By Penny Mclaren 2014-10-28 11:14:08
A comprehensive training plan not only promotes standards and safety, but also empowers foodservice staff. It was still close to the beginning of the school year when Julie Boettger, PhD, RD, director of food and nutrition services for the School City of Hammond, Ind., spoke to School Nutrition about how she develops her training plans. Without warning, she broke off the conversation and rushed away. Upon her return, she reported that a school kitchen had to be evacuated because of a possible gas leak. What Boettger suspected, and then confirmed, was that while a gas-powered dishwasher was in operation, someone had failed to turn on the kitchen fan that is required to dissipate the gas odor. Clearly, she discovered, this kitchen’s staff needs to be trained (or retrained) to turn on the fan whenever the dishwasher runs. Problem averted, and lesson learned. This incident confirmed two critical points about training: One, school nutrition staff must be prepared to know how to deal with a critical incident. Two, said critical incident can serve as elements in a training plan. “Day-to-day incidents can be a source of learning and training,” notes Barbara Jirka, PhD, SNS, a nutritionist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Center for Promotion and Policy (CNPP). Even the unplanned can be considered part of the plan. Boosting Basic Training But first, let’s establish a simple truth or two: Namely, training is an essential element of K-12 school foodservice. “The most dangerous thing is having a substitute in the kitchen with no food safety training,” says Katie Wilson, PhD, SNS, executive director of the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) and an SNA past president, adding, “Without training, there is more waste, less efficiency and more injuries.” Jirka, who has worked extensively with school nutrition staff in a wide variety of roles within operations, industry and USDA, points to other business benefits of training. “When employees are trained, they have a sense of empowerment,” she notes. “Training engages the staff. It engenders loyalty and a willingness to work harder. It increases productivity if everyone helps to train those who are less experienced. The entire staff knows they are responsible for success.” Of course, most School Nutrition readers understand this operational reality. But with so much on going on, it’s not uncommon for school nutrition training to sometimes be a bit random. While new staff usually are trained upon hiring, is the training consistent from site to site—especially when staff are hired mid-year? Many districts host an annual, mandatory inservice workshop at the start of the new school year, but do staff get other opportunities for training throughout the year? And while training usually accompanies the launch of new rules, requirements, equipment, etc., is it followed up and reinforced on a regular basis? A training plan ensures that you cover all the knowledge the staff requires, leaving no gaps. This is especially important when you consider the rate of regulatory changes in school meals of late. Sandra Ford, SNS, an SNA past president and director of food and nutrition service, Manatee County Schools, Bradenton, Fla., has developed an annual training plan that she reviews every spring. “For the past four years, the USDA has driven the bus,” notes Ford. More of that is still down the road, as USDA has proposed continuing education/training requirements toward the establishment and maintenance of professional standards for school nutrition personnel as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Heeeeeere’s the Plan! So, we can all agree on the need for a thoughtful, organized training plan, right? Where do you start? From her experience in working with many districts, Jirka suggests breaking the task into four steps: assessment, development, implementation and tracking. Assessment. Determine what training is required for employees of different professional levels and working at different sites. Spend time studying what goes on daily in your kitchens, and examine where gaps exist in an understanding of procedures. Review skill sets required for each job position. What training is specifically dictated by rules or guidelines of the school nutrition program? How about those required by the district? Many districts, require civil rights training, for example, which should be included in the training plan, because every staff member will be required to complete the course. Training can be as specific as the school level, or applicable to the entire district level. Determine the level of preparedness your staff already presents. Is there room for improvement? Customer service training is an almost-universal need, even as a refresher to experienced staff members. “You must do a needs assessment of managers and line cooks,” says trainer/culinary educator Cyndie Story, PhD, RD, CC, SNS. “The best way to do this is to go stand in the kitchen in any part of your operation. What do you see? You are used to just breezing through, putting out fires, but you need to do an observational assessment to see what is needed.” A sharp eye may reveal some surprises. For example, a telltale sign of the need for equipment training is when you see a piece of sophisticated new cooking equipment sitting idle—it’s likely because no one knows how to use it! Story recounts such an incident when districts in Mississippi received grants to purchase combi ovens that were not used to their full potential. She personally has conducted