What's the Difference Between Onboarding and Training? Why Companies Should Know the Difference

PRemployer on January 10, 2023


Onboarding and training are vitally important to companies, but many small business owners conflate or combine the two. It's important to understand the difference between the two things to properly conduct these processes. 

Both are critical parts of bringing on new employees, and the way you handle them can positively or negatively impact the working environment. Proper onboarding and training improves retention and gives you more capable staff who work more efficiently. 

The Steps of Bringing on New Employees 

After the work of finding, interviewing, and hiring a new candidate comes the need to onboard and train them. These tasks occur separately and are incredibly important to your employees and business, as they come together to make that all important first impression. 

A new hire who does not get a good initial impression of your company is going to start off on the "wrong foot," with low morale and an inclination to leave quickly. Also, not correctly onboarding and training increases the time it takes for a new employee to get up to speed, reducing productivity. 

So, what are the two steps: 


Onboarding is the paperwork and logistics associated with bringing on a new employee. It includes the following

  • Collecting all the information and documentation needed to comply with employment law, such as W-4 and immigration paperwork. 
  • Establishing expectations such as rules, work hours, etc. 
  • Providing the new hire with the employee handbook and other orientation materials, such as benefits information, company literature, and the org chart. 
  • Setting up the employee's workspace in the office (if they have one) or hardware (if they’re remote). 
  • Providing the new hire with their IT accounts and similar. 
  • Assigning a mentor if you use them (and you should). 
  • Sending out a care package, especially for remote onboarding. People who are not in the office may particularly appreciate things like cookies, coffee or tea, or company merchandise. 

Ideally, as much of onboarding as possible should be done before the first day of work. That reduces the amount of time you are paying your employee to, for example, sit around waiting because they don't have an email login yet. 


Training is an ongoing process, but at the start it should include teaching the skills necessary for their role. It might be everything from instruction in how to use your customer management system to starting to work on the soft skills that will help them adapt to your business' culture and management style. 

Training should have one goal at the start: Getting the employee productive as quickly as possible.  

It can help to ask the new hire about their learning style. For some new hires, being provided with manuals and left to it is the best way, while others might benefit from more formal instruction. 

Questions? Contact Us!

Why It's Crucial to Understand the Difference 

While both tasks are important, they require different functions. Conducting them properly leaves the great first impression you need to support retention. 

Onboarding is typically the realm of HR and, to an extent, IT. If you assign the new hire a desk, then there is some involvement of the office manager. Proper onboarding shows the new hire that your company is stable and organized. 

Much of onboarding these days takes place digitally and can thus be easily outsourced or conducted digitally. Another important aspect of onboarding is compliance. Much of the paperwork that must be put together is required by federal, state, or local law and must be done correctly. Using digital forms that the employees fill out themselves increases accuracy (and thus compliance) because numbers get input directly.  

Training is the responsibility of the department you assign the new hire to, although some things must be done company wide. A mentor is important for both elements. During onboarding, the mentor can help the new employee learn their way around the office and understand company culture, while during training, the mentor helps the employee learn their tasks.  

Each training plan will be unique to the employee, and as they spend more time with your company, ongoing training should be decided in consultation with them and taking into account their goals. However, proper training supports staff mentally by encouraging and allowing earlier productivity. Providing support and reassurance also demonstrates that you care about your staff, which inspires loyalty in new hires because you look out for them.  

Creating Effective Strategies for New Hires 

The best way to support your new employees through onboarding and training is to develop proper new hire procedures. These procedures keep onboarding organized and effective, and match training to the new roles you might be developing (as well as existing ones). 

Procedures should be stable but flexible and subject to continuous improvement as your company grows and learns. 

Onboarding and training are vital to retention. A professional employer organization (PEO) can help with both things. They can handle the routine logistics of onboarding, such as filling out all those forms. They can also provide advice and examples of ways to structure employee training appropriately and flexibly. Outsourcing HR duties to a PEO also gives HR more time to develop training protocols and improve your company culture. 

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