On-the-Job Training: Alternative to Traditional Schooling?

On the Job Training

Over the past few years, a surprising number of people entering the work force have been opting for alternatives to traditional education and schooling—including looking for ways to get their training on-the-job rather than in a classroom.

Granted, no one wants to undermine the value of a formal college education. Higher education is a rich tradition that over the years has both provided a rich amount of knowledge and prepared students for a wide range of rewarding careers.  However, there are several factors in the modern day that are causing some people to question the effectiveness and relevance of traditional college education.  Among these factors:

  • Cost of education.  These days, with skyrocketing education costs, more students are questioning the value of higher education compared to the odds of employment upon graduation.
  • Bad economy.  When you consider that people are making less money while schools are charging more money, most students have to take on huge amounts of debt just to get a degree.
  • Unpredictable job market. Many college graduates have entered the “real world” only to find a shortage of jobs available. Many of these have taken dead-end jobs just to pay the student debt; some have moved back with their parents; and many regret ever having gone to college.
  • Changing mindsets among employers.  The people doing the hiring for jobs that are available are putting less stock in a college education.  They are finding that sometimes people without a formal education who have a bit of work experience can actually do the job more effectively.  In other words, fewer employers are watching the college doors for emerging graduates.
  • New jobs available with no formal education to match.  In today’s rapidly changing world and marketplace, there are new professions emerging for which there is no defined degree program in the college catalogs. With no qualifying degree, there is no need for the employer to look at college grads to fill these jobs.

This presents a difficulty for young adults entering the work place, as well as for older adults looking to switch careers: why spend tens of thousands of dollars on a college education when there is less likelihood that the degree will translate to a job?  And how do you enter the work force, if not through the route of traditional schooling?

This dilemma has caused some people—including employers, potential employees and even educators—to think differently about finding ways to help people launch their careers that don’t involve college.  One very practical solution is to make ways for the new employee to learn on-the-job with the help of a professional mentor.


The concept is actually very simple: if you want to work in a particular profession, who better to teach you than someone who actually works in that profession?  With a professional mentor, you can learn more quickly, more efficiently, and at a much lower cost than paying for classes, fees and books. Additionally, on-the-job training gives you a direct connection with the industry in which you want work, so that when actual job openings are available, you have the inside track.  If you have done well in your job training and built a good reputation, you are more likely to be considered for the job opening than someone fresh out of college with nothing but a degree to vouch for his/her abilities.


While professional mentoring and apprenticeship are ages-old concepts, the specific notion of on-the-job training is not. Admittedly, most job openings still ask for a certain level of work experience, and in many cases a college education.  But there are some forward thinkers who are beginning to recognize that for some professions (not all), on-the-job training may be a more viable way to bring people into a new career.  This has led some educators to form alternative schools that are entirely based on placing students with willing mentors for on-the-job training, in fields such as audio engineering, radio broadcasting, culinary arts and the film industry.  The concept of on-the-job training could also work for careers such as graphic design, public relations, fashion design, interior design, entrepreneurship and more.

While there are still relatively few “official” organizations that promote on-the-job training as an educational method, individuals seeking to enter a particular industry can often land an apprenticeship with a little bit of creative thinking.  It takes a passion, a strong work ethic, a little bit of gumption, and connections.  If you can find a professional in your chosen field willing to train you, and if you have the courage to ask (and perhaps even offer to pay), you might be surprised at what doors open up.

Whether on-the-job training will ever become a recognized alternative to higher education remains to be seen. However, the current disconnect between formal educational institutions and the rapidly changing marketplace is definitely forcing more and more people to think outside the box.