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International Journal of Training and Development 3:3 ISSN 1360-3736

Structuring on-the-job training: report of a multiple case study

Jan A De Jong and Bert Versloot

Structured on-the-job training (OJT) has gained the attention of the business world as well as of researchers. The project discussed in this article contains a series of case studies of on-the-job training programmes in seven Dutch firms. Several dimensions are found to be useful in discriminating between types of OJT activities and between ways of structuring OJT. Trainee activities are either of a preparatory nature or a real work character. Assignments may be focussed on skill appli- cation, individualised study, or experiential learning. Jobs may be broken down to a greater or lesser extent and super- visors may have either a directive or a coaching role.

After a period during which training was mainly thought of as the transmission of knowledge in classrooms, preferably by professional trainers and with use of modern educational technology, the work place has been rediscovered as a site for training and learning (Marsick and Watkins, 1990; De Jong, 1991; Rothwell and Kazanas, 1994; Jacobs and Jones, 1995; Onstenk, 1995; for a critical stance see Garrick, 1998). The training departments of large companies are experimenting with training pro- grammes which largely take place in the work environment, and often in interaction with actual work processes. New employees are coached by experienced colleagues or by their direct supervisor. The new employees and their supervisors may be sup- ported during their learning and coaching activities by materials and instructions provided by the training department. Arguments for this training method are the supposed greater flexibility when compared with corporate classrooms, and the earl- ier availability of the new employees, resulting in higher cost effectiveness. Other reasons which are often mentioned are higher motivation on the part of the new employees and absence of problems with transfer of what has been learned to the working environment. Only a limited amount of empirical research into the phenomenon of on-the-job training has been carried out and theory building has only just started. Elsewhere

Jan A. De Jong and Bert Versloot are staff members of the School of Educational Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

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we have described the state-of-the-art of research on on-the-job training (De Jong, 1997). On-the-job training has been defined, comprehensively, as ‘the enhancement of job competence acquisition, involving the actual work processes and/or the physical and/or social work environment (De Jong, 1997, p. 449). In short, it is training for the job through the job. As a result of publications of Jacobs et al. (Jacobs and McGiffin 1987; Jacobs, 1992; Jacobs and Jones 1995), and Rothwell and Kazanas (1990, 1994), it has become com- monplace to distinguish between unstructured and structured on-the-job training. Jacobs and Jones (1995, p. 22) define structured OJT as ‘the planned process of developing task-level expertise by having an experienced employee train a novice employee at or near the actual work setting’. As described by Jacobs and Jones, the planning is done by the experienced employee on the basis of task analysis. The training role of the experienced employee is conceived as a form of direct instruction (as defined by Rosenshine and Stevens, 1984). It has been argued (De Jong, 1991, 1996) that structuring based on task analysis is just one way of structuring (other ways being: structuring based on ongoing work processes, and structuring based on evolving learning needs). Moreover, several on-the-job training programmes have been identified that rely primarily on active study by the trainee (‘on-site study’) instead of active instruction by a trainer (‘on-site instruction’). On-the-job training thus has multiple forms, each of which can be structured to a lesser or greater extent by prescribing and supporting the activities of trainees and their coaches. At Utrecht University in the Netherlands, the authors started a research pro- gramme in 1990, with the aim of contributing to the development of a research-based domain-specific theory of on-the-job training. The programme set out with a review of the literature (De Jong, 1991), two exploratory case studies (De Jong, 1993) and a telephone survey of on-the-job training programmes in Dutch industry and com- merce (De Jong, 1992). In the next project the authors carried out case studies in seven Dutch firms. The most recently finished project entails another set of case studies in six other Dutch firms in which structured OJT programmes were developed to sup- port innovation and change programmes (Glaude´, 1997 1 ). In this article, the results of the seven case studies will be presented (the penulti- mate project of the programme). The focus in this article is on didactics: the training design and the actual delivery of the training. Data on the programme development process and on the organisational incorporation have been reported separately (Versloot and De Jong, 1994).

Research questions

The main objective of the case studies reported here was to increase our understand- ing of the conditions, processes and effects of structured on-the-job training pro- grammes. Given the fact that so few theoretical and empirical studies are available on the topic of structured on-the-job training, the research was bound to have an exploratory character. The main objective was specified in 17 research questions. This focus of the article is on the six research questions directly related to didactics. Those six research questions are:

1. Are certain types of (structured) on-the-job training suitable for certain types of jobs?

2. What types of assignments were evaluated by the participants as the most use- ful?

3. What characteristics of training materials were evaluated most positively?

4. What timing of on-the-job and related off-the-job training was evaluated as the most effective?

5. How are production processes safeguarded from disturbance by training activi- ties?

1 A Ph.D. research study, supervised by Versloot.

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On-the-job training


6. How



duction priorities?

processes safeguarded from

disturbance caused



With regard to these six research questions propositions were formulated, summaris- ing all information related to these questions that could be found in the literature review and in the two initial exploratory case-studies. The propositions, to be tested by comparing them to the case data, are listed below (numbers correspond to the numbers of the research questions).

