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Surprise: New Employees Want Formal Training

Monday, December 7, 2015
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Current L&D hype seems to focus on promoting informal, social, and experiential learning, and many thought leaders advise that formal learning is no longer the best approach in modern workplaces. But a recent study by Russell Korte, Samantha Brunhaver, and Sheri Sheppard shows that new employees may actually want more formal training when they join an organization. 

The study was conducted in three manufacturing organizations, and the participants were recently graduated engineers (in role six to 18 months) and their managers. The study took a qualitative approach to explore socialization practices from both the newcomer and manager perspectives. The researchers used a critical incident technique to gather data, and then analyzed that data for themes. 

Key Findings 

Here are some of the interesting findings of the research: 

  • There was a mismatch between employee expectations and manager expectations in terms of how much formal support was given to newcomers regarding their job responsibilities. The newcomers in the study suggested that they would have appreciated more structured orientation to their day-to-day responsibilities, and the managers wanted newcomers to take initiative to ask questions and learn by immersion.

  • Complicating the picture, while managers generally wanted newcomers to seek help when they needed it, newcomers believed that they shouldn’t “bother” managers with their questions.

  • Newcomers generally wanted more guided support and coaching from their managers in the day to day work, while managers often reported that their responsibilities left them with little time for this task. They often employed a “sink or swim” approach.  

  • Newcomers wanted and needed to find mentors and to be accepted into the group, and they often sought out that kind of help from their co-workers. 

What Does This Mean for TD Professionals? 

While this is just one study, it clearly shows that newcomers may not be quite ready to learn in the flow of work as so many propose. At this stage of a career, this kind of trial-and-error learning can be unpredictable and haphazard, which may be uncomfortable for the newcomers, and not as productive as necessary. Newcomers need some foundation—background that might be provided by more formal strategies for onboarding, especially when the job is their first after graduation. 

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It is important for L&D leaders to recognize that most employees’ experience of learning prior to their first jobs is highly structured, focused, and directed. During their schooling, they are given goals and timelines, and expectations are made pretty clear. It may be too much to expect that they will be able to engage in the kind of do-it-yourself learning that is often possible with online resources and social networks.  As a consequence, managers often report that college does not prepare students for the workplace. 

The researchers also conclude that socialization and onboarding is a relational process, not just an information-sharing one. The constant connectivity that we often see among students at all levels does not necessarily ensure that they will know how to manage their learning when taking on a new job.  

The take-away for talent development professionals is to review onboarding programs and ensure that there is enough structure and relational learning built in. This doesn’t necessarily mean building a course, but providing road maps and resources along with frequent interaction with those able to give guidance may be critical to a successful socialization process. Those charged with onboarding have a unique opportunity to help newcomers transition from formal learning to managing their own learning processes. 

Those who work in academic environments could also help graduates make the school-to-work transition by decreasing the structure of higher level courses and preparing students for work environments that increasingly expect them to manage their own learning using informal, digital, social, and experiential strategies. 

Talent development professionals invested in moving toward modern workplace learning practices should consider holding on to some of the traditional practices when the learners are new graduates and others not quite ready to engage productively with the vast array of informal, social, and experiential learning strategies that become available in the modern workplace. 

Want to Learn More? 

The full study, “(Mis)Interpretations of Organizational Socialization: The Expectations and Experiences of Newcomers and Managers,” can be found in the Summer 2015 issue of Human Resource Development Quarterly 26(2), Summer 2015. For more information, you can contact Dr. Russell Korte at Colorado State University, russ.korte@colostate.edu

Wiley is offering access to the article for free for a limited time. 

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of articles highlighting research from the journals of the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD). In partnership with ATD, AHRD is committed to sharing useful research with the practitioner community.

About the Author
Catherine Lombardozzi is founder of Learning 4 Learning Professionals and author of Learning Environments by Design. Catherine’s work focuses on the professional development of designers, faculty, facilitators, learning consultants, and learning leaders. Catherine has been enthusiastically engaged in the learning and development field for over 30 years and integrates practical experience with academic grounding. Her areas of specialty include developing talent in the digital age, amplifying creative capacity in L&D, supporting social learning, and grounding practice in theory and research. She has frequently contributed to professional conferences and journals, and she teaches graduate-level courses in adult learning, instructional design, learning technology and consulting. Catherine holds a doctoral degree in Human and Organizational Learning from The George Washington University. You can learn more about her background at www.L4LP.com.
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