On-the-Job Learning in the Hospitality Industry

On-the-Job learning!

Does on-the-job learning really work? During my first internship at The Ritz-Carlton, there were these internal events every month. During these events, several managers of the hotel would tell their inspirational stories and share experiences with the interns. They explained how they climbed up to management and that they questioned the need to actually study hospitality management.

I remember our Duty Manager talking about his career path: how he started as a dishwasher at the restaurant and after several months became a waiter. After two years, he was a Supervisor at the restaurant and three years after that he became the restaurant manager. After having, managed the Ritz’s hotel restaurant for several years, he wanted a different direction and applied to become Duty Manager.

Obviously, his application was approved. He was a Duty Manager for many years before he got promoted to Director of Rooms. (I just checked his LinkedIn profile and it looks like he’s made a move to Director of Rooms in Koh Samui, Thailand. WOW!) What a career already, and all without completing high school.

After hearing a story like that, you start to question if that’s what you want to do: do you want to have a high position managing a hotel, and do you even need a degree in Hospitality Management for that? Well, according to this guy you don’t. He learned all of it through experience, ‘on the job’. Imagine the looks on the faces of all the interns sitting in the room and listening to his story. I mean all of us – myself included! – were students at top hospitality schools like Hotelschool The Hague, Cornell, and Lausanne. These schools are all very expensive and this guy was telling us that you don’t even need a degree in Hospitality Management to get a managerial position in a five-star luxury hotel. Ha, well, that was all very motivating!

If you ask me, this guy had luck on his side and worked really hard. You hear more stories like this in the hospitality industry, all about gaining experience and learning on the job. This got me wondering are: learning on the job and experience, actually the same thing?

On-the-Job Training: What is it?

When it comes to training a lot of managers use the on-the-job learning as a preferred training method. What do we mean by this?

Let’s see what on-the-job learning means. The employee is trained at the place of work while this person does the actual job. Most of the time a trainer or experienced employee (manager) serves as the “instructor” using a hands-on training (coaching on the spot). It tends to be combined with and supported by formal classroom training. However, because it takes place during and in the place of work. it’s not an actual learning process. This is where managers make a mistake: they think that on-the-job learning is the performance of a new task without any guidance.

In a previous article, I wrote that we do learn from experience, especially when it’s a bad experience since we don’t want to go through it again. However, is the ‘learning’ the individual – aka new employee – gets and interprets always what the manager wants or expects?

When you start your new job without any direct support or guidance it can be frustrating for both the “learner” and the manager. The managers may think that they provide enough or proper guidance, but actually fail to follow a basic coaching process, which actually makes a difference and rushes the learning process.

According to Mike Morrison (2014): “Learning is something that individuals achieve as the result of an experience, not something we do TO people.”

What he means is that if we want our new people to learn specific aspects of the job, we actually need to train them in those specific things.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of On-the-Job Learning?

Advantages of this training method are that the employee gets used to their new working environment. They get to use their new tools and equipment to carry out their new function. This is way better than learning and simulating these aspects externally.

Furthermore, the new employee gains more confidence since they ‘practice’ under the direct supervision of a trainer (the manager). They can guide them directly and are on hand to point out any mistakes and give feedback. With this training method, the new employee is integrated in the company way quicker and easier. From a finance perspective, it is also more cost-effective. Since during this training, skills and knowledge are informed according to the company’s needs.

It’s not a shortcut or a cost-cutting method since if not performed efficiently by the ‘instructor’ there is not much training. There are some risks there. As people often forget that ‘teaching’ is actually a skill itself and many managers who serve as trainers for the new employees are not qualified. Furthermore, the on-the-job training can actually take longer, since during a normal work day there are a lot of daily interruptions, like telephone calls or distractions from other people. Also, these trainings are often rushed as the manager wants the new employee to get up to speed as soon as possible. Likewise stuffing too much new information in a short period of time will not work, since the employee will most likely forget half.

A technique that embraces the on-the-job learning method is the 70:20:10 Model. It holds that 70% of their knowledge is related to experience, 20 percent of interactions with other and 10 percent from formal training (classroom style). This model was created in the 1980s by three types of research and authors who were researching the key developmental experiences of successful managers globally.

Nowadays, this model is still considered to be of great value to serve as a general guideline for organisations globally who seek to maximise the effectiveness of their learning. The creators of the model believe that the hands-on experience (70 %) – aka on-the-job learning – is the most effective and beneficial from both sides. As the new trainees learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback. If they are trained properly.

To conclude: on-the-job learning is an effective training method if the managers are actually skilled in training new employees.


This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Paula van Staalduinen. As part of our internship programs undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Paula’s primary project focuses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure.