Train employees

This section has been developed for employers who want to learn more about training, its benefits and many applications.

Table of contents

Types of Training

Training can differ depending on the training requirements, the work environment and the preference of the employer and employee. We have provided an overview of some of the most commonly used types of training.

Employee orientation

Employee orientation is part of a long-term investment in a new employee. It is an initial process that provides easy access to basic information, programs and services, gives clarification and allows new employees to take an active role in their organization. Employee orientation is an excellent tool to:

  • Introduce new employees to their new environment
  • Make new employees feel welcome and comfortable
  • Retain a pool of new, capable employees


  • Establish clear standards that help reduce disputes and limit liability
  • Promote consistent management
  • Inform new employees of the company's policies
  • Demonstrate a commitment to equal treatment of personnel

In some organizations an employee handbook is available to all employees. The content of the handbook covers the key topics covered in an orientation session for new employees.

What should employee orientation programs include?

An orientation program helps the employee understand their assigned duties, terms and conditions of employment as well as the organizational culture. It provides the following information:

Orientation to business:

  • history
  • mission statement
  • goals and objectives
  • organizational structure, e.g. own job description and relationship of position to other positions
  • future plans

Company policies and procedures, for example:

  • dress code
  • reporting procedures
  • smoking restrictions
  • expense claims


Safety procedures

Emergency procedures

Technical information:

  • operating telephone system
  • who to call for repairs

Explanation of benefit package:

  • group insurance
  • sick leave
  • holidays

Tour facility and work areas:

  • introduce employees
  • identify amenities, e.g. washrooms, shower
  • explain emergency procedures
  • identify safety equipment

Describe job responsibilities and performance expectations:

  • review job description
  • review product standards
  • discuss applicable legislation
  • provide manuals for operating equipment

Finalize employment documentation.


Apprenticeship is an agreement between a person (an apprentice) who wants to learn a skill and an employer who needs a skilled worker -- "earning while learning." Apprenticeship is a proven industry-based learning system that combines on-the-job experience with technical training to produce a certified journeyperson. Upon completion of the specified training period, apprentices receive a Certificate of Qualification. On average, 85% of the apprentice's two to five years of training is spent in the workplace; the rest is spent at a training institution.

Canadian Apprenticeship Forum

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum is a leading Canadian source for the latest research into the apprenticeship community's challenges and practices.

Financial support for apprentices

Apprenticeship incentive grants are designed to make a career in the trades an attractive choice and encourage more apprentices to complete their training.

Find out if you are eligible for financial support:

Interprovincial Standards

The Red Seal Program was established to provide greater mobility across Canada for skilled workers. Through the program, apprentices who have completed their training and certified journeypersons are able to obtain a Red Seal endorsement on their Certificates of Qualification and Apprenticeship by successfully completing an Interprovincial Standards Examination.

Provincial and territorial contacts

Apprenticeship programs are generally administered by provincial and territorial departments responsible for education, labour, and training (under the direction of the provincial and territorial Director of Apprenticeship) with authority delegated from the legislation in each province and territory. Contacts your provincial or territorial authority for additional information.

Health and safety

Training and Education

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) helps create and sustain healthy workplaces, by providing employers and their organization with trusted, authoritative training and education programs. Get more information about the learning opportunities offered by the CCOHS.

Guides and publications

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) produces a wide variety of publications related to workplace health & safety. Pocket guides and publications produced by CCOHS are reviewed by expert representatives from government, employer and labour for technical accuracy and readability.

Workplace health strategies

In Canada, every workplace is regulated by either the Federal or Provincial government, and is required by law to meet applicable occupational health legislation. Learn more about the legal aspect of health and safety in Canada.

Mentoring and coaching

What is mentoring? Mentoring is a formal or informal process for more experienced workers to share their knowledge about a business or industry to achieve the business goals of the organization and personal goals of the individual.

What is a mentor? A mentor is a close personal contact, who has an in depth knowledge of an industry or activity and can assist another person.

What is a mentee? A mentee is a person who is mentored by a close personal contact, usually within their industry, to assist the mentee in achieving their objectives.

Why should I consider mentoring for my business? Mentoring is an ideal way for a more experienced mentor to pass on:

  • Skills
  • Business practices
  • Knowledge about the business culture
  • Efficiencies already found by more experienced workers in work flow
  • Explanations about the business history - what worked what did not

Mentors relish the role of passing on their knowledge and learning. They take pleasure in nurturing less experienced employees and exchanging information and ideas. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses recently surveyed its members and stated that mentoring is a great way to train and attract students into their business. Mentees appreciate "learning the ropes", value the investment made in them and thrive on the knowledge. When employees are learning in their jobs it makes it less likely that they will leave. Benefits of mentoring include:

  • Increased stability
  • Increased profitability
  • Decreased turnover
  • Higher motivation
  • Higher productivity because employees are more invested in the business
  • Job satisfaction increased
  • Ability to phase retirement for experienced employees

Illustrative examples of how business uses mentoring Business A has projected growth in their business with a concurrent need for more employees. They are finding it harder and harder to find workers with the right skills. Strategies that Company A is using include:

  • passing on responsibilities to other employees
  • functioning with fewer employees
  • ignoring business opportunities
  • hiring temporary help
  • improving salaries and the work environment

They have also adopted a tactic of hiring people with potential and training them into the jobs they need filling. This has all helped but projecting into the future Company A sees that fewer employees with the right skills is not a temporary condition. They also see that the need to increase training will only rise in the future. They have adopted informal training but need something else to fill in the gaps and find that mentoring is a great way to train as well as make both the participants benefits in the process. Company A is finding that employees are getting up to speed faster than ever before and discovering mentoring could not have happened at a better time.

Is there a business case to be made for mentoring? The business case for mentoring can best be made through the cost savings to businesses that know how to retain a good employee or keeping an employee who feels that they have contributed all they can in your setting. Why do employees leave companies? It is because they feel they are not learning, lack satisfaction with their jobs, are not recognized and valued for the experience they bring. Employees stay with businesses because they are recognized and valued. It is rarely the money. The types of costs you need to take into consideration are the turnover costs:

  • Administrative function related to termination
  • Separation or severance pay
  • Any increase in employment compensation

Cost of the vacancy during which you do not have an employee and need to hire temporary help or increase the responsibilities of other employees. Replacement costs include:

  • Advertising for new applicants
  • Interview and review time
  • Skills testing

One area that is difficult to measure but just as tangible in cost is the:

  • Increased workloads for others
  • Employee stress and anxiety
  • Morale decline
  • Productivity costs
  • Loss of customers
  • Loss of intellectual capital
  • Negative impact on customer loyalty

What will mentoring cost me? Very little. Setting up a system can takes time and resources but by and large, these are minimal. Experienced employees very often appreciate volunteering to be a mentor. Being a mentor can become part of a person's job. Costs may include:

  • Time to set up the mentoring which may take as little as half a day up to six months
  • The time of the people involved to help me set up mentoring
  • Your mentor(s)' time of a minimum of two hours a month for one year
  • Your Mentee(s)' time of a minimum of two hours a month for one year
  • Your time to adjust the mentoring process as needed

Can I hire someone outside my business to mentor? It depends on what you want the mentoring to achieve. Later in the module you will be able to assess what kind of mentor you need based on your expectations of outcomes from mentoring.

What is the difference between a consultant and mentor? A mentor is someone who supports an individual on a personal basis to achieve his or her goals, often over a longer period of time of at least a year. This person understands the business the person is in. A consultant is someone who works for a shorter period of time on a specific issue or project to achieve a business outcome and charges for services rendered.

What are some ways to use mentoring in my business?
It can be used to:

  • Transfer business knowledge from experienced workers to more junior workers
  • Decrease job turnover by increasing work satisfaction
  • Build morale, pride and job satisfaction by integrating new employees quickly and giving current employees a stake in developing new talent
  • Facilitate the succession planning process
  • Give a message to the business, community, and potential employees that my business endorses certain behaviours. For example attracting and retaining women into the organization, or valuing experienced employees
  • To meet equal opportunity goals by effectively integrating disadvantaged groups

Developing mentorship

The Conference Board of Canada identifies the following five human resource organizational needs that directly relate to mentoring.

