Job shadowing is a type of on-the-job employee job training in which a new employee, or an employee desiring to become familiar with a different job, follows and observes a trained and experienced employee. Job shadowing is an effective form of job training for certain jobs.
Job shadowing allows a student, employee, or intern to gain comprehensive knowledge about what an employee who holds a particular job does every day. Job shadowing provides a far richer experience than reading a job description or doing an informational interview during which an employee describes their work.
Job shadowing allows the observer to see and understand the nuances of a particular job. The job shadowing employee is able to observe how the employee does the job, the key deliverables expected from the job, and the employees with whom the job interacts.
They can attend employee meetings, visit customers, attend conferences or training events, and become completely familiar with the job.
Who Participates in Job Shadowing?
Job shadowing is effective when an organization is onboarding a new employee and when longer-term employees want to learn about different jobs in the company. An employee may have expressed interest in doing a different job, for example, but they are not sure about leaving the tried and true for an uncertain future.
Job shadowing can provide enough information about the new and different job to allay the employee's fear of the unknown. So, job shadowing is a handy tool when you want employees to have career opportunities via job transfers or lateral moves.
Job shadowing is also effective for college and high school students who may want to test their interest in a career by finding out what happens in a particular job day-by-day.
Job shadowing is an essential component of any internship experience; interns need the opportunity to experience a range of jobs within a company while they work in their internship. (Having an intern sit at a desk and do the same tasks for the duration of the internship is indicative of poor planning and providing a failed intern experience.)
When Is Job Shadowing Most Important and Effective?
Job shadowing is effective for any job in which the seeing is more graphic than the telling, or when the seeing is an important component of the learning. When job shadowing, the individual sees the actual performance of the job in action. But, in job shadowing, the participant also sees and experiences the nuances of how the service is provided or the job performed.
The participant experiences the employee’s approach, the interpersonal interaction required, the steps and actions necessary, and the components needed to effectively perform the job that the employee might never think to mention.
While all jobs can have a component of job shadowing as part of their training and employee development plan, job shadowing is especially effective for jobs such as these:
- Restaurant employees: serving staff, bartenders, cooks, chefs, bus persons, cashiers, hosts.
- Medical professions: physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, physicians, radiologists, surgeons.
- Manufacturing jobs: supervisors, quality control, skilled trades employees, machine operators, tool and die makers, machinists.
- Administration: receptionists, administrative assistants, secretaries, clerks.
- Skilled Trades: carpenters, painters, woodworkers, electricians, plumbers, heating and cooling technicians.
- Product development and go to market including computer programming, market research, marketing, sales, customer service, technical support, user experience testing, quality control.
These examples demonstrate the types of jobs in which learning by job shadowing is an essential component. But, learning in any job is enhanced by a component of job shadowing.
So, don’t automatically eliminate, for example, positions such as a management job, Human Resources, supervision, finance, and executive leadership. All jobs have components that are best learned by seeing the job in action.
A job shadowing employee can attend meetings, participate in brainstorming sessions, take notes during planning sessions, debrief job candidates, and participate in a variety of non-confidential activities.
When Is Job Shadowing Essential?
Finally, job shadowing becomes essential when an employee is trained internally for their next role. For example, the HR manager shadows the HR director when the director is expecting a promotion to vice president; an HR assistant shadows the HR generalist when the generalist expects a promotion to HR manager.
In a manufacturing company, the press operator cannot receive a promotion to a supervisory role unless he has trained a press operator to replace him. Training starts with job shadowing so the replacement employee understands the big picture before working to operate the ten-ton press.