eight-week sessions solely on using combi ovens. Consultant Alyssa Densham also conducts training for foodservice professionals around the country. In her needs assessment, she asks if staff need training in food safety? Culinary procedures? Customer service? “The answer is usually all of the above,” she says. “Many have been doing their jobs for a long time, but most never had any training in specific skills.” Development. When developing your plan, identify the key priorities. Food safety is a top concern, while customer service is critical, because it creates a good first impression, which in turn provides value to the bottom line. From there, Jirka recommends looking at the smaller, yet important, “hard” skills necessary for a particular job position. These might include knife skills, equipment operation and production-related skills, as well as the “soft skills” of customer service and diversity. Use SNA’s Keys to Excellence as a guide, focusing on training in each “Key Area”: nutrition, operations, administration and communications and marketing. “Base the training on the skills your staff needs,” emphasizes Jirka. “It is not necessary for the whole district to be the same.” Not everyone will need training on keeping production records, but everyone will need training in food safety. Also, keep an open mind about training that may not seem necessary. For example, in Hammond, Julie Boettger recognized that “cashiers needed to understand not only the way to count meals, but also to understand the meal pattern.” Involve key employees in developing the specifics of the plan and its implementation. Your staff members are more likely to participate if they have been involved in the planning stage. Your team might think they know what is required of them—but they aren’t necessarily the best judge. “Managers assume their staff members know how to do things, but they don’t,” asserts Story. “Even if they are a long-term employee, they don’t know.” Densham concurs, recounting an incident of talking to staff members who had never been trained in receiving fresh produce and were throwing useable items into the trash. Training in this area could help districts reduce food and waste costs. Consider dividing the team into smaller groups for training, in order to accomplish more priorities at one time. Implementation. As you implement your plan, make sure funding is included to support whatever you need to accomplish. “First, you must budget for it,” says NFSMI’s Wilson. “It should be a line item. You always should pay for the staff to get the training.” Then, look ahead and plan for the full year. “Once you have established the times and dates for ongoing training, let the staff members know about it as far in advance as possible,” advises Wilson. “Set up a schedule and publish it, so everyone knows they will be working on those training days and times.” But consider thinking outside the obvious when determining how to implement your plan. A schedule of formal, in-person training sessions can be just one element of the training you provide. “Think beyond the traditional training avenues,” recommends Jirka. “Expand your training beyond what the perception of training may be.” Training does not have to be in person; it can be done online. It doesn’t have to be conducted in a group; it can be handled one-on-one. There are many other approaches you can apply. Mentoring, where one staff member is assigned to work with another, can provide regular, on-the-job, one-on-one training. Job rotation, job shadowing and coaching are other examples of one-on-one type training, providing a trainee with close and regular direction from experienced staff members. Manufacturer-supplied sessions involve a company visit or an in-depth session offered by a manufacturer on a particular piece of equipment or new product. Field trips include visiting another district to see how its kitchens operate, while SNA membership provides access to state and national conferences. Self-study might involve assigning all staff to read the HACCP manual and documenting completion, taking online courses or webinars offered by SNA or NFSMI and, of course, reading (and reporting on) articles in School Nutrition. You also can take advantage of critical incidents that happen during day-to-day operations as a starting point for training. Critical incidents, such as the one described at the beginning of this article in Hammond, crop up without notice, but they can be a source of learning and training. Another example might arise when a freezer loses power, or is not maintaining the right temperature. This is an opportunity to work with all staff to go over the HACCP steps, asking for their input on corrective actions. The take-away message, says Jirka, is that the plan should not be rigid. “You want to help others be successful in their jobs. Training creates that environment. It brings the staff together. Keep it motivational and positive. Training is not a burden.” Tracking. Develop a system to record completed work and make sure you know who has taken specific training. This will be especially helpful when USDA’s professional standards final rule is released and implemented. There are programs you can turn to for help. SNA’s Certificate in School Nutrition Program in Level 1, 2 or 3 requires completion of a basic 8-hour nutrition education course and an 8-hour food safety course, both of which must be SNA-approved (visit www.schoolnutrition.org/certificate to learn more). The Certificate must be maintained with regular continuing education hours, with documentation