Targeting younger workers with e-learning
Developing e-learning curriculums could prove crucial in cultivating and retaining talent in the food and beverage industry, said Susan Hancock, vice-president of innovation and product development for AIB International, Manhattan, Kas.
“We’re taking into account millennial learning styles, younger learners who are digital natives,” she said. “The idea of e-learning is not even valid anymore. It’s just learning. The younger generation, they’re all digital.”
AIB International recently added a bread manufacturing and bread troubleshooting course to its lineup of on-line baking courses at LearningLab@AIB, the company’s on-line learning platform. Later this year AIB International will roll out additional on-line baking courses as well as on-line food safety courses, Ms. Hancock said. Spanish versions will become available, too.
“These are really exciting e-learning modules,” she said. “They are cutting edge from a human interaction perspective. They are current from a content perspective, and they are very application-oriented in that a baking professional taking these courses will only learn things that are directly applicable to their job.”
These e-learning modules focus on ingredient functions, manufacturing processes, troubleshooting, product quality and the basic math and science bakers need.
In the bread manufacturing course, participants will acquire targeted information on processes from scaling to packaging. In troubleshooting, they will learn how to systematically identify root causes of common baking problems.
Production employees, research and development scientists, and technical services associates may all take the courses, Ms. Hancock said, adding that the e-learning courses are designed for people who have some technical skill and are expected to solve problem, but are not yet experts.
AIB International’s future plans include expanding e-learning to other baking product categories and in 2017 also launching food safety-related modules.
“We have analyzed the technical job requirements for both food safety and baking professionals and determined what skills they need to add value to a company,” she said. “The curricula are ultimately intended to be a certification program that will assess where they are, empower them to improve their skills and monitor over time.”
The food safety e-learning curricula take on additional importance with the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act.
“F.S.M.A. is a huge focus for us this year,” Ms. Hancock said.
AIB International has been trained by the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (F.S.P.C.A.), a public-private alliance that seeks to support safe food production by developing a nationwide core curriculum, training and outreach programs to assist in complying with the F.S.M.A.
“We’re expanding on that by developing a curriculum that is a skills-based professional track,” Ms. Hancock said. “We’re also supporting F.D.A. efforts to ensure consistency across industry.”
She said in the future AIB International will have more e-learning modules that will enable clients to create custom training programs. AIB International will be able to create a company portal where a worker could log in and take a company’s required curriculum.
“So for example, if a client decided, ‘we don’t want to build our own learning management system, we don’t want to manage our own learning,’ AIB could manage it for them,” she said. “We could conceivably create a micro site in our learning lab for them.”
AIB International also has created blended programs that feature e-learning and instructor-led training. The traditional Baking Science and Technology (BS&T) resident course, which is 16 weeks long, could become a blended option in the future. Learners might take prerequisites on-line and then come to AIB International in Manhattan for a more intense practicum that may or may not be 16 weeks in length.
“Sending people anywhere — Manhattan, Kas., or any place else — takes a lot of time, effort, energy, money and coordination, which can be difficult, if not impossible, for plants as they move toward leaner operations,” said Brian L. Strouts, vice-president, baking and food technical services for AIB International. “So we feel like this product really directly hits that objective. It’s self-paced on-line learning. We also feel like it provides that fundamental knowledge base that people need to start from.”
Ms. Hancock said results have shown an average improvement of 42% from pre-test to post-study test scores.
“People are walking in,” she said. “They don’t have the knowledge. They walk out. They have it.”
The need for baking companies to attract skilled hourly and salaried production personnel was pointed out in “The Workforce Gap in U.S. Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges and Solutions” released during the American Bakers Association’s annual convention, held March 20-23, in Phoenix.
Commissioned by the A.B.A. and the American Society of Baking, and conducted by Kansas City-based Cypress Research Associates, the survey highlighted the skills shortage. Concerning hourly workers, 78% of those polled indicated a current “high” or “severe” shortage of skilled maintenance and engineering personnel along with 40% of machine operators.