Some individuals entering the convenience industry lack certain educational skills. As a result, worker training must be shaped to address such deficiencies.
By Fran Duskiewicz
There’s a real, practical reason I was hired by John MacDougall, founder of Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, which launched my long career with the company: I was an English teacher who had handled accounting for a family business.
Apparently, that was an attractive combination for someone who was looking to create a full-blown training program for his new convenience chain with a fledgling franchise division.
During my first 10 years at Nice N Easy, I created and executed training—both written and in the classroom—for new employees, new managers, experienced managers and district managers. I believe that the concentrated push of training at all levels, comprising all necessary skills, played a major role in the success of our company.
In the mid-1990’s, I was asked to create a computer-based training program. We had done much research and found that, while consultants could create fancy graphics and pretty screen shots, their product, as a means of training, was sub-par. If you don’t understand how people learn, no amount of whiz-bang screen wizardry will hide that. So, I wrote a complete computer-based training program—possibly the first in our industry.
It worked out because as a teacher, I could write well, and I knew the subject matter. I also knew how to target specific reading levels. I chose a reading level akin to an 8th grade level and it worked. It seemed logical since I had previously worked in a corrective reading program for 7th and 8th graders for many years.
We gave all middle school students the California Reading Test at the beginning of each school year. Test results not only provided the grade level at which each student could read, but also in which skills they might be weak—maybe following directions or basic comprehension. We then brought them in for specialized tutoring in those problem areas, retested and set them free if they improved.
Almost all improved.
ADAPTING TO THE WORKPLACE
I believe in the subsequent years since my training days, general education in the U.S. has regressed, while reading skills have greatly diminished. Many college students now must take remedial courses to even have a shot at continuing with their coursework.
Many of these same individuals are entering the workforce and are working in the convenience industry. A portion, however, don’t read or speak English that well. This is problematic as our industry becomes more sophisticated, with many more critical functions that must be mastered.
I know there are many companies out there doing a fine job with training. They couldn’t be as successful as they are if they were not. And I’m sure there are many examples of how they’re getting it done.
Still, I believe, based on my own experience as a shopper, that training in all areas of retail is lacking, most of it caused by not understanding how people learn and how they might learn differently from each other. Some will understand by reading your written materials; others by watching and observing.
With so many new employees entering a company’s workforce at so many varied educational levels, and considering that there are so many different ways in which they learn, how can one-size, fit-all training program work? It can’t.
I go back to my corrective reading days and the California Reading Test that helped educators determine learning deficiencies. Adapting the same mindset to your company’s curriculum, which might be coined ‘training triage,’ we must identify how best to train our people and what methodology is most effective. If it needs to be bilingual, so be it. Or maybe show and do is the best route.
If you are currently using a computer-based training product, make sure that as the training manager, you’re comfortable with the readability of the material. There are programs that will do it for you. It will enable you to maintain an adequate level of comprehension among your employees. In addition, I recommend not going more than three