Making Training Stick: A Guide to Ensuring Transfer of Training

August 19, 2021 in ,
By Catherine Neale

Benefits to training 

Training provides employees with unique knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that add value to the organization and allow for high performance on the tasks that are necessary to achieve organizational success.1 Training benefits both employees and organizations through three different mechanisms. First, when employees engage in training, their new KSAs can increase organizational performance (e.g., profitability, effectiveness, productivity). Second, when organizations choose to invest in their employees, employees tend to reciprocate that investment through increased effort and commitment. Finally, through the symbolic value of training. When organizations invest in training, they’re showing what is important to the organization. That investment shows that organizations value employees’ contributions and development, which in turn, can increase employees’ willingness to work hard to achieve the organization’s goals.2  While simply investing in training can increase things like employee satisfaction and commitment, job performance only increases when the benefits of training are maximized through ensuring the transfer of training.  

Transfer of training 

What is transfer of training? Transfer of training refers to the degree to which trainees can effectively apply the KSAs gained from the training to the job context.3 The transfer of training involves the generalization and maintenance of the KSAs acquired from the training.4  

  • Generalization deals with applying the knowledge learned during training to the job context and determining which behaviors are expected to change after training is complete, as well as how often new skills are required to be used.  
  • Maintenance deals with remembering the KSAs learned over time, how long they are expected to be maintained, and what factors can be used to enhance KSA development.  

Once the standards for generalization and maintenance of KSAs gained from training are decided upon, we can engage in strategizes to ensure that those standards are met after the training is complete. If employees complete training and can’t apply it to the job (generalization), organizations are losing out on benefits like increased job performance and employees will likely lose the KSAs over time if they aren’t actively using them (maintenance). Luckily there are things the employee and organization/supervisors can do to ensure that both generalization and maintenance occur, and that training will transfer! This blog will give helpful tips based on the factors that impact training transfer at the employee, organization/supervisor, and training level.  

Image of a group of people being trained

Employee Level 

Employees play a powerful role in whether or not training will transfer, and are thought to account for a majority of the variability in training outcomes. The most common employee characteristics that impact training transfer are attitudes, motivation, and perceived utility.5 

  • Attitudes: In order for training to be successful, and to maximize transfer, employees must have positive attitudes towards the training. Employees must be prepared to learn and must also have the necessary prerequisite/abilities to learn the new behaviors. If the employee doesn’t feel ready or able to master the training content, then their learning and transfer will be negatively impacted. 
  • Motivation: Transfer is facilitated when employees are motivated to learn and transfer knowledge throughout the whole training process. Employees need to believe in their ability to learn, transfer the knowledge, and increase their job performance in order to be motivated to commit to the process and get the most out of training.  
  • Perceived utility: Employees who understand the use and value of the training are far more likely to be engaged during the training and work to apply their new KSAs on the job later. If employees don’t see how they are going to use the training, they won’t put the work in to apply or maintain the information gained.  

Organization/Supervisor Level 

There are several things that organizations and supervisors can do to facilitate the transfer of training for their employees.5 

  • In order to help employees develop positive attitudes about training, increase motivation, and understand the utility of the training, it is crucial for organizations and supervisors to give a realistic preview of the course, as well as outline the benefits and outcomes of the training to ensure buy in and increase engagement and readiness to learn.  
  • For training to transfer, it is important that supervisors are supportive of the training opportunity as well as encourage use of the newly acquired skills on the job after the training is complete. Supervisors can also guide employees on when and where it is appropriate to apply training as a way to encourage and support employees post training.  
  • Supervisors can encourage employees who undergo training to set up goals for applying the new KSAs to the workplace. Goals have been shown to increase the likelihood of training transfer by directing attention, stimulating action, and encouraging employees.6 
  • To support training transfer, organizations can provide additional learning opportunities to encourage maintenance of the KSAs learned, as well as feedback on the application of KSAs to the job.  
  • Organizations and supervisors can provide recognition and rewards to employees who increase performance based on the generalization and maintenance of the KSAs gained from the training. This attention and recognition of achievement has been shown to have long term impacts on the level of transfer of training knowledge.7 
  • Lastly, it is important for organizations to have a climate that encourages the application of new KSAs and makes sure that employees aren’t afraid to make mistakes when engaging in new behavior. This will make employees feel more comfortable and encourage others to engage in training and training application.  

Training Level 

There are several training design and implementation elements that will enhance transfer of training.3  

  • If the work setting is similar to the training setting, there is a higher probability the employee will see the opportunities to apply their new knowledge on the job. 
  • The content being taught should be contextualized across multiple different situations to encourage generalization. 
  • There should be a variety of different examples provided in the training, as well as different types of practice conditions to encourage knowledge retention and application.  
  • During training it is helpful to identify common errors and issues that arise with applying the knowledge so that employees are expecting them when they are applying the new KSAs after the training.  


Training initiatives have many benefits for both organizations and employees. However, when there are no opportunities for generalization and maintenance, the KSAs gained in training opportunities don’t always get reflected in employees’ job performance. It is critical that employees and organizations work together to make the most of trainings and capitalize on the benefits by utilizing strategies to ensure that training transfers. 

Catherine Neale is a Human Capital Consultant on FMP’s Strategic Human Capital Management team and is an Industrial Organizational Psychologist. Catherine is from upstate New York and enjoys running, rock climbing, and baking.


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