  • Building a leadership pipeline. Succession planning is an activity that is often discussed but not planned. Mentoring is an effective method of planning and transferring knowledge to the next generation of leaders.
  • Leaders must be dispersed through the organization. Mentoring creates leaders throughout the organization.
  • Organizations must engage employees. If employers are discounting the value of their older workers, they are frittering away the talent within their organizations. All employees need to be inspired to buy into the organization's goals. Mentoring is one way to guarantee that all employees will be engaged by having more experienced workers assist newer employees gain skills or passing on knowledge about business practices.
  • Organizational capacity must exceed the rate of change in the business environment. Change in business is swift and unpredictable. Organizations that will be winners will have employees who are ready for the challenge. Business will ensure that all their employees are building skills. Mentoring can assist this process by allowing employees to transfer knowledge to others while continuing to build on current skills.
  • The workforce will continue to become more diverse as boomers retire and immigration fills our need for skilled employees. Mentoring will be a way for employees to become acculturated to the business practices and culture, allowing the organization to take full advantage of the strengths the new employee brings while ensure they are welcomed.

What are my reasons to start mentoring in my business? Practical experience and studies indicate that mentoring is an effective means to grow the capabilities of the workforce (both old and young). Employers will benefit by ensuring that knowledge transfer is occurring from experienced employees to newer employees thereby increasing the productivity and skills of newer workers. Experienced employees will have a new and challenging role that acknowledges their expertise.

Mentoring may reduce the skill drain through turnover.

For employees, mentoring holds the promise of increased satisfaction with their jobs, new leadership roles and a way to pass on their experience for the benefit of the business or succession planning and knowledge transfer.

Steps to developing mentoring in my business

  1. Linking mentorship activities to the achievement of my business goals
  2. Identifying the specific capabilities my employees need to meet my business goals
  3. Understanding the gaps in the specific capabilities my employees need
  4. Developing goals I have for my employees
  5. Making the link between employee developmental goals and mentoring as a way of developing employees
  6. Stating my reasons to start mentoring in my business

Mentoring that fits my business

Start small. Depending on the size of your business and the interest from experienced employees, target a small group to begin. Share information about the mentoring process. Ask those who are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee to identify themselves. Good choices to participate are employees with many years of experience, those with leadership potential and new employees. Meet with those who want to become mentors or mentees to exchange ideas about what they would like to get out of participating. You may want to form a committee.

Defining the scope of the mentoring relationship. A mentor is not a manager. A manager is concerned about an employee's day to day work performance while a mentor's role is broader, reflecting a goal of helping a mentee think in new ways beyond their current job functions and operating style.

Checklist for establishing a mentorship relationship

  • A mentor needs to be able to commit themselves to a relationship with a mentee for one year (generally)
  • The amount of time a mentor makes available for a mentee is a minimum of two hours monthly.
  • Understand and accept what your business wants to achieve out of the mentoring relationship.
  • Agree with the mentee about what each of you will give and get from the relationship.
  • Evaluate the relationship regularly, at least at the midpoint (six months) and end of the relationship.

Pitfalls to avoid for Mentors

  • Committing yourself to spend more time than you are able
  • Promising to make introductions to others, unless you are happy doing so
  • Take all the responsibility to establish the meeting and agenda
  • Take on the responsibility for a mentee's career development
  • Feeling you must continue the relationship beyond the agreed upon time frame

Checklist for reviewing the mentoring process

  • Are the mentor and mentee having regular meetings, based on the agreed upon schedule? (Generally 2 hours/monthly)
  • Is the mentee satisfied with the relationship?
  • Are mentor expectations being met?
  • Are mentee expectations being met?
  • Are your business mentoring goals are being met?
  • Do you ask for feedback from the mentor/mentee on ways to improve the mentoring process?

If you answer no to any of these, examine it more closely through personal discussions with mentors/mentees and make adjustments to the program, or communication.

