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Choose Good Metrics to Move Your Food Safety Training Forward

By Laura Dunn Nelson   |   

More and more food companies are making their training and learning systems a priority these days, and rightly so. After all, your frontline food workers are your biggest asset for keeping people and products safe. But are you evaluating your training to assess its true effectiveness? How do you know your training efforts and costs are paying off?

During our recent symposia presentation at the International Association of Food Protection in Tampa, we asked a room full of food safety professionals to respond to this question:

Q:  “Despite our best efforts at food safety training in the classroom, we still have employees not following our food safety procedures – is this true at your facility?”

Response:  87% responding yes, they still have employees not following food safety protocols!

Clearly, we have room for improvement. Wondering where to start? You’re in luck, because education research and industry best practices can easily be applied to improving your food training programs. Here are some tips on how to go about it.

Start with the End in Mind

When working to optimize training success, think about the kinds of behaviors you want for each job role – think beyond food safety. Understand your company’s operational objectives – things like productivity goals, production targets, and internal audit scores. Educate yourself on the negative impact of employee turnover, customer complaints, loss-time/injuries, etc. If you are not knowledgeable about these metrics or unsure how to access this data, you probably need to initiate dialogue with other colleagues in your plant. We all recognize time is short and resources are limited so building a truly cross-functional training and development team with shared goals makes sense. Leading food companies have recognized the power of this collaborative approach and include representatives from the following functional areas:

  • Senior Leadership
  • Quality Control/Quality Assurance
  • Operations – Processing, Packaging, Sanitation, Maintenance, Distribution
  • HR
  • Trainers, Mentors, and Auditors
  • Safety

By working together, each colleague can share their perspective on current gaps, based on the routine review of the operational metrics. These results will then provide the blueprint for creating new training or improving on that training to address the behavior gaps. Letting data and established metrics guide the content of the employee training, the frequency of training, and the method of training delivery moves you from status quo to continuous improvement.



Data Trending Examples

For many of us, we’ve been focused on our department and the corresponding data and reports that allow us to do our own jobs each day. It’s difficult to step out of our own responsibilities and look at the ‘big picture.’ But the companies that do overcome the siloed departments and build effective cross functional teams to solve collective challenges – those are the companies that achieve significant returns for their organization. Those team members are viewed as essential, contributing members of their company.   

Some examples of data that innovative companies are using to create metrics for improvement include:

  • Productivity reports
  • GMP compliance records
  • Downtime reports
  • Training completion reports
  • Plant scorecards
  • Turnover reports
  • Staffing reports
  • Internal audit reports
  • Customer complaint data
  • Near miss data
  • Organizational assessment reports

You will immediately recognize that, in order to effectively review these reports monthly, it will involve all departments. If gaps are identified (scores falling below targets, spike in downtime, etc.), the team collectively works to identify root causes, establish the source of the issues, and determine if the role of training can be applied for improvement. 

Consider for a moment if, during this meeting, the HR Manager shares that one of their senior batching operators will be retiring in December and it typically takes 30 days to find a replacement. The team knows that onboarding this new batching operator will take 3 weeks – including classroom training, on-the-job mentoring, and validation of key skills and behaviors by the supervisor.  Everyone agrees that recruiting should occur in October and resources allocated for onboarding that new operator in November. This illustrates the power of planning with a collaborative team vs. reacting last-minute to termination notices. 

At this same meeting, the Operations Manager shares a trend in downtime due to a specific piece of equipment. After some investigation, it’s determined that employees are not clear on the appropriate troubleshooting protocol. Training content is revised and training provided to those specific employees. Downtime is then monitored closely by the team to determine the effectiveness of the revised training. This illustrates the power of being responsive to the dynamic needs of the organization to improve performance vs. mired in an established set of training framework. 


Validate Each Employee

Food companies often measure the percentage of workers trained in a given period of time and, as the training completion percentage rises, consider training to be increasingly successful. But true training comprehension and behavior alignment can only be measured with validation observations of those employees on the plant floor.

After training, workers, supervisors, coaches, or other trained individuals should formally observe the worker performing the trained tasks, confirming that the employee has both the knowledge and sufficient confidence to translate the trained behavior to the plant floor. This two-way communication facilitates feedback to and from the employee. This provides the opportunity to reinforce good behaviors and to better understand why noncompliant behaviors are observed. Leading companies even go beyond this one-time validation of behaviors and skills and execute periodic observations to confirm consistent habits and behaviors are in place.   

Using key operational metrics to drive a dynamic training program will deliver a significant return to your organization. Give it a try!

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