1. ‘On-site study’ will be most effective for jobs with a substantial problem-solving activity component, whereas ‘on-site instruction’ will be most effective for jobs that mainly involve the following of rules.

2. Assignments will be evaluated positively if

a. the prerequisite knowledge is present;

b. trainees are, within safety limits, free to experiment;

c. well timed and clear feedback is provided;

d. good results qualify for the performance of new tasks;

e. the assignment is clearly related to future tasks.

3. Training manuals will be judged to be more effective if

a. they are regularly updated;

b. most frequent tasks and problems are treated first;

c. information on both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ is presented;

d. they are clearly structured;

e. the use of materials and documentation available at the work-site is encour-


4. To be judged effective, on-the-job training should be delivered just in time. Just in-time on-the-job training depends on

a. the reduction of work pressure (see 6);

b. well timed teaching of theoretical prerequisite knowledge.

5. To be judged effective, structured on-the-job training should interfere with pro-

duction as little as possible. This can be achieved by

a. using quiet hours for training;

b. gradually introducing trainees into productive tasks of increasing complexity;

c. delivering instruction by written or electronic media;

d. reducing learning time through good instructional materials (see 3).

6. To be judged effective, structured on-the-job training should not be hindered by production pressure. This can be achieved by

a. allowing trainers time for training;

b. regular assessment of trainee progress;

c. common duty-rotas of trainer and trainee;

d. appointing trainers who are sensitive to the training needs of trainees.


The research method can be characterised as a multiple case study (Miles and Huberman, 1984, 1994). The researchers shared the conviction of Miles and Huber- man (1984, p. 34) that ‘better science happens when one makes one’s framework— and associated choices of research questions, sample, and instrumentation—explicit, rather than pretending a sort of inductive purity’ (italicisation in original). Therefore research questions and propositions were formulated beforehand, although the researchers remained sensitive to new questions and new insights developing during the research process. In accordance with the recommendations of Miles and Huberman (1984), and Yin (1984), the concepts used in the propositions were trans- lated into research instruments. A content analysis instrument was constructed for the analysis of relevant documents. Additionally, five interview schedules were developed, for trainees (and former trainees), trainers, supervisors, managers and HRD- officers. Each item was placed in the interview schedules for those categories of participants considered knowledgeable. As a consequence, most items were placed

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(if necessary in modified form) in more than one interview schedule. Interviews were held in the year 1993 by students who were in their last year of the Utrecht University Educational Science programme (specialisation: HRD). Numbers of interviewed per- sons per case varied from 7 to 19, with an average of 12. Some persons (those who were in a coordinating position) were interviewed more than once. By placing the same item in several questionnaires some ‘triangulation’ could take place; ie. check- ing reports from different witnesses. Interviews were tape-recorded, typed out, and checked by the interviewees. Segments of the scripts were coded in relation to the concepts measured (in accordance with the recommendations of Miles and Huberman, 1984, pp. 54–69). Data from all the instruments for each case were sum- marised for each concept. Case-reports were written based on these summaries. The case-reports relate the collected data to the propositions and the research questions formulated in advance. Based on the case-reports the cases were compared with respect to each concept and, integrating that information, with respect to each prop- osition. ‘Evidence’, although provisional because of the restricted number of cases, is primarily based upon converging opinions of respondents (with respect to relations between conditions and effects) and upon contingencies (patterns of co-variation) detected when comparing the cases.

The cases

Based upon the results of the telephone survey of on-the-job training programmes in Dutch companies, a selection was made of seven non-industrial companies (of more than 500 employees), offering training programmes designated as ‘a type of structured on-the-job training’, and having indicated to be willing to cooperate in the research study 2 . In general, the training programmes studied differed in amount of structure, as well in many other aspects. A common feature, distinguishing these programmes from on-the-job training programmes studied in the past, is that they were neither located in factories, nor prepared for technical production jobs. Another common feature of the selected OJT programmes (although not a selection criterion) is their nestling within larger HRD programmes, consisting of both on-the-job and off-the-job components. Table 1 provides an overview. In each case just one training programme was the subject of study, with the exception of Clothing Retail, where three programmes, for different functions, were studied. At the Weather Bureau two similar programmes for comparable functions were studied.

