If you’ve worked at more than one organization over your lifetime, think back on what it was like in the first few days and weeks as you transitioned into those workplaces. It’s probable that you’ve had very different experiences.
Some organizations actually put very little thought and effort into training their new employees. They may introduce you to the other workers and set you up with one person to job shadow while you learn on the job. The belief some employers have is that you learn best by doing, so you’re right in the thick of it from day one and those that learn fastest stick around while those who don’t, don’t.
And to be fair, it’s not always that they don’t put thought and effort into their training. It’s sometimes the case that the business is small, there is no Human Resources department, there’s just the owner, one or two others and so you’re thrown right into the deep end with the hope you learn to swim. You watch them as they work and they explain things as they go. They expect you to model what you see and if you’re the kind of person that likes to jump right in and learns best by doing, you appreciate the opportunity.
Contrast this with the experience of joining a large corporation where there exists not only a Human Resources department, but also corporate trainers and managers who have the time to sit down with you removed from the front line, where you go over policies and procedures. In these kinds of organizations, your orientation and training looks completely different, lasting not just days or weeks but stretching into months.
The biggest single difference from the vantage point of you as an employee, is the expectation from the employer on when you are to be 100% productive. While a small, two or three person operation expects you to be up to speed and doing the job fully on your own in days, a large governmental organization invests considerable time training it’s employees and they’ll be slowily integrated into the job sites over time.
From your point of view as a potential new employee, you might find that asking about company orientation and training is a good thing. So too is the question about just how long they give you before expecting you to be working independently and giving them a full return on their investment. Knowing an employers expectations of you and your own learning capabilities, you’ll be able to best assess just how steep or gradual the learning curve is going to be in your new role.
It’s one thing to know you’ve got a few months to learn the scope of a job and quite another to be told you’ve got the morning to job shadow someone and then you’re expected to work alongside them in an equal capacity. From my own experience, I remember once working for an employer where 60 of us went through orientation and training together and it lasted six month’s. During that time, we all learned together in a classroom setting with various trainers and guest facilitators. We had a few days of job shadowing woven into those six months, but we were largely in isolation, going through thick manuals sheet by sheet.
By way of contrast, I recall a job working in retail where I had two shifts with the owner of the business and then I was told I’d be working on my own. Whether this was a testament of my ability to learn quickly or they had other priorities I’ve no idea, but there I was on shift number 3, alone and responsible for their entire business as the only employee on site.
Generally speaking, I’ve personally found that it takes a full year to learn a job completely. What I mean by this is that there is often certain tasks and responsibilities that come up during some parts of a year that you can’t experience until they come about. Doing inventory for example in a large department store might be scheduled three or four times a year, and some organizations operate very differently around tax season or year-end than they do during other periods in the business cycle. Yes, you may find it’s only after a full year on the job that you come to understand the full scope of the job you’ve landed.
Unfortunately for some or you reading this, you may have found that while a business owner excelled at doing their thing, they didn’t have had the well-developed skills as a trainer and mentor. This shouldn’t be surprising really, given that just because a person is great at one thing doesn’t mean they are an expert in all things. As a consequence, you may have been left to largely figure things out on your own when you’d expected to be shown how to best do the job, complete with guidance and support.
Not all businesses have extensive new employee training, nor do all invest in continually developing their workforce. However, there are many employees who believe in ongoing training and many more who don’t, so it goes both ways. Good advice is to ask about initial orientation and training as well as continous learning and development to ensure a good fit with your own needs.