Why Everyone Is Talking About On-The-Job Training and Apprenticeships

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White older male works with younger black male on a floor. Example of on-the-job training and apprenticeships
On-the-job training can take many forms, from learning how to put in new flooring to learning how a computer program works. (Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

By Sarah Hicks

Few work arrangements are as mutually beneficial as on-the-job training. Workers earn while they learn new skills and trainers shape how tasks get done. 

Trainees gain all the intangible benefits of being trained by those who have done the job for years, plus they utilize the specific equipment they need to learn a new skill set in a specific work setting. It’s also an opportunity to learn a job to exact specifications, which makes the worker all the more valuable to the company.

This kind of training can be all-encompassing, such as an apprenticeship that lasts for years, or it can be shorter and highly focused, like a job training program that teaches a specific skill in months. 

On-the-job training vs. apprenticeship: What’s the difference?

Dental hygienist gets on the job training with an expert
You retain more details when you first watch someone do a task and then try it yourself. That’s called observational learning, and it’s the reason why on-the-job training works. (Credit: sima/Shutterstock)


On-the-job training and apprenticeship are interrelated concepts. 

On-the-job training zeroes in on a specific task to be learned by watching someone else do the task first. This observational learning can be a part of any type of work. In an apprenticeship, hands-on training is the foundation of the broader program that covers all aspects of a job. 

For example, someone learning to become a dental hygienist participates in paid, on-the-job training under the supervision of a dentist or certified hygienist to learn how to clean teeth, how to take X-rays correctly and how to put patient information into the computer. 

An apprenticeship repeats this training process over and over again and covers more areas of expertise, including technical and professional skills. The apprentice is paid for the duration of the program.

For example, The Manufacturing Institute manages a two-year apprenticeship-style program called the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) that trains participants on the high-tech aspects of manufacturing work — think AI, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality and other types digital technology. It also covers 18 professional behaviors and practices like attendance, diligence, teamwork and presentation skills.

The shared ground between these types of work experiences is hands-on, on-the-job experience.

The benefits of on-the-job training

Black man and Asian woman look at laptop screen, example of on the job training in computer related job
On-the-job training programs are used across many industries, from information technology to construction. (Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock)


Regardless of how long or in-depth the training is, the biggest benefit of this hands-on form of instruction is the simplest: it’s often the fastest path to learning a skill proficiently. But there are many other benefits, including:

Learning that sticks: Most people learn best by observing others. In the skilled trades, that’s especially important because the jobs involve hands-on work. That can mean watching a skilled plumber wield a tool or an MRI technician take an image. The new worker first observes the process and then tries to replicate it under guidance. 

Real-world setting: On-the-job training allows a worker to learn a new process or how a machine works in a real workplace setting and all the people who come with it. In off-the-job training or a simulated environment, those elements are missing.

Safety/risk avoidance: When you are learning under the guidance of an expert, there’s less risk. That’s true whether you are working with a circular saw or a complex computer system.  

Cultural benefits: This benefit often takes a backseat to others, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Learning in a work setting reveals cultural aspects of the workplace and your team, like who you can approach for additional tips or when it’s okay to take a break.

Examples of on-the-job training programs

Older man teaches younger man in manufacturing setting, example of on the job training or apprenticeship
One-on-one training sessions help new workers understand the how and why of a task. (Credit: goodluz/Shutterstock)


American Diesel Training Centers: ADTC has a singular focus of creating diesel techs to fill a void in the industry. CEO Tim Spurlock helped launch the company when he and his partners saw the huge number of job openings for diesel technicians. They asked the American Trucking Association (ATA) what the industry most needed.

The result is a 12-week diesel tech program that covers 420 tasks identified by the ATA as the most crucial. The program costs $11,750 — even less if you already own the right tools — and there’s a tiered payback program that’s based on your salary after you graduate from the program. 

Former student Nick Baughman discovered ADTC after looking at other programs that took much longer and cost much more. For Baughman, it was the perfect answer.

“The best teacher is on-the-job experience,” he said.

West Michigan Works MARAP program: The Medical Assistant Registered Apprenticeship Program or MARAP is part of a West Michigan partnership between employers, educators and community groups to more accurately match job openings in the area with qualified workers. 

Some medical assistant programs require full-time classes before you train. MARAP is a blended program that combines classroom learning with part-time, on-the-job training in a work setting. Students spend 16 hours a week in the classroom and 24 hours a week at work. 

All program costs are covered by scholarships and employer contributions. Successful apprentices graduate with a medical assistant certificate and start working full-time with the same employer.

Training on the job pays off

On-the-job training in any form helps you learn the skills required for a specific job while earning a paycheck and establishing a relationship with an employer. 

Whether it’s an apprenticeship or training for a specific skill, this type of learning will pay off with higher earnings and a more stable job.  

Sarah Hicks is a writer and editor with expertise in workforce training, sustainability and science.

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