Programme descriptions

For the sake of presentation, the descriptions of the seven OJT programmes are grouped in three exhibits (exhibit 1, 2 and 3). When comparing the cases, the pro- grammes classified in the same exhibit were found to have some features in common. The descriptions follow a fixed format: a) job characteristics, b) programme history, c) training schedules, d) training process, e) training materials, f) interaction with production, g) effectiveness of the programme. The real names of the companies are not mentioned in this article. The first group of three cases (exhibit 1) is characterised by on-the-job instruction in a real-work context. The training takes place in the physical work environment, utilising (part of) the social work environment, and involving actual work processes.

Exhibit 1: Insurance, Airport Ground Service, Weather Bureau

Insurance a) Job characteristics: This case study focusses on the client administrators of an insurance

2 In fact, eight companies participated in the research; one case is omitted in the analysis presented in this article, because the on-the-job training programme involved was largely unstructured.

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On-the-job training


Table 1: Companies and functions




Tasks of employee

1. Bank 1


Front-office workers, using a new computer system.

Advising clients/ administration of financial transactions with clients. Check-in of passengers/ controlling luggage/ ticket control/ operating bridges. Dispatch of correspondence/ administration. Observing the weather/ report. Located in main airport and coast weather station. Selling tickets/ advising clients.

2. Airport

Dispatch of

Ground attendants.




passengers, and


3. Insurance


Client administrators in the Collecting Division.

4. Weather bureau/meteorological office: Information on the weather.







National railway company: transport of people and cargo.

Front-office workers.



Clothing retail.

1. Salesmen;

1. Selling clothes/


2. Senior salesmen; 3. Department supervisors.

presentation/ service; 2. Ditto + supplementing/ maintenance; 3. Supply management + people management.


Bank 2


Client advisors

Advising clients/



selling savings- and insurance-products/ managing client- and product- information.

company. The Debt Collection section numbers around 80 employees, whose task is to adminis- trate and manage debt collection from clients reluctant to pay their premiums. b) Programme history: Until 1985 three departments were each responsible for one part of the

debt collection. In 1985 the three departments were merged, resulting in task enrichment for the employees. In order to obtain the missing competencies employees were trained by col- leagues who had completed a one day train-the-trainer course. The training programme was kept in use afterwards, for the purpose of training new personnel.

c) Training schedule: Each new employee has to go through at least six modules, four of which

are delivered on-the-job. The first of these modules provides basic knowledge of central admin- istration, the others deal with aspects of debt collection. After two months (on average) the trainee is able to carry out basic debt collecting tasks: answering the telephone, and dealing

with 80 per cent of the incoming mail. It takes at least a year to master the other, more complex, 20 per cent.

d) Training process: Newly hired employees are matched with experienced client administrators

working in the same team. In the first month standard work (which is the content of the first module) is done by coach and trainee together. The coach explains the procedures, with refer-

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ence to the written work-instructions. After some time the trainee is allowed to do the work on his own, initially under frequent supervision by the coach. With incoming or outgoing telephone messages, the coach initially does the talking, while the trainee listens through a monitor. Later, the roles are reversed. When a module is finished, the level of competency reached per task is administered in the training guide.

e) Training materials: A training-guide listing most of the current tasks is used (in order to

register progress), as well as books with written work-instructions. The latter are updated regularly by the team according to a fixed procedure.

f) Interaction with production: Training is applied during the actual work process, which can be

carried out in any tempo. In the first months of training the work load of the coach is reduced and the trainee is gradually allowed to take on more tasks (of increasing complexity) on his own.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: The participants are positive about the programme. They con-

sider it a ‘natural’ element of their working conditions. In their view off-the-job training would be less effective.

Airport Ground Services

a) Job characteristics: This case study focusses on the training of newly hired ground attendants

of the Passenger Department of Airport Ground Services, whose task it is to check in passen-

gers, check passengers’ baggage and operate the avio-bridges. There are about 220 ground attendants.

b) Programme history: Before 1989 new ground attendants received an unstructured form of on-

the-job training. Then an quite extensive off-the-job training course was introduced, based on a task analysis. Evaluation led to a changed design for the training course in 1991: a shorter

off-the-job training, followed by a more structured on-the-job training. Also, a field orientation day has been scheduled for the second day of the off-the-job training, which makes the off- the-job course less ‘theoretical’.

c) Training schedule: The first four weeks are used for the off-the-job training (with some field

assignments and with some compulsory tests); subsequent on-the-job training lasts two or three weeks, and is concluded with an evaluation conference. The training course is offered every two months.

d) Training process: An OJT coordinator matches each trainee with an experienced colleague who

carries out the on-the-job training. When a trainee checks in a passenger, the trainer informs the passenger of the training situation. The training consists of demonstration, explanation and guided practice. Gradually the trainee gathers experience with the different tasks of a ground attendant.

e) Training materials: In the off-the-job course a textbook and a book with assignments are used.

