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How to Create an On-The-Job Cohort-Based Employee Training Program

The results of your HR and workforce data collection and analysis can show you a path forward with a cohort-based local hire program that can match job seekers with job opportunities in departments and divisions that are experiencing high turnover or a growing number of new positions.

Cohort based training – walking a group of recruits through on-the-job training together – has two important features. The cohort framework offers a network of support and accountability among trainee peers that has been shown to support success in job placements. Cohort training is also substantially more cost effective than carrying out numerous unconnected training processes for individuals. These two benefits together make this approach to training local recruits a strong feature of a local-hire strategy.This work is best done with your area's workforce intermediary, which will have experience with the needs of local jobseekers.

Meet with the leadership in high-turnover departments and divisions to talk through the possibilities of linking them with a training program. The selling points here include the salary savings that can be achieved by plugging into federal workforce dollars, in addition to being able to place well prepared new hires into these departments.

Get commitments to hire

A coordinated training program must have guaranteed job placements available to trainees who complete all phases of the program. A training program that is built on only vague possibilities of a participant being hired is a poor advertisement for your institution’s commitment to local employment.

Equip your trainees with the skills that participating departments and divisions need

Matching your training content to the skills that hiring divisions are looking for makes your trainees a competitive choice. For example, if there is any proprietary software used in a high-turnover position, build time for learning that system into a customized training program. Make use of any institutional facilities like experiential learning labs to incorporate hands-on technical skills boot camps and assessments. In our medical assistant cohort training, our assistants arrive at their job placements ready to do blood draws and comfortable with the proprietary patient records software, which is a substantial advantage for the hiring departments.

Build gradually towards full trainee integration in the workplace

It may be helpful to have a phased on-the-job training schedule in which trainees initially split their time between the job site and a training classroom. This allows for a gradual transition that gives trainees the opportunity to reflect on their workplace experiences with their peers and trainers, and to make real-time course corrections in learning objectives based on their early performance. In our structure, trainees go from three to four to five days a week in the job site over the course of 6 months as they take on increasing responsibilities and knowledge.

Use training program milestones for incremental trainee wage increases

In a paid on-the-job training program, the initial training wage can be lower than the eventual starting wage when successful trainees are hired into permanent positions. This is an incentive and reward for those who progress through the program.

Prepare department managers to answer questions about the training program

Other division employees may have questions about new hires who appear to spend so much time out of the job site. Transparency with all employees will create a better and more welcoming work environment for trainees, and spending time helping managers address these questions helps foster supportive work environments.

Consider building a peer mentorship program

Peer mentorship links new trainees with high performing employees who are at their same job level at the job site. This creates additional support for trainees while at the same time acting as a professional development opportunity for the high performers.

Create a trainee evaluation system

A cohort training program is not over once the trainees have fully transitioned into their permanent placements. Work with your institution’s HR department and participating hiring divisions to track how the trainees are performing in their jobs; this both provides supporting data about the longer-term effectiveness of the program, and it enables you to offer support to trainees in real time.


  • Commit as an institution to pay the local living wage, and ask all of your vendors and contractors to do the same.
  • Participate in the regional youth workforce access program, getting commitments from departments and divisions in your organization to hire and mentor local youth.
  • Add local-hire expectations and requirements into contracts with major service vendors. This can be an additional venue for customized job training.


Consider a place-based solution to temporary employee sourcing. Contracting with an agency to fill temporary positions means paying a big markup on wages and salaries to the agency. At Drexel we asked HR to give us advance opportunities to identify temporary-position applicants from our local jobseeker pool, drawn from participants in our community-based open lab and adult education programs. When we can place a local resident into a temp position, it saves the institution 25% on salary that would have been paid to an agency, and there is further savings when there is a good fit, and a department is able to transition a temporary employee into a permanent position.

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