Jim Kline: The learning process
Successful employee training is about not only the end result but also how you get there.
BakingBusiness.com, March 1, 2014
by Jim Kline

Personally, I hold to the belief that life is a continuous learning process, and we gain enrichment every day. It’s just that some days, we just have to look a little harder to find it than others.

We all have room to learn more skills, whether ensuring the safe execution of our job responsibilities or the necessary analytical, administrative and interpersonal skills that are needed in our daily lives. However, I suspect there are few people who do not recognize the value of properly preparing employees for the work they will be doing.

I’m not lecturing you on why training is the right thing to do or reminding you that with proper instruction efficiency improves, downtime decreases, accidents decrease, employee retention increases, etc. You already know these things. This is about doing so effectively.

There is a bit of a paradox here: Learning is a life-long process, but conveying that to others is not intuitive to most of us, nor is it something we are taught (with the exception of those who dedicate themselves to the field of education).

This situation carries over into our work. Many people use the old tried-and-true method of on-the-job training, whereby an experienced and skilled person teaches another employee how to perform specific tasks. Its effectiveness, however, is limited by the chemistry between the individuals, the communications skills of the “teacher” and, to a large degree, the diversity of experience.

Other options include “canned” programs designed to assist us in conducting in-house training programs or the lecture approach, where an expert is brought in-house and runs through a well-crafted presentation. In the end, we are for the most part left on our own to fend for ourselves on how to effectively convey instructions to others.

But as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin’, ” and so is the approach to providing instruction to adult learners.

We know that younger workers entering the baking industry today want more than just payment for services; they want to feel they are contributing to a greater good. They seek to be included in the greater scheme of things. As a result, instruction needs to go beyond just the basic steps of how to do something; educating should provide why and how their job responsibilities fit into the larger picture. Inclusion is an important part of people’s reception to the training they receive.

Training today also must be multi-faceted to ¬≠accommodate various types of people and skill levels. We know that everyone learns differently — some ¬≠using various styles at once. Some of us are visual learners who need to see the information to really absorb it. Others are auditory learners, needing to have information told or explained. And still others are tactile learners, the hands-on types, who learn from doing.

Think about your own style of learning. There are clues: Do you have to write something down to improve your memory? Do you like to be told about things or read about them for yourself? Do you need to take things apart to really understand them?

When you train, you should hit all these fronts to fully capture and engage your learners. The trainer must show, tell, ask and get hands-on into the experience. In fact, today’s approach to continuing education is one that emphasizes interactive and participatory activities and minimizes traditional classroom lectures, which don’t seem to get the job done as well as the participatory approach.

Provide your trainees with good reference documentation that they can call their own — materials they can mark up and refer back to when they have a question and, thus, make meaningful to themselves.

Of course, your processes and/or equipment are proprietary, and you can’t risk providing this information to everyone. I’ve been there and addressed this on many occasions. Get creative and find a way around it: Use a library method where employees can check out their books each day, or have a secure area where they store their materials. One bakery put security sensors in the books. Whatever technique works, use it, but get your trainees the reference material they need.

For any type of training, screen the reference material and distill it down to what the employee needs. Supplier manuals are written for all aspects of the equipment, including safe operation, maintenance, sanitation and more. Break the manual down, and get people the relevant information they need to perform their jobs. And if you have linguistically diverse workers, have the materials translated into their native languages.

Although it may seem a little overwhelming to put into effect, it need not be. Some great resources out there can help; in fact, AIB International is in our backyard. Consider using their “Train the Trainer” program. Such programs allow participants to acquire the skills needed to develop presentation materials, gain effective presentation and teaching techniques, and perhaps most importantly, assess if trainees are grasping the information being presented to them.

In the end, you need employees to perform their jobs satisfactorily, and if they cannot, you must determine if the training is ineffective or if the trainee is not suited for the job.

A well-educated workforce is one of your most valuable assets and certainly a financial investment for the company. Why not make it as effective as you can?