Learning concepts

Continuous learning

Never before have North American businesses been faced with so much change. Experts say that more information has been produced in the last 30 years than was produced in the previous 5,000. They estimate that the total body of knowledge now doubles every five years. New knowledge, skills and attitudes inevitably have to be learned in order to keep pace with required changes in business practices, processes and products to meet increasingly more discriminating customer demands.

Small- and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) owners or managers cannot leave learning to chance for either themselves or their employees. Continuous learning is linked to better organizational performance and to a richer life and a better future for owners and their employees.

Lessons learned at one stage in our careers must be restudied within each and every business framework we encounter. Likewise, all employees must reassess and refresh their knowledge and know-how.

While many large companies can invest in comprehensive quality improvement programs, the associated costs are generally prohibitive for small- and medium-sized enterprises. (As an alternative, SMEs can make a dramatic impact by making a modest investment in creating a "continuous learning" culture within their organizations.

The goal for the SME should be to create "Knowledge-Powered Organizations", which can be defined as: An organization that knows how to learn with people who freely share what they know and are willing to change, based on acquisition of new knowledge.

Definition Continuous Learning reflects the notion that the pace of change in this modern age is such that an individual has to continually learn new things to keep up with the times, with a profession, or to be competent in any given job.

Continuous Learning applies to organizations as a whole. Survival in today's competitive global markets requires companies to continuously improve by:

  • learning from past mistakes and successes (documenting "lessons learned")
  • looking toward the future
  • creating "communities of practice" for learning rather than focusing solely on technical solutions.

Many leading-edge companies have created "Chief Learning Officer" (CLO) positions to give continuous learning greater attention at the executive table.

SMEs find implementing continuous learning challenging, due in part to a lack of human resources department one might find in larger companies. Although the term may be introduced by a business manager, employees may still be a long way from having a common understanding about what the term really means, let alone having a concrete plan for achieving the required culture change.

Change in today's work place implies that managers or owners:

  • Need to re-assess their traditional ways of managing their employees (e.g. lack of performance measurement, little or no investment in training, no training needs analysis, and so on).
  • Need to leverage informal learning (i.e. those learning activities initiated by individuals themselves). Informal learning impacts can be measured, and organizations can take a proactive approach towards making opportunities available, influencing individual choices, and recognizing and rewarding employees who pursue self-improvement.
  • Need to recognize that only 15% of all learning required to function in most jobs is acquired through traditional classroom training (American Society for Training and Development - ASTD).
  • Continuous Learning is closely linked to Knowledge Management, in that the latter has great potential for enabling continuous learning.

Benefits for the Organization

  • Encourages knowledge creation
  • Fosters knowledge sharing
  • Builds innovation and best practices
  • Helps to discover hidden knowledge and expertise
  • Reduces "relearning"
  • Promotes a sense of "team"
  • Contributes to business success

Benefits for the Employee

  • Improved performance - the more you learn about something, the better you will be at it.
  • Increased value to your employer - the more you know and can do, the more you can contribute to the success of your organization.
  • More career flexibility - it will be easier for you to move in new directions when you want or need to - either within or outside your current organization.
  • Higher self-esteem and motivation - how could learning not make you feel better about yourself?
  • More creativity - with greater knowledge and experiences, you will have more internal resources to draw on for new ideas.

Organizational learning

The following is paraphrased from The Organizational Learning Cycle, Nancy Dixon, 1994.

While continuous learning focuses on individual learning, organizational learning occurs at the organizational level. It is the intentional use of learning processes at the individual, group and system level to continuously transform the organization in a direction that is increasingly satisfying to its stakeholders. The processes refer to those that the organization employs to gain new understanding or to correct the current understanding (as opposed to the accumulated knowledge of the organization). Those processes can be viewed as a cycle.

  • The cycle starts with the widespread generation of information
  • The new information is put into the business context
  • The new information is collectively interpreted
  • The organization then authorizes its members to take responsible action based on the interpreted meaning (this then feeds into the first step to generate new information)

When we speak of a "learning organization", we are articulating a view that involves us - the observers - as much as the observed. We are taking a stand for a vision, for creating a type of organization we would truly like to work within and which can thrive in a world of increasing interdependency and change.

