The Importance of Onboarding and Training

Onboarding Word Bubble

When you hear the word “training” what do you think?

When I developed the idea for this post, I was sure that training had a bad rap. Based on my prior experiences with my coworkers, I assumed most people despise the word “training.” What I’ve come to learn, though, is that it’s not training they hate; it’s poor training. In fact, most people seek and want training to be an active part of their jobs. I’ll touch more on why I thought most people despised the word training in a bit, but first let’s talk about something that is confusing to many.


The misnomer that I think is still prevalent in the corporate world is that onboarding and training are the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and yet we seem to continue to see article after article that states the same, like here, here, and here.


The first article is from April 2015, and the other two are from within the last 2 months. As you can see from this 5-year difference, this is a topic that is harder to understand than most. Onboarding is the bigger picture and the connection that an employee makes with the company that hired them, as well as their fellow coworkers and leaders. Training can have a part in the onboarding, but the onboarding itself is the general overview along with conveying the company’s values. Training is for the employee to understand how to fulfill their responsibilities.


Let’s examine training further and the importance it plays in not only framing employees for success, but also in retaining those employees.

So, how does training fit into our lives? First and foremost, training is only going to benefit an employee if it is effective. Training must be inclusive of the how, as well as the why. Without both, the training is ineffective. When considering new-hire training, retention of the employee is dependent on the how and why. In order to complete the role correctly, knowing how to do the job is only part of the success. Also knowing the why allows the employee to be more engaged and better prepared to address the needs of the end user. When the employee is prepared with both, they are more likely to feel comfortable in that role and stay with the employer.


When I was a teenager, I took a job at a tree nursery. One would think that the job skills required here are both minimal and easily understood. However, consider that heavy machinery is used daily. I was shown around the nursery and given some very basic guidelines about the position, basic labor to help keep the trees healthy. This meant that I would take on things like watering schedules, trimming the small limbs growing near the base of the tree, weeding in between the trees where the mower couldn’t reach, and helping with the moving of trees onto the flatbed truck when one was purchased. Seems simple enough, and this “training” lasted about 15 minutes and came from the owner – then I was off to do the job.


The issue arose when the foreman of the nursery started asking me to do other tasks for which I was either ill-prepared or entirely not suited to complete. The foreman had come out into the nursery with a tractor that had been equipped with a bucket loader on the front, and for whatever reason, he asked me to drive it. I had never once been on or operated a tractor, yet this lack of training didn’t stop him from asking me to complete this task. Needless to say, it amounted to me running the bucket, which for some reason was raised up, into a tree and cracking a limb near off. Had I been better onboarded and trained, I would have known my exact role as well as how to complete the tasks to sufficiently to perform that role reasonably well. I left that position after just 2 months.


This leads to the next point: training must be relevant.

Had the owner of that tree nursery set up time to properly train me on how to operate a tractor, my resulting mishap could have been prevented. But, if he had also set up training on computer programming, both he and I would have no benefit at all from that. We as employees are not going to respond well to training for which we cannot see a need.


Part of the “why” in this training happening is how relevant it is to either our current role, or a successive role. As of this publishing, we are seeing an influx of both automation and AI in many industries, which is leading to career changes for many. If we know why training is relevant, we may be able to sufficiently avoid an entire career shift. People working in IT right now may be able to adjust to how the industry is moving towards AI. People on factory assembly lines may be able to re-skill themselves for other jobs before automation renders assembly line jobs obsolete.


When I thought most people cringed when hearing the word training, it was my initial assumption that they simply thought of training as an annoyance. After some thought and conversation with some of my previous coworkers, I came to realize the agony of that word was due to the ineffectiveness of the training, not the idea of training. Too often the training isn’t effectively communicated (the how and the why), isn’t relevant, or most importantly, isn’t supported. Training can be communicated well and sufficiently relevant, but without support it will not stay with the employee.


I think we have all had an encounter where we take a course, pass a 10-question quiz, and then move on. What happens next? It’s gone almost as fast it was learned.

Without the ability to apply that knowledge, we are not going to retain it. We need the ability to apply our knowledge and do so on the regular. If an organization isn’t prepared to support that, then the training fails due to a lack of preparedness. If the employees fail to continue their training in practice, then they fail the organization.  As an organization, it would behoove you to ensure there is a support system in place, and enforced, to ensure that training is successful, especially when it’s an organization changing implementation.


Yeah, it’s good to know the HR related processes and standards, but these items aren’t in need a huge support structure. If your organization is moving to Agile Scrum as a whole, then that support system needs to be very strong. I once had the chance to partake in an IT organization’s training, where a certified Coach was brought in from a major employer of Agile resources and held a 2-day crash course. The content was good, the delivery was great, and there was some semblance of a support system through a Slack channel with everyone that took the course. The issue was that the support system stopped there, and with that many users in the channel with only one Coach who was already stretched thin with onsite training, there was more confusion than clarity and support. One individual started calling Agile a framework and insisted it was true, no matter who told him otherwise. People where thrown into roles without role specific training. The support was feigned, whether that was intended or not, and it resulted in a predictable outcome: chaos.


Some of these factors can fall on the employee as much as the employer.

We need to recognize this is a two-way street. If the employer is ready for our training to go into practice and we just don’t think it’s practical, then the employer needs to consider if they answered the why. If they did answer the why sufficiently, then it’s solely on the employee. In addition, we as employees must consider our own future career growth. As we see the industry trends unfold, it is most certainly wise of us to continue to grow with those trends. If our employers are helping us out, we want to take advantage of that.


One of the more popular trends in the IT industry is Agile. My next post will talk specifically around that, and how Olenick has approached it for maximum success.

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Aaron Ring    

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