Cross-training, also known as multiskilling or multiskill training, is a movement in the training industry prompted by the increase in global competition and the need for workforce flexibility. The term cross-training applies to workers who are trained across a broad spectrum of an organization’s work. Cross-training typically involves training employees to perform new tasks in addition to their usual duties. After being cross-trained, workers often possess the skills to fill the requirements of more than one position in an organization. In team-based work environments, cross-training refers to a strategy in which each team member is trained on the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of her or his fellow team members. The goal of the training is to provide team members with a clear understanding of the entire team function and how one particular member’s tasks and responsibilities interrelate with those of the other team members. Cross-training has been identified as 1 of 10 training trends that are likely to be around for some time. Many cross-training efforts have been found to be highly cost-effective.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, organizations such as General Motors, John Deere, Motorola, Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton Hotels, and the University of North Carolina began cross-training selected groups of workers. The cross-training movement was spawned by environmental changes such as globalization, shorter production schedules, technological innovation, and limited labor availability. Cross-training efforts have often accompanied organization downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, or other restructuring efforts. The major reasons for cross-training workers include the following: to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage; to increase business functions (speed, quality, efficiency, productivity); to counteract the effects of short-term and long-term labor shortages; to meet a need for a more flexible, multiskilled workforce; to utilize workers more effectively; to enrich jobs; to increase employee job satisfaction; and to enable the desire to embody more of a learning-organization philosophy toward sharing knowledge and continuous development.
While cross-training is often viewed as a strategic initiative relating to competition and business needs, it is also looked at as an effective career development strategy. Cross-training has been found to be advantageous to employee personal career development, increased employee morale and job satisfaction, enhanced job security, reduced job stress, and increased professional confidence. Compared with employees who are not cross-trained, cross-trained workers are reported to be more flexible and less vulnerable to unemployment, to be more likely to receive higher earnings and be promoted into supervisory positions, to have more possibilities for advancement, to be more apt to develop a career path, and to work more hours than their non-multiskilled counterparts.
There are several steps to creating and implementing a cross-training program. They include the following:Checking to see that employees have been trained for their current positions
- Making sure that employees are functioning competently in their regular jobs
- Creating a list of all jobs in an intact work group
- Identifying individuals to serve as “backups” for each job in the work group
- Using current job descriptions or specific task analysis information to prepare a breakdown of job duties, responsibilities, and related skills for each position
- Preparing a training plan for cross-training each designated “backup” participant
- Setting up a training schedule for each designated “backup” worker
- Training employees in on-the-job training (OJT), so they can cross-train their designated “backup” participants
- Using OJT methods to cross-train the “backup” workers
- Having designated “backup” participants evaluate the training they received
- Periodically updating training according to evaluation feedback and revised job descriptions
Several factors are seen as being critical to the successful creation and implementation of a cross-training program. They include the following:
- Identification of organization objectives
- Analysis of the organization/project situation to determine whether cross-training is appropriate
- Assessment of the organization’s setting, resources, and culture to ensure compatibility
- An organizational culture that supports cross-training efforts
- Obtaining union approval for training (in some instances)
- Identification of skill clusters (i.e., interrelated skills)
- Evaluation of employee proficiencies
- Supervisor support of trainees’ learning process (e.g., time in training and practice)
- Management awareness of the skills possessed by multiskilled employees, so they can be placed in appropriate job functions
- Open lines of communication
- Linking of compensation and/or reward system to cross-training
- Giving sufficient time for trainees to learn, develop, and apply newly learned skills and behaviors
Reported outcomes of cross-training programs include an increase in worker motivation, enhanced employee recruitment and retention efforts, increased production, increased efficiency, improved customer service and support, reduction in overtime hours among workers, quality improvements, increased organizational flexibility and response to change, more effective problem solving, increased levels of interdepartmental cooperation, and improved relationships between job functions and coworkers. Reported drawbacks of cross-training include safety issues, a need for certification and credentials in some occupations, adverse reaction of unions to training programs, information overload of program participants, little opportunity to practice what is learned, and increases in human error.
- Allerton, H. 1997. “Here to Stay.” Training and Development Journal 51(3):10.
- Caggiano, C. 1998. “Sign of Cross-training Times.” Magazine 20:122-123.
- Challenger, J. E. 1993. “Two or More for One: A New Way of Looking at Employment.” Industry Week 242(13):25.
- Haas, C. T., Rodriguez, A. M., Glover, R. and Goodrum, P. M. 2001. “Implementing a Multiskilled Workforce.” Construction Management and Economics 19:633-641.
- Maggard, M. J. and Globerson, S. 1986. “Employee Cross Training.” Training and Development Journal 40(12):10-12.
- Mozenter, F. M., Sanders, B. T. and Bellamy, C. 2003. “Cross Training Public Service Staff in the Electronic Age: I Have to Learn to Do What?” Journal of Academic Librarianship 29:399-404.
- Rothwell, W. J. and Sredl, H. J. 1992. The ASTD Reference Guide to Professional Human Resource Development Roles and Competencies, 1. Amherst, MA: ASTD Press.
- Zurburg, R. 1995. “The Power of Cross-training Your Staff.” Hotels 29(5):20.