Learning Organizations require developing leadership communities and understanding how such communities form, grow, and become influential in moving large organizations forward.

In a small to medium employer context, the champion to lead related learning activities may have to be the manager or owner themselves. Given that OL should be tied to organizational objectives and be applied across the entire organization, the smaller the organization, the easier this is to achieve. Creating and maintaining "lessons learned" may simply be hand-written notes on index cards to prevent new employees from repeating mistakes made by their predecessors.

Adult learning

Effective instruction involves understanding how adults learn best. Compared to children and teens, adults have special needs and requirements as learners. The field of adult learning was pioneered by Malcom Knowles.

He identified the following characteristics of adult learners:

  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. Instructors must actively involve adult participants in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them. Specifically, they must get participants' perspectives about what topics to cover and let them work on projects that reflect their interests. They should allow the participants to assume responsibility for presentations and group leadership. Instructors should act as facilitators, guiding participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts. Finally, they must show participants how the class will help them reach their goals (e.g., via a personal goals sheet).
  • Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. To connect learning to this knowledge/experience base, instructors should draw out participants' experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic. They must relate theories and concepts to the participants and recognize the value of experience in learning.
  • Adults are goal-oriented. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined elements. Instructors must show participants how this class will help them attain their goals. Goals and course objectives should be discussed early in the course.
  • Adults are relevancy-oriented. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. Therefore, instructors must identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. Theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. Relevancy can be addressed by having participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.
  • Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. Instructors must tell participants explicitly how the lesson will be useful to them on the job.

As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. Instructors must acknowledge the wealth of experiences that adult participants bring to the classroom. These adults should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely in class.

Motivating the Adult Learner

Another aspect of adult learning is motivation. At least six factors serve as sources of motivation for adult learning:

  • Social relationships: to make new friends, to meet a need for associations and friendships.
  • External expectations: to comply with instructions from someone else; to fulfill the expectations or recommendations of someone with formal authority.
  • Social welfare: to improve ability to serve mankind, prepare for service to the community, and improve ability to participate in community work.
  • Personal advancement: to achieve higher status in a job, secure professional advancement, and stay abreast of competitors.
  • Escape/Stimulation: to relieve boredom, provide a break in the routine of home or work, and provide a contrast to other exacting details of life.
  • Cognitive interest: to learn for the sake of learning, seek knowledge for its own sake, and to satisfy an inquiring mind.

Barriers and Motivation

Adults have many responsibilities that they must balance against the demands of learning. These responsibilities may create barriers against participating in learning for adults.

Motivation factors can also be a barrier. What motivates adult learners? Typical motivations include a requirement for competence or licensing, an expected (or realized) promotion, job enrichment, a need to maintain old skills or learn new ones, a need to adapt to job changes, or the need to learn in order to comply with company directives.

The best way to motivate adult learners is simply to enhance their reasons for enrolling and decrease the barriers. Instructors should understand why their students are enrolled (the motivators); they have to discover what is keeping them from learning. Then the instructors must plan their motivating strategies. A successful strategy includes showing adult learners the relationship between training and an expected promotion.

Learning Tips for Effective Instructors

Learning occurs within each individual as a continual process throughout life. People learn at different speeds, so it is natural for them to be anxious or nervous when faced with a learning situation. Positive reinforcement by the instructor can enhance learning, as can proper timing of the instruction.

Learning results from stimulation of the senses. In some people, one sense is used more than others to learn or recall information. Instructors should present materials that stimulate as many senses as possible in order to increase their chances of teaching success.