of completion maintained by the individual. NFSMI offers 48 free courses online, providing documentation to assist in tracking course credits. Additionally, the USDA is developing a tracking system for training credits that schools or individuals may someday use in the future. Some state associations offer their own systems. If you have sufficient central office staff, designate a recorder to maintain training records for all employees. The training records can be monitored on a monthly or quarterly basis. Make sure your system can accommodate those training occasions that are not specific classes—if 15 minutes is spent on cashier training during a staff meeting on how to prevent theft on the line, that time can be recorded as training for participating employees, advises Jirka. When staff members have achieved documented skill levels, completed course work or logged a specified number of education hours, share this news! Inform the school community via web posts, newsletters or reports to school administrators. “Let others know about the skills it takes to work in school foodservice,” says Jirka. “It is a skilled profession. This promotes what you have done.” Begin at the End What are your goals for your school nutrition operation? Better food preparation? Increased participation? Fewer accidents? You can make it happen with the help of a sound plan for training staff. [Editors’ Note: Don’t have goals? Read “Ready, Aim…What’s Your Target?” in the October 2014 issue for advice on why and how to set specific goals for your program.] “An effective training plan helps with the success of the child nutrition program in the long term,” concludes Jirka. “Well-trained employees are productive and understand their job functions,” she says. “That leads to a better working environment and higher morale. That, in turn, translates down to the kids, as well. Kids will find the cafeteria is a nice place to be. If they enjoy lunch, that will lead to healthier kids, who are ready to learn. It all comes full circle.” Healthier kids, higher morale—that’s plenty of motivation to spur you toward implementing a training plan. Make it work for your department. Penny McLaren is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash., and a former editor with SNA. Reach her at email@example.com. Photography by iStock/jiunlimited.com. TO YOUR CREDIT: For CEUs toward SNA certification, complete the “To Your Credit” test on page 70. SNAPSHOT • A training plan ensures that you cover all the knowledge the staff requires, leaving no gaps. • Create your training plan by focusing on four separate steps: assessment, development, implementation and tracking. • A training plan should not be rigid or limited to formal classroom-type approaches. Training Plans in the Real-World: School City of Hammond, Ind. When Julie Boettger, PhD, RD, came to the School City of Hammond, Ind., as the new food and nutrition services director, one of her first priorities was to introduce a training plan. Although the department had a solid record of regular training, “We didn’t have a training program, and we had many longterm employees who were beginning to retire,” she recounts. “At the same time, there were a lot of changes taking place in the school foodservice business. I knew we had a need for consistent training.” Boettger put together a curriculum, beginning with cashier training, which was quick to implement. She began with a manual that helped cashiers understand the point-of-sale system and customer service techniques. At the same time, she worked on developing another training plan for the cooks on her staff. This began with standardizing recipes—a much more complicated process, as every school had a different way of preparing the same menu items. Boettger converted a former faculty serving line in one school into a testing kitchen. She enlisted the help of trainer Cyndie Story, PhD, RD, CC, SNS, who came in to work with managers in small groups. Together they analyzed the preparation steps for every menu item, from how to serve fruit to how to prepare various grains. “We got through 100 recipes,” reports Boettger. “If different managers said they cooked an item two ways, we tested that item both ways. Then, as a group, we selected the best way to prepare that item. Monthly testing sessions continue today. Boettger has made additional changes to her training approach, such as including technology. Managers hated to physically report to meetings at an offsite location, she reports, so today they meet with her every Tuesday afternoon—by computer; she calls it Training Tuesdays@2:00. She selects topics for these 30-minute training discussions based in part on what she has observed in kitchens, as well as from a plan of specific topics. Recently she used a food safety course module from the Center for Excellence in Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs at Kansas State University her Tuesday Talks, concentrating on a single topic, such as hand washing. “Training is so important,” declares Boettger. “It has made a difference on how they see themselves and see how they are important to the district. They have a bigger role here. What we are trying to do has an impact on education and customer service.” BONUS WEB CONTENT Check out the real-world examples of how school nutrition directors are implementing training plans in Dickinson (Texas) Independent School District and Manatee County (Fla.) Schools. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent to access these online extras.
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