The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration is not making it easy for food packaging plants these days. The LDS Church’s official Newsroom recently announced that LDS Canneries “east of the Mississippi” will no longer be canning any food at their facilities beginning June 27th, 2013, as they are no longer able to justify the abhorrent costs to keep in compliance with the ever-changing criteria. (Expounded on this blog.) The cost of training personel contributes to that bottom-line.
Spanish Fork, Utah is home to the LDS Church’s one and only Meat & Livestock processing plant. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to package chuck roast at the plant as a volunteer. For four hours, I stood at the end of a conveyer belt and watched as butchers sliced up sides of beef into pot roast-sized chunks down the line. (I felt a little bit like a baseball catcher at a pitching practice; except instead of catching spherical, white balls, I was catching bloody, raw slabs of meat.) Over time I improved my performance by utilizing gravity and my chest to slide the hunks of meat down in to the plastic bags instead of just using my hands. I also saved time by piling the bags instead of tossing each one of them into the bin.
After about 3 hours, I began looking beyond my own station to see what else could be improved. I realized that job training was kind of a joke. For example, when volunteers arrive, they are sat down in a room and made to watch a 5-minute training video, which no one actually remembers (as exemplified by none of us remembering the order in which we put on our gloves, hairnets and labcoats.) Training is not just an issue for volunteers, but for full-time employees as well. I worked alongside another person who just happened to be my second cousin, Tyson Brown. Tyson just began interning there a month previous. He told me that when he started, he didn’t get any official training other than being mentored on the job by others who had been there longer. During my 4-hour shift, something went wrong twice on the assembly line, causing everything shut down. We just had to sit there and wait for the problem to be rectified. One time, the entire line waited 15 minutes because the new guy in charge of the hermetic-sealing machine didn’t know that it takes 15 minutes to warm up; he just thought it would work at the press of a button. This was a training red flag. How could this sort of thing be prevented?
What if there were an industry-wide framework that facilitated earning badges for having mastered tasks around food plants?
- Employers could search the network for job applicants with these specific skills. (Job descriptions could be based on these badge-tasks.)
- Employers can create badges that belong to certain families based on the specific needs of their company.
- Job training could be based on earning these specific badges.
- Badges improve upon the current system of training in two major ways:
- It simplifies finding qualified employees.
- It provides an industry-wide standard for training to perform specific tasks. (Imagine Linkedin’s “Skills and Expertise”. These are no longer just statements about you made by others, but they carry with them specific requirements that everyone must adhere to in order to earn the badge.)
- Badge requirements might include things like:
- Mentoring by someone who has the badge.
- Spending a minimum amount of time at the task.
- Proficiently performing the task in front of someone who has already earned it.
- Spend additional time at the task to become a trainer.
- Get observed by peers and receive feedback.
- Connect and share information with other badge-holder/trainer virtually.
- Continue to learn. (Stay show badge activity every 6 months.)
- “Train” a minimum number of others.
- Badge earning could be powered by the Tin Can API.
- When someone is ready to earn a badge, this assessment system supports tracking in a blended learning environment. Essentially, Tin Can allows anyone can state that any learner has achieved a specific task across any app or platform.
- Tin Can is currently targeting K-12 learners, but soon it will expand to higher ed and eventually carry into industry. Here’s how tracking learning works using the Tin Can API:
Will this hypothetical badge framework be enough to save LDS plants? Definitely not—there are far too many other cost factors that this training solution fails to address. (Not to mention, the framework will take more than a month to develop and adopt.) However, it’s a good start.