There are four critical elements of learning that must be addressed to ensure that participants learn. These elements are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Reinforcement
  3. Retention
  4. Transference

Motivation. If the participant does not recognize the need for the information (or has been offended or intimidated), all of the instructor's effort to assist the participant to learn will be in vain. The instructor must establish rapport with participants and prepare them for learning; this provides motivation. Instructors can motivate students via several means:

  • Set a feeling or tone for the lesson. Instructors should try to establish a friendly, open atmosphere that shows the participants they will help them learn.
  • Set an appropriate level of concern. The level of tension must be adjusted to meet the level of importance of the objective. If the material has a high level of importance, a higher level of tension/stress should be established in the class. However, people learn best under low to moderate stress; if the stress is too high, it becomes a barrier to learning.
  • Set an appropriate level of difficulty. The degree of difficulty should be set high enough to challenge participants but not so high that they become frustrated by information overload. The instruction should predict and reward participation, culminating in success. Participants need specific knowledge about their learning results. Feedback must be specific, not general. Participants must also see a reward for learning. A reward can be simply a demonstration of benefits to be realized from learning the material. Finally, the participant must be interested in the subject. Adults must see the benefit of learning in order to motivate themselves to learn the subject.

Reinforcement. Reinforcement is a very necessary part of the teaching/learning process; through it, instructors encourage correct modes of behavior and performance.

  • Positive reinforcement is normally used by instructors who are teaching participants new skills. As the name implies, positive reinforcement is "good" and reinforces "good" (or positive) behavior.
  • Negative reinforcement is normally used by instructors teaching a new skill or new information. It is useful in trying to change modes of behavior. The result of negative reinforcement is extinction -- that is, the instructor uses negative reinforcement until the "bad" behavior disappears, or it becomes extinct. When instructors are trying to change behaviors (old practices), they should apply both positive and negative reinforcement.

Reinforcement should be part of the teaching-learning process to ensure correct behavior. Instructors need to use it on a frequent basis early in the process to help the students retain what they have learned. Then, they should use reinforcement only to maintain consistent, positive behavior.

Retention. Instructors should assist the learner in retaining the information. Participants must see a purpose for the information as well as understand and be able to interpret and apply it. This understanding includes their ability to assign the correct degree of importance to the material. If the participants did not learn the material well initially, they will not retain it well either.

Retention is directly affected by the amount of practice during the learning. Instructors should emphasize retention and application. After the students demonstrate correct (desired) performance, they should be urged to practice to maintain the desired performance. Distributed practice is similar in effect to intermittent reinforcement.

Transference. Transfer of learning is the result of training -- it is the ability to use the information taught in the course but in a new setting. As with reinforcement, there are two types of transfer: positive and negative.

  • Positive transference, like positive reinforcement, occurs when the participants use the behavior taught in the course.
  • Negative transference, again like negative reinforcement, occurs when the participants do not do what they are told not to do. This results in a positive (desired) outcome.

Transference is most likely to occur in the following situations:

  • Association -- participants can associate the new information with something that they already know.
  • Similarity -- the information is similar to material that participants already know; that is, it revisits a logical framework or pattern.

Focus on adult learning theory carries the potential for greater success and requires a greater responsibility on the part of the teacher. Learners come to the course with precisely defined expectations. If they can be shown that the course benefits them pragmatically, they will perform better, and the benefits will be longer lasting.

Training needs checklist

  1. Determine training needs of employees:
    • review job descriptions
    • identify training required by legislation, e.g. correct handling of chemicals
    • consider training needs required because of change
    • consider technological changes
    • invite employee input on training needs
    • review common complaints and problems
    • identify employee's strengths and areas needing improvement, for example: customer service, cash handling , safety
  2. prioritize training needs
  3. identify training objectives, e.g. description of skills to be learned
  4. determine evaluation methods, e.g. how skills will be tested
  5. determine resources available, e.g. professional seminars, private trainers, occupational standards, cost-sharing programs
  6. determine method of delivery, considering:
    • budget
    • options available, for example: on-the-job demonstrations, coaching, practice sessions, training seminars, e.g. in-house, external, staff or individual meetings, learning activities, e.g. role playing, hands-on experience
  7. finalize details of training sessions, for example:
    • session content
    • prospective participants: arrange for staff to cover for participants in training, e.g. re-organize work
    • date, time and location
    • training tools, e.g. videos
    • instructors
  8. inform prospective participants of details: communicate expectations, e.g. consider requiring participants to share knowledge with co-workers after training
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