5 employee training methods for your small business

6 min read
Chidinma Nnamani

Employee training is important for businesses of all sizes. You may think that your business is too small to go through the rigors of training employees, but this could not be further from the truth. Whether you run a small mom-and-pop store or an established agency with several workers, employee training provides immense benefits.

As much as 40 percent of employees who do not receive proper training leave the position within one year.

In this guide we’ll compare different employee training methods to help you choose the right method for your small business.

Related: Recruiting employees who help your business grow

5 types of employee training

Planning to hire your first employee and don’t know a thing about training? Here are 5 training methods to consider:

  1. Hands-on training.
  2. Computer-based learning.
  3. Group discussions.
  4. Lectures and seminars.
  5. Case studies.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

1. Hands-on training

Training employees on the job is the main training method for many small business owners.

In this method, employees learn within the work environment and get a feel for the actual job they will perform. Training is delivered by an experienced coworker, manager or supervisor.

Employee Training Ceramics Production Company
Many small business owners train new employees one-on-one.

Hands-on training can be delivered through any of the following techniques:

Instruction-based training

New hires receive detailed verbal instructions or manuals on how to perform relevant tasks. Their work is supervised by the owner or a senior employee who responds to questions and addresses any challenges they encounter. This method works best for teaching largely intuitive tasks.


In shadowing, an employee closely observes an experienced staff member do the job for which they were hired.

You should use this method for tasks that require more dexterity or are considered too risky for new employees to engage in immediately, such as operating heavy equipment. It offers employees an opportunity to assist and ask questions before performing the tasks themselves.

Job rotation

If freshers have to acquire several independent skills which cannot be taught by one staff member, consider rotating new hires through various units. Instruction-based learning or shadowing can be used for training at each station.

Advantages of hands-on training

  • On-the-job training is suitable for all types of businesses, from food service to manufacturing. It works best for practical jobs that do not have heavy theoretical components.
  • Training is easy to start off and does not require any special arrangements.
  • Employees learn by observing and can apply new knowledge immediately.
  • Since work and learning occur in the same environment, it also saves you cost.

Disadvantages of hands-on training

  • Because this method is largely informal, it can be difficult to measure progress.
  • Training during working hours may also affect productivity until the new employee is proficient.

2. Computer-based learning

While hands-on training works well for new hires, computer-based training benefits both new and old employees. Employees learn by watching video tutorials, reading, performing exercises and answering questions.

Online training providers like edX offer solutions to businesses of all sizes.

Employee Training Two People on Laptops

These courses are provided by highly-rated institutions, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which have experts in all subject areas.

You can also find local programs ready to help small business owners transition freshers into the workplace.

Advantages of computer-based training

  • Computer-based courses are generally user-friendly and offer personalised training.
  • Since training occurs outside the job, employees can learn at their own pace without sacrificing work hours.

Disadvantages of computer-based training

  • Employees may take longer to complete courses; distractions could lead to less than effective learning.
  • Costs can be higher if you use third-party platforms. Be sure to opt for a pay-as-you-use model where possible.

3. Group discussions

Roundtable discussions can be used to share insight and prompt discussion on specific topics. This type of face-to-face training offers an opportunity to communicate your company values more effectively and is more potent than online courses.

For example, when you introduce new workplace rules, a group discussion can be a good forum for employees to ask questions and gain better clarity about the rules.

4. Lectures and seminars

Lectures have a bad reputation for being boring. But they do have their place in any organization.

Use lectures for training that concerns all employees, especially when you bring in an external resource person.

Employee Training People Listening to Lecture

Restaurant owners, for example, can educate employees on new food safety laws by bringing in food safety professionals who are authorities on the subject.

Advantages of lectures and seminars

  • You can communicate vital information to all employees at once.

Disadvantages of lectures and seminars

  • Requires a considerable amount of time and may affect internal work processes.
  • May not be suitable for a very small business.

5. Case studies

Case studies work best for imparting theoretical knowledge and principles. Here, your goal is to test how employees apply their knowledge in solving real business problems.

For example, an agency that encounters a special challenge on a new project may assign that project as a case study to employees. This way, employees can come up with different approaches for solving the problem.

Case studies encourage decision-making, analytical thinking and teamwork.

If bonuses are awarded for the best ideas, it can greatly boost employee morale and encourage healthy competition.

Advantages of case studies

  • This is a good way to encourage employees to think about the theories behind their daily work.
  • It can sometimes solve real business challenges.

Disadvantages of case studies

  • It’s not effective for all businesses.

Before you choose

Whichever employee training methods you decide to try, here are a few tips on making them as successful as possible:

Make a list of what your employees should know

This will help you decide which of the five options would be best for passing on the information.

List topics in order, from basic to advanced

Employees need to have basic skills to take up advanced training. By creating a skill hierarchy, you can more easily identify knowledge or skill gaps for each employee.

Set training goals

Having clearly defined goals will make it easier to conduct performance reviews and measure the effectiveness of your chosen training methods.

Benefits of employee training

Employee Training Books in Bookshelf
Good training shortens the time it takes for a new employee to become productive.

Proper training helps you set better expectations about employee roles, responsibilities and work culture.

Training leads to increased productivity and improved employee retention.

As a small business, you are probably running on lean resources. Investing in training could save you money in the long run.

Wrapping it up

Employee training is crucial for any small business, irrespective of the size. But before you embark on training, identify the knowledge required for each position and create a solid training plan. Use on-the-job training methods such as instruction-based training, shadowing and job rotation to impart hard skills required for day-to-day tasks.

Consider eLearning for ongoing education and lifelong learning. To educate on principles, theories and work culture, try a combination of group discussions, lectures and case studies.

Remember that employee training is an investment. Done well, you’ll not only see improved performance, but you’ll grow a team of employees who feel appreciated and secure in their job roles.