Remember your days in school when at the end of each year you decided (with great joy) which notes and papers could be tossed, never to be seen again, and which might have future value — if you kept them? Discarded or kept, at some point those notes and papers were important to you … in fact, if they were anything like mine, they may have made the difference between passing and failing.

We know from research on adult learning that most people have widely varying learning styles. Some of us are visual learners who learn best through written material and images; some of us learn by hearing and absorb information most effectively through verbal explanations, and some of us are the hands-on types who benefit most from physically performing a task. But most of us, when learning a complex task, take notes about what we have learned and how to perform the task. For some, the notes are quite detailed, but for others, it may be as simple as circling a word or a phrase to trigger an important point in the future.

Integrating reference materials into your training program is therefore an important consideration when developing your training programs. What is needed to create effective reference materials? Certainly knowledge of the subject is necessary for content-specific training materials. If you do not have this knowledge yourself, talk with your internal subject experts — operators and maintenance personnel or the project manager who oversaw the installation of the process. If you do not have that internal resource, turn to the equipment manufacturer for the information that you will need.

Armed with knowledge of the process and with the equipment manual for reference, identify what tasks need to be performed to operate the system and monitor its performance, service and troubleshooting, as well as properly cleaning and sanitizing the equipment. For each of these tasks, identify the skills a person needs to perform that task. Always consider safety in analyzing the tasks, and consider some of the more general skills that might be required. For example, these might include basic math for an operator, problem-solving skills for the mechanic, safe hand-tool use for a sanitor. Once the tasks and skills are identified and defined, establish the sequence of work activities, again placing safety first. List the steps to be performed in the order they are to be undertaken.

With the job tasks and skills defined, you are ready to prepare the supporting training materials. Review the various sections of the equipment manuals, then extract and distill the information that pertains specifically to what employees need in order to perform their jobs. Identify areas where you need to strengthen equipment suppliers’ information with photos and annotation for your organization’s purposes. When creating your own procedures, talk with suppliers and get their input for your concepts. Finalize the documents by putting the information into the order in which they will be performed. Don’t forget to build in space on each page for notes and sketches. This will allow your employee to make the training materials a meaningful reference for themselves.

Given the cultural diversity of our workforce and the percentage of bakery employees whose native language is not English, determine if it would be more effective to have the training materials available in multiple languages. Either way, provide each employee with a copy of the reference material, and as the training is conducted, allow time for the trainees to take notes and customize their copy. It is very helpful to have clipboards, notepads and pens or pencils available to facilitate this process.

Lastly, consider video recording your training sessions, which will be particularly valuable for visual and auditory learners. It is a great resource for you to review post-training and show future employees as an extension of the training materials that you have prepared for them.