In the OJT the current manuals (check-in guide, intercom-guide and company-books) are used, supplemented with a checklist of tasks to be mastered.

f) Interaction with production: The trainees follow the duty-rota of their on-the-job trainers.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: In the experience of those concerned, the programme is cost-

effective, both in comparison with unstructured OJT and in comparison with a longer off-the- job course. It guarantees sufficient basic knowledge and skills, it does not take more time than needed, and interference with ongoing work is minimal.

Weather Bureau

a) Job characteristics: The case study is focussed on the position of ‘observer’ at a main airport

and at a coast guard station. The task involves weather observation and weather reports. The

weather bureau employs about 130 people in observer posts at eight locations.

b) Programme history: In 1991 the training of weather observers was changed. Before that date

newly hired observers received a general two months theoretical course, followed by unstruc- tured on-the-job training. The length of the training period depended very much upon the energy supervisors and trainees were willing to put into it. The new programme comprised a modular course at the central office (with a content adapted to the needs of the peripheral stations) and a follow-on more structured on-the-job training period.

c) Training schedules: The general course in the central office takes three months. The on-the-

job training lasts five months for the airport weather observer and six weeks for the coast

weather observer. There are recall days in the central office once every three weeks, sometimes requiring study-tasks, such as weather map analysis.

d) Training process: The trainee does a rapidly increasing proportion of the regular tasks, initially

closely controlled by the coach. At first, observations are noted down in a logbook copy. After correction, they can be noted down in the logbook itself. Sometimes extra tasks of a simulative nature are given, eg: ‘imagine an impending blizzard; whom would you inform and what code would you use?’. The tasks performed and the independence manifested are marked by the

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On-the-job training


coach in a workbook with pages for each training day. Every six weeks (for the airport weather observer) progress is discussed by means of an evaluation form. e)Training materials: The workbook and the evaluation forms are the main training instruments, apart from the regular instruments and documentation at the weather station.

f) Interaction with production: The training programme starts twice a year. Most tasks during

on-the-job training are part of the normal work process, which is appreciated. Some study tasks are taken less seriously because they lack direct relevance to the work in the station. g) Effectiveness of the programme: The increase in the amount of structure in the training is

evaluated positively. The updating of the content of the central course has improved safety and reduced the number of failures and disturbances. In addition, the number of internal complaints has diminished.

The second group of cases (exhibit 2) is characterised by individualised study tak- ing place, at least partly, in a simulated work context. The training takes place in the physical work environment, but (initially) on basis of simulated work processes, and, especially in the second case, involving the social work environment.

Exhibit 2: Bank 1, Railways

Bank 1

a) Job characteristics: The focus of the investigation is on the training of tellers and retail advisors

of a large Dutch bank, working in local branches.

b) Programme history: Bank 1 is the result of a recent merger. Concurrent with the merger a

new front-office electronic data-processing system was installed. Although front-office data processing was normal practice in one of the participating banks, the new system was based

upon the administrative procedures in use at the other bank. As a consequence the employees of both banks had to be trained in using the new system. The training was offered to all employees working with the newly introduced system. About 18,000 staff had to be trained within a period of two years.

c) Training schedules: Five weeks before the new system was to become operational in their

bank office, a team received instruction in a regional training centre. Each day, during the period of a week, one fifth of the team was instructed in the training centre, together with personnel from other offices in the region. In the four remaining weeks the team members could practice working with the system in their own office. The average number of hours of on-line practice observed per employee is 20.

d) Training process: For purposes of practising, an ‘isolated branch’ of the system was used; a

non-operational part of the system in which all procedures could be practised without disturb- ances in the main data processing. This ‘training environment’ could be used on every terminal in the office. Usually employees practised in a separate room, in order not to be disturbed. In some offices the team practised in the evening, when the office was closed to the public.

e) Training materials: For each application of the computer system a book with information and

exercises was provided. The exercises describe realistic client interactions requiring computer

data processing.

f) Interaction with production: Employees were asked to read the information in the workbooks

before entering the ‘training environment’. Each employee had to find out what applications were relevant to their particular job and therefore needed practising. Learning time was to be spread over the available period, but those who needed to master just a few applications were advised not to start too early. In order to relieve production pressure a regional support team

was formed, replacing employees who were off for training.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: There has been no opportunity to compare the effects of the

training with the effects of an alternative treatment, so statements on effectiveness have been hard to come by. The general impression is that the combination of one central instruction period of one day, combined with an on-line training environment in their own office is a good solution. However, one alternative has been developed spontaneously in some offices where the training environment could not be installed in time: the employees visited an office that was already working with the new system, and were coached there in the use of the system by their more experienced colleagues. This alternative was evaluated very positively.


