve writing and painting.
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