Continuous employee training is a necessity in feed facilities, particularly as the industry faces a shrinking labor pool and escalating regulations.
By ADAM FAHRENHOLZ, CHARLES STARK and LELAND MCKINNEY*
DOES your feed/food manufacturing facility have effective training protocols in place? Have you documented that your employees have received and completed the proper training opportunities?
If the answers are no, then action is necessary to better prepare your facility, especially in the current and upcoming regulatory environment.
An effective management strategy must include instruction and documentation: Tell employees what you are going to teach them, and then repeat what you told them. All areas of production, from order entry and delivery to employee safety and customer service, should be addressed.
Since most of us live in a world that operates 24-7, where there is high turnover and low margins, continuous employee training is not easy, but it is necessary, particularly as the industry faces a shrinking labor pool and escalating regulations.
Generally speaking, the most valuable employees on payroll are paid the least. They are the first line of defense when it comes to communicating that a problem has occurred and asking for help from upper management. Consider them the first limiting essential nutrient: If they are not there or fail to be observant and communicate effectively, the chance of catching mistakes is minimal.
In order to maximize success, it is important to train all members of the team, from the grassroots level up, and utilize available resources to the fullest extent possible.
Employee training programs required by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation and third-party audit systems serve as good prerequisite programs. However, as the final rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act are released, feed mills should develop a formalized training program for employees who handle, process and warehouse animal feed. Good manufacturing practices and feed safety plans should outline a formalized training program and document employee training.
While each regulating agency has its own set of requirements for training, the common denominator is that employers must provide training and document that training. In the past, training was often limited to a one-on-one or group setting. However, technology is now allowing the feed industry to provide online training on specific topics (lock-out/tag-out, confined spaces, etc.).
Additionally, trade organizations like the American Feed Industry Assn., National Grain & Feed Assn., Grain Elevator & Processing Society, National Pork Board and U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn. offer training to their members and non-members alike. Trade associations offer webinars, reading materials and DVDs that can be used to train employees on site, as well as host annual conferences that provide educational materials for the participants.
Universities also offer training programs for feed mill employees and the allied industries that provide products and services to feed mills, ethanol plants and grain elevators. These offerings are in the form of short courses for college credit — five- to six-week online continuing education courses — and on-site workshops that incorporate hands-on components.
Training programs should be developed based on job and training requirements. The learning style of the employee should be taken into consideration, and they should be provided with a variety of delivery methods.
Finally, employees must be given time to complete their training. Employees are more apt to successfully complete their training if a specific block of time is allotted for training each week or if they are given the opportunity to network with other participants at an off-site workshop.
Online training is an efficient method of delivery but must include quizzes, interaction with instructors and follow-up meetings to ensure comprehension of the content.
Advances in training media and platforms have improved the ability to offer web-based training to individuals and groups. In comparison to earlier book and videotape methods, training programs today can be customized and more dynamic. Additionally, the use of animation, virtual blackboards and other innovative media makes the training more interesting and leads to an overall greater impact.
Three common web-based training methods are webinars, training "toolboxes" and comprehensive online courses.
Webinars are excellent platforms for making presentations to large groups. They generally can be hosted by multiple individuals, include multiple media types and be recorded for further dissemination.
Training toolboxes, which are often a group of single-topic presentations, are becoming more popular for self-paced new employee and safety training. Presentations are typically a mix of audio-over-slide and video and often include quiz questions to evaluate employee comprehension. Documentation of the training is automatically generated, satisfying recordkeeping requirements.
The most robust online training programs are multi-topic "courses." Such courses are housed within a learning management system (LMS) and can bring together a large number of resources. Topics may be presented as audio-over-slide or potentially as recordings of live classroom sessions, including screen captures of any material presented.
Instructors can upload electronic or scanned documents, provide access to relevant web assets and include or link to videos or other media. The training can include short assignments and quizzes, allowing for more flexibility in the employee evaluations. Most LMS platforms also support message boards and forums, promoting greater interaction between instructors and participants.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the platforms described is the combination of being able to collect data on users' preferences and performance and then implement changes relatively quickly. This dynamic evolution is key to developing and providing the feed industry with the training it requires.
There are advantages to working through training programs provided by universities and/or trade associations; however, educational programs can be created and accomplished internally as well.
Ask the employees to teach management the procedures as if they were the ones responsible. Never stop working as a team to answer the question: "Why?" Put yourself in their shoes.
So many times, "managers" fall into the trap of not following up to see if further explanation is necessary. Explain what the ingredients/additives are, why certain processes exist and how quality affects customers. If employees don't believe they are adding value or contributing, they will feel less inclined to look out for the best interests of the company.
*Dr. Adam Fahrenholz is assistant professor in the Prestage department of poultry science at North Carolina State University. Dr. Charles Stark is the Jim & Carol Brown associate professor in feed technology at Kansas State University. Dr. Leland McKinney is with DFS Inc. in Johnston, Iowa.