a) Job characteristics: One of the divisions of this railway company is Service and Sales. One of

the main positions in Service and Sales is that of ticket-clerk, that is, a person selling tickets

and advising passengers from behind a counter.

b) Programme history: Before 1978 ticket clerks received off-the-job training. New hires had to

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wait until they could be placed in the programme, and meanwhile received unstructured on- the-job training. As a result the off-the-job course often came too late to be of much relevance. In order to supply a more flexible training course the central training department opted for an individualised study programme, located mainly on the work-site. In 1989 the individual study material has been revised as a result of new hardware and software for use at counters and as a result of the need for more user-friendly training-materials.

c) Training schedules: It takes six weeks to train a ticket-clerk. In the first four weeks an individ-

ual study package is worked through. This provides information (on procedures, geography,

etc.) and assignments that are to be carried out; these are often quite practical, eg. determining what ticket should be provided given a certain route preferred by the passenger. The assign- ments are made with the use of the equipment and information available in the workplace. During this period the trainee is coached by an experienced employee. Once a week plenary meetings are organised in a regional centre. After four weeks a central examination is adminis- tered. During this period, and for two weeks subsequently, the trainee gains experience at the counter, under the supervision of an experienced ticket-clerk. After six weeks the trainee’s practical proficiency is assessed.

d) Training process: The trainee independently works through the individual study package,

but can ask the coach for help. At first during quiet hours, and later more frequently, the

trainee gains experience at the counter, literally with the backing of an on-the-job coach.

e) Training materials: The main training materials consist of an individual study package, in

addition to the equipment and documentation used in the workplace.

f) Interaction with production: In some districts every month and in other districts every two

months a new (central) training period starts. The dates of staff appointments are adapted to

this interval. The trainee is gradually introduced to the work. During the training period the trainee and the coach are on the same time schedule.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: Comparisons with former or parallel programmes cannot be

made, but participants are generally satisfied with the training provided. The early introduction into the social and material work context is appreciated, as is the frequent testing, which pro- motes a serious attitude towards the training.

The third group of cases (exhibit 3) is characterised by on-site study taking place in a real work context. The training takes place in the physical and social work environ- ment, and on the basis of real work processes.

Exhibit 3: Bank 2, Clothing retail

Bank 2:

a) Job characteristics: Bank 2 is essentially a cooperative organisation of local banks. Most local

banks work together with regard to training and development. The case-study is focussed on the (annual) training of twelve all-round private banking client advisors.

b) Programme history: The programme started in 1991. The development of the programme

arose from dissatisfaction with the usual recruitment and training of this category of personnel.

Vacancies stayed open for quite a long time while recruitment was in progress. Unstructured

on-the-job training took even longer and did not prevent the new hires from making many costly mistakes. For this reason the cooperating local banks decided to train a group of candi- dates ‘in supply’.

c) Training schedules: The training programme lasts one year and comprises off-the job and on-

the-job components. The off-the-job component includes several short courses in a central location, plus some private study materials. The on-the-job component consists of assignments, plus general front-office experience.

d) Training process: The assignments are linked to the theory discussed in the off-the-job meet-

ings, for example having a number of loan-advice talks or recommending youth savings

accounts in interviews with parents of new-born children. Experiences should be reported in writing, and discussed with an on-the-job coach. In a number of instances the job situation did not allow for assignments to be executed.

e) Training materials: Apart from the course materials and the normal documentation at the

work-site there are no special training materials.

f) Interaction with production: Trainees are appointed to supernumerary positions, but are

required to work at the counters when they are in the office. The kind of work they do depends

partly on the kind of experience they are supposed to gain in relation to the off-the-job course. In order to obtain a sufficient variety of experiences the trainees change office after a six months’ period. For some it is hard to find a balance between their study activities and their daily work.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: Compared with the traditional two year apprenticeship pro-

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On-the-job training


gramme the training is reduced to half the time, and the quality of the work is higher due to the more competence-directed training programme. Objective measures of quality are the num- ber of banking products sold and the number of clients signalled to colleagues who are pro- duct specialists.

