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When it comes to workplace learning, Conrad Gottfredson, PhD, and Bob Mosher, two well-known performance support experts, have defined five distinct moments of need:
- When learning for the first time,
- When learning more,
- When remembering and/or applying what’s been learned,
- When things go wrong, and
- When things change.
When you know these five moments, it is easier to see how you can fit training into your production schedule. We’re starting this series with the need for training when people are learning for the first time, and in the coming months, we will take a closer look at each of the other moments.
The classic example of this type of learning is onboarding training for new hires. The goal is to help employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become productive workers. In the food industry, we can include an additional goal: helping them become safe food workers. There’s no need to reiterate why you do not want your company to suffer through the misery of a recall. Ensuring new employees clearly understand their responsibilities is crucial.
It is a lesson that was learned the hard way by a major bakery facility. The company decided it was unnecessary to invest in food safety training for temporary hires as they were only employed in the packaging room. The day the company found a temporary worker with a pocketful of peanuts and had to destroy the full shift’s production is the day it revisited that decision.
Contrast this to a company that has developed a full complement of onboarding programs, from food safety training for contractors and visitors, to introductory food safety training for all staff, to specialized streams for supervisors and line personnel. Simple, to-the-point programs delivered by trained internal staff has ensured that the food safety awareness is woven into every person’s DNA the moment they enter the facility.
What Must Be Included
Basic Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) training for all employees is critical. It remains the best line of defense against the introduction of unnecessary hazards. GMP training covers the daily activities associated with food safety programs: health and hygiene, cross-contamination avoidance, sanitation, tools, and equipment. Your company’s food safety policies, standards, and expectations must also be included. For those with more direct food safety job responsibilities—for example HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) team members or CCP owners—training must include topics such as monitoring, corrective action procedures and risk assessment.
A word of caution: Do not overload your new hires. Trying to cover every detail of every practice or procedure in a company’s arsenal is counter-productive. New employees are in a stressful situation, which means they are not optimally primed to learn new things. When they are bombarded with information, they will not be able to take it all in. It’s most likely that, by the end of training, new hires will have forgotten most of the information that was presented. The following actions can address this problem.
Start as early as possible. Send out any introductory food safety material, either online or printed, before the new hire even begins work. This serves the dual purpose of introducing the person to concepts of food safety and ensuring that the importance of this topic is quickly underscored.
Provide a blend of training channels. Classroom training is important, but when it is teamed with peer coaching, virtual discussion boards, or an online information portal, the effectiveness of training increases dramatically. Remember that training is not just about teaching someone new information; it’s about showing them how to find answers when they have questions.
Scatter the training over several days or weeks. This will allow new hires time to become competent in one learning area before moving onto the next. It may mean a slightly slower time to competency, but the savings in terms of retraining costs is worth it.
Importance of Consistency and Context
If your onboarding process is haphazard, it lacks quality control. Some sessions will be excellent, others will be dismal. Any new hire who happens to arrive on a dismal day is guaranteed to have significant learning gaps. Schedule food safety training along with other job-specific training, as well as general company onboarding.
If your onboarding programs lack context, you are probably checking off the training box without realizing any true behavior changes. Telling employees that they must not walk between the raw and processed sections of the facility is a good directive; not telling them what could happen if they do and why it is so important to the business is a bit like telling people not to go swimming in the lake without telling them that there are leeches in the water.
Who Should Deliver the Training
If it is in your budget to hire professional trainers, then by all means do so. For those whose budget is less generous, onboarding training can be done in-house or in combination with professional trainers. Two keys to success are as follows.
- The training must be properly designed with attention paid both to the accuracy of the content and the pace of the program. It should be built following adult learning principles that provide active learning opportunities and plenty of time for practice. Lectures were rarely successful at teaching us in our school days. They are no more successful today.
- The training must be delivered by competent people. This means people who are not only knowledgeable of the topic, but who have had some grounding in the craft of training. Expertise in a subject is not enough—in fact, experts are often very poor onboarding trainers because they simply cannot chunk the information into simple, easy-to-understand lessons. It is not an understatement to say that the success of a training program can rest with the quality of the trainer.
The proof of training is in the doing. When an employee demonstrates proper food safety practices, you know the training has been successful. There are, however, levels in the assessment process that can help determine competence.
- Level one is a check for understanding: Has the employee learned the information? Most companies use quizzes to test for this, though a one-on-one discussion is often more useful at uncovering misconceptions.
- Level two looks at ability: Can the employee perform a task as demonstrated? Watching someone do the work in their natural work setting is the best test for this level.
- Level three assesses attitude: Does the employee believe what you have taught and recognize its importance? This can be evaluated by listening to a new hire explain concepts or, as in level one, by having a conversation.
Think of when you learned how to drive. The first step was the written exam to prove you knew the rules of the road. The second was a road test to show your skill behind the wheel. The third is one you demonstrate each time you choose not to drink and drive.
And of course, it goes without saying that any training must be fully documented. After all, if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.
Finally, a successful onboarding program requires frequent follow-up to make sure new employees understand their jobs, know where to go for help, and are integrating with the team. It takes a long time to become a part of a new culture. Be patient, and give your new hires the support they need over the first few months on the job.
McCreary is technical manager, training services, for NSF-GFTC. Reach her at email@example.com. Lefaive is manager of program development, training services, for NSF-GFTC. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.