Build great Teams – People management

On-The-Job Development – It’s How We Learn The Most

On-The-Job Development – It’s How We Learn The Most

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Most of what we learn we learn through on the job development. Managers often get complaints from their staff that they are not being developed and that they never get to attend training classes. As an individual, have you ever complained that you don’t get enough training and development? Most people expect to be developed in their jobs and yet many claim they are not getting the training they expect.

So here’s an exercise for you. Think about this time last year and write down the following as it relates to your job:

  • What did you know?
  • List the skills you had.
  • What experience did you have?
  • Now compare that with today. For the same job, write down:

  • What do you know?
  • List the skills you have.
  • What experience do you have?
  • Do you know more and have a greater depth of experience today than you did a year ago? I hope the answer is yes.

    How Did You Learn Most Of What You Know?

    Looking at everything you’ve learned this past year, how did you learn it? I expect that even if you attended one or more in-person training classes, or used online training tools, much of what you learned you learned through doing your job. You learned by trial and error and by experiencing different situations. You learned by asking colleagues and by observing others. Maybe you read books or manuals or process documents. You gained skills by practicing them whilst doing your job. Your breadth of experience developed by performing a task in different situations. This is all on the job development.

    On The Job Development

    Most of what we learn we learn through on the job development. In most cases, you don’t have to wait for a training class to learn. A training class can accelerate learning theory and give you some knowledge. Practical classes can get you started on developing skills. In general the development of skills comes through practice – more practice time than you get in a class. The development of experience comes through applying skills in a variety of situations over and over again until you can perform the skill in any situation.

    Knowledge and Skill

    Let’s imagine I asked you to take an engine apart and put it together again. If you’d never done it before you would probably struggle. With a manual you could learn the theory. If you used the manual to actually try it, you might need a few attempts to master the practical side and develop the skill to be able to physically take the engine apart and put it back together again.


    Over time, you would develop confidence and could start to branch out. Maybe you would learn to work with engines that were slightly different from the one you learnt on. Or maybe you would learn to work with engines outside a training workshop – in the real world where the environment is not so clean and organized, and where people are busy working around you. That would give you experience. Learning to rebuild an engine on the side of a road in all sorts of situations would increase your experience until you might be considered an expert.

    Gain Experience As You Work

    All of the above could be done with no formal training. It could all be part of on the job development. Attending a class might accelerate the acquisition of knowledge (the theory). It might accelerate acquiring the initial skill to be able to rebuild the engine because you will probably have a trainer who could help you get it right first time more quickly. Developing experience, however, will only come with practice and the application of your skill in the real world over time, in a variety of situations. That can only be done on the job.

    How Can You Learn On The Job?

    Encourage your employees to think for themselves and identify the skills they want to develop to move their careers forward. You as their manager should be able to facilitate their career progression, but it’s also their responsibility to decide what they want to do. Jointly look for ways for your team to develop on the job. Decide what development opportunities they will need to get them where they need to be. Do they need to spend some time working with a colleague? Or do they need an opportunity to practice something they do every day, but in a different environment?

    Set SMART goals for on the job development. Find resources to use; read or ask colleagues. Identify people who are good at doing the thing they want to develop (e.g. time management, communication) and have them observe them. By making yourself and your team aware of what you are learning as you work you will realize that a) you are always developing and b) you will be able to take a moment now and again to pat yourself on the back as you achieve milestones.

    My Question To You

    Do you strategically make on-the-job learning part of your team’s development? Are you aware of what you’re learning on the job? If this is something you would like to discuss or would like some help with, contact me at

    You can also buy my book Accelerate to Team Success which is available as a paperback or on Kindle.


    About the Author:

    Nikki Faulkner photo Dr Nikki Faulkner founded Mulberry Bush Consulting to work with business leaders and their teams to make the 'People' side of their business as effective as possible. Mulberry Bush Consulting's specialty is helping small businesses who are new to having employees and helping businesses who are growing rapidly and increasing their employee-base at a rate that is creating a significant challenge.

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