Clothing retail:

a) Job characteristics: In this case-study the training for the positions of shop assistant, senior

salesman, and department supervisor in a large clothing retail company were investigated.

b) Programme history: In 1983 a top-down innovation (new products and new presentation

methods) failed. A need for higher personal commitment was observed by the training man- ager, the personnel manager and the sales manager, who cooperate as a team. They started organisational development projects to promote motivation and proficiency. These projects

resulted in off-the-job training courses with a reflective and activating character. Trainees and their on-the-job coaches (usually their direct supervisors) were encouraged to plan improve- ment projects to be executed at the work site.

c) Training schedule: New hires start without specific training, and are coached in the same way

as one-day-shop assistants. After some months of work experience they attend the course. Department supervisors select employees who are supposed to be ready to follow the course for senior salesman, and higher management selects those eligible for a course designed for

future department supervisors.

d) Training process: The themes dealt with in the training for shop assistant are sales techniques,

as well as dealing with thefts and complaints. Trainees are encouraged to contribute their own experiences and concerns. On Monday mornings, when the shop is closed, trainees discussed the content of the training with their boss and how to apply what they have learned, for example, by taking the initiative for a presentation of a new collection. Also, in the courses for higher positions the practice of taking innovating initiatives on the shop floor is strongly stimulated.

e) Training materials: The main training material consists of the manuals and course-books used

in the courses. These are based on the experiences in the shops, and are regularly updated. They are used as reference works.

f) Interaction with production: Because the formal part of the training is off-the-job, it is sometimes hard to keep staffing levels in the real workplace adequate. The training on-the-job consists of efforts to improve the individual’s functioning and to try out new activities in the actual work context. It is difficult to distinguish it from ‘normal’ quality improvement efforts. Experiences gained in the efforts are discussed again in the off-the-job course.

g) Effectiveness of the programme: The apathy and resistance to change, which were the reasons

for starting the training courses, have changed into enthusiasm and a good deal of initiative. Participants evaluate the training programmes very positively.

Based on the seven case-descriptions answers can be formulated to the research ques- tions.


Types of training (1)

In all seven cases a distinction can be made between preparatory learning activities and learning in real work contexts. Preparatory learning activities can take place both off and on the work site. They include off the job training courses, reading written instructions, and practice in simulated work situations. With regard to learning in real work contexts a distinction was made earlier in this report between on-site instruction and on-site study. Both depend on task analysis, but in the case of on- site instruction a trainer demonstrates, explains, and gradually hands over tasks, while in the case of on-site study it is the trainee who actively explores and tries out the tasks that are to be carried out. In the Insurance, Airport, and Weather Bureau cases (exhibit 1), on-the-job training has the features of on-site instruction, whereas in the Bank 2 and Clothing Retail cases (exhibit 3) on-the-job training is more of an on-site study type. In the Bank 1 case (exhibit 2) a real work training component is missing: after a well-developed individualised preparatory programme using an ‘isolated branch’ of the front-office data processing system, trainees simply had to start using the system in their client contacts. As described however, they felt the

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need to have some additional field experience, guided by experienced colleagues. In the Railways case (exhibit 2) an individualised preparatory programme is offered as well, with the use of real work equipment and with coaching provided by an experi- enced colleague. The real work training component is of an (unstructured) ‘on-site practice type’ (see De Jong, 1991): trainees do the job that is to be done and are

backed by the on-the-job coach. Structuring on-the-job training in real work contexts thus appears to be executed in two steps: 1) dividing the job into separate tasks which should be trained in a certain sequence, and 2) either having an on-the-job trainer instruct the trainee in each of these tasks (by modelling, explaining, giving opportunities for practice and providing feedback) or having the trainee search for occasions to gain experience with the tasks after a thorough orientation period. In some cases the work can easily be broken up into tasks that can be separately practised in real work contexts, which allow for on-site instruction (Exhibit 1: Insurance, Airport, Weather Bureau) or on-site study (Exhibit 3: Bank 2, Clothing Retail). In other cases (Exhibit 2: Bank 1, Railways) employees need to be able to perform all tasks at any moment, depending on the unpredictable needs of the individual client. In the latter cases the practice shock can be somewhat reduced by practice in simulated contexts, observation of experienced workers and back-up by experienced colleagues or supervisors. The choice between on-site instruction and on-site study might depend on the amount of task standardis- ation and the appreciation of initiative and independence. The Insurance, Airport and Weather Bureau jobs depend on standardised procedures, whereas in the Bank

2 and Clothing Retail jobs initiative and independence is more strongly valued. Com-

pared to the trainees of Insurance, Airport, and Weather Bureau, the trainees at Bank

2 and Clothing Retail are more experienced employees, preparing for more respon-

sible jobs (senior salesman, department supervisor, and all-round private banking client advisor). Of course the differences are far from absolute; in fact self-directed learning and trainer-directed learning are two extremes of a continuum. In conclusion, the proposition that on-site study is most effective for jobs with a substantial problem-solving activity component, whereas on-site instruction will be most effective for jobs that mainly involve the following of rules, gets some support from the data. However, the data tell us much more about types of on-the-job train- ing. First, on-the-job training need not always take place in real-work contexts. Sev- eral cases show examples of on-the-job practice in dummy work environments (Bank 1, Railways), paper-and-pencil exercises, using manuals and other materials available on the job (Bank 1, Railways) and written instructions, to be studied before practising on the job (Insurance). This on-the-job individualised study is experienced as mean- ingful if a) the trainee learns to use systems localised in the work place, b) feedback can be given by the persons doing the real work coaching, c) the time lapse between study and practice is short. Secondly, it is not always possible to learn a job by means of one task at a time. In certain jobs it is necessary to be able to perform all tasks at any moment. In those cases the real work component of training cannot have the form of on-site instruction or on-site study; it can only be on-site practice, supported by previous preparatory learning experiences, expert observation, and expert back- up.

Types of assignment (2)

Several types of assignment can be distinguished in the cases studied. The first type may be called ‘application assignments’. They are intended to apply what has been learned in an off-the-job course. Although these assignments can increase the impact of the off-the-job course, their scheduling in the on-the-job work process can be prob- lematic. This may lead to assignments which are considered redundant from the job perspective (Weather Bureau), or cannot be performed in the job situation (Bank 2). An interesting solution is provided by Clothing Retail, where the trainee and the on- the-job trainer discuss feasible job learning experiences in relation to the off-the-job training themes. The second type of assignment can be called ‘individualised study

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assignment’. It involves written instructions and learning tasks (Bank 1, Insurance, Railways) and/or tasks to be performed in a simulated work environment (Bank 1, Railways). The development of these kind of individual study tasks demands an accurate task analysis and expertise in instructional materials development. Trainees appreciate the presence of an experienced colleague who can offer support when needed. The third kind of assignment can be called ‘experiential assignment’. It pro- vides directions for gaining supervised real work experience. This kind of assignment is usually evaluated very positively. Proposition 2 is partly confirmed by the data: the criteria mentioned seem to be necessary, but not sufficient. Almost all assignments meet the criteria stated. Assign- ments which are less positively evaluated fall short of other criteria: they are not related to current work tasks (Weather Bureau), rely on less user-friendly materials (Railways) or do not take the local job situation into account (Bank 2).

Training materials (3)

In several cases the training materials are identical with the documentation used on the job. The training of novices is a strong impetus for regular updating or even development of this documentation (eg. Insurance). This documentation is used by both trainees and on-the-job trainers. Some cases show examples of dummy data- processing systems for the purpose of practising. Other training materials are exer- cise-books, checklists with tasks and evaluation forms. Also, in some cases guides for on-the-job trainers were provided. The proposition is partly supported by the data: important features of manuals, in the opinion of the trainees and trainers, are their currency and their ease of reference. Practice with (copies of) materials available on the work-site is experienced as meaningful. The proposition makes no mention either of exercise-books for preparatory learning or checklists with tasks belonging to the job. In fact both are often used and considered helpful.

Timing of on-the-job and off-the-job training (4)

Several cases show the same historical developmental pattern. In the first stage new employees just receive unstructured on-the-job training. In the second stage an off- the-job course is provided, offering the knowledge and skills which are supposed to be needed for a good start, followed by a period of unstructured on-the-job training. In the third stage the off-the-job course is tailored and made more practice-oriented, with simulations and field experiences. The on-the-job part which follows has a more structured character and is sometimes supplemented by off the job reflective meet- ings. This developmental pattern (or part of it) can be discerned at Airport, Weather bureau, Railways, and Clothing Retail. Whereas in three cases an off-the-job or individualised study period is followed by an on-the-job period (Bank 1, Airport, Weather bureau), in three other cases a more frequent alteration of off-the-job (or individualised study) and on-the-job activi- ties is present (Insurance, Clothing Retail, Bank 2). The Railways programme com- bines both options. Whenever an on-the-job training programme is combined with an off-the-job pro- gramme, the problem arises that the date of starting a new training course determines the date on which new employees can be hired. This has been solved by training in stock (Bank 2), making multi-functional modules (Weather Bureau), restricting appointments to a few fixed dates per year (Railways). For some companies this problem has been the impetus to localise preparatory instruction in the work place (Insurance). The timing of on-the-job and related off-the-job training appears to be an important issue (in accordance with proposition 4). On-the-job training in real work situations should not be hampered by a lack of prerequisite knowledge and skills. Off-the-job training without sufficient field orientation is just as ineffective. Alteration of on-

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the-job training and off-the-job training appears to be an ideal solution, but is not always feasible.

Safeguarding production (5)

Involving the social and material work environment in learning a job can be ben- eficial for both the novice and the team. It pushes the team towards reflection on its procedures (De Jong, 1993), it helps the novice to get integrated in the team, and it is often the most motivating and effective way of training. There are two risks how- ever: one is that the work process is hindered by the training activities, the other is that training is hindered by work priorities. In the cases studied the first risk is counteracted by several measures. In proposition 5 the following were already men- tioned: using quiet hours for training (Railways), gradually introducing trainees into productive tasks of increasing complexity (Insurance), delivering instruction by writ- ten or electronic media (Bank 1, Railways), and reducing learning time by using good instructional materials (Bank 1, Railways, Insurance). Other measures include appointing an OJT coordinator (Airport), matching the work schedules of trainees and on-the-job trainers (Bank 1, Railways, Airport), providing off-the-job training to introduce preliminary knowledge and skills (Weather Bureau, Airport, Railways. Clothing Retail), and trainee-trainer consultation on on-the-job learning activities (Clothing Retail).

Safeguarding training (6)

The second risk of on-the-job training (neglect of training due to the priority of the work process) is counteracted, in accordance with proposition 6, by allowing trainers time for training (Insurance), by means of time schedules for OJT and assessment of progress (Airport, Insurance, Weather Bureau, Railways), by common duty schedules (Bank 1, Railways, Airport), and by appointing and training trainers who take their training job seriously (several cases). In addition, declaring novices exempt from pro- duction norms in the first few weeks helps to reduce production pressure (in most cases). In some cases even replacement teams have been formed to temporarily sup- port locations with a high number of trainees (Bank 1).


Results pertaining to six research questions were discussed in this article. All six questions are concerned with the usefulness of certain measures for structuring on- the-job training. The first two questions focus on the different types of learning situ- ations created in the context of OJT. Several dimensions appear to be relevant differ- entiating these types. The first dimension (roles) ranges from learner-directed OJT to trainer-directed OJT: in learner directed OJT more learner initiative is expected, whereas the trainer role is more of a coaching type. The second dimension (context) differentiates learning in a real-work context and preparatory learning. The third dimension (assignment) has three positions: study assignment, application assign- ment, and experiential assignment. It may well be that the original division into on- site practice, on-site instruction, and on-site study is a too simplified theoretical model to account for the configurations resulting from the combination of these three dimensions. As the case material indicates, job and learner characteristics may deter- mine what type of learning situation is most appropriate in a certain context. The third research question is about the training materials. Training materials can support both learners and trainers in performing their role. Several examples have been provided in this article. The fourth research question introduces the issue of timing of on-the-job and off- the-job training. Although the selection of the cases was based solely upon the pres- ence of a substantial on-the-job training programme, in all seven cases the on-the-

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job training programmes are part of a larger programme, containing off-the-job elements as well. The developmental history of certain training programmes can be described as a progressive search for the optimal interaction between off-the-job learning, preparatory on-the-job learning, and learning in a real work context. Several measures have been discussed that can further this goal. Tentatively one may con- clude that research could better be directed at the relation between on-the-job and off-the-job training than at on-the-job training per se. The fifth and sixth research questions are about the mutual influence of work pro- cess and training process. The role of the trainer or coach appears to be crucial in this context. He or she should protect both the trainee and the work flow and look for opportunities to connect both processes. Of course this can only be done with time and the provision of good instructional materials.

Future research

Several ideas for further research are generated by this study, some of which are presented below.

A first object of further research is the interrelation of on-the-job and off-the-job

components of training programmes. Research may lead to a better understanding of the factors determining an optimal sequencing of these components. As was found

in our study, the possibility of dividing the job into tasks that can be studied and practiced separately, thus gradually enlarging the trainee’s competence, is an important factor. Also, the capacity of the trainee to study individually seems important.

A second object of further research is the variety of roles of the trainer or coach.

As we saw in our study, important roles are instruction, facilitation of study and reflection, matching trainee needs and assignments, and safeguarding both work pro- cess and trainee learning. The trainer or coach might also play an important role in the updating and documentation of work procedures and instructions. Instruments can be developed to measure the extent in which these roles are performed and the perceived need to have these roles fulfilled.

A third object of further study suggested by our research is the developmental

history of training programmes, especially with regard to the way they relate to the work place and the actual work processes. As appeared in our study, certain developmental patterns can be discerned. The seven companies reported in this art-

icle could be contacted again to study the further history of the programmes

described. But of course also larger scale studies could be performed to detect devel- opmental patterns in the way training programmes relate to the work place.

A fourth object for further research is the active involvement of trainees and on-

the-job trainers or coaches in the planning and execution of job training. HRD officers

might play an important role encouraging this involvement, provided the availability of adequate strategies and instruments.

A fifth object for further research might be the interplay of several stakeholders in

determining the norms for ‘right job performance’. As Garrick (1998) has described, instructional objectives in work place learning are far from undisputed. Tensions may appear between HRD staff and management, between those two groups and local work groups, and between all of these and the individual trainee. It certainly is interesting to study the way these tensions work out in the structuring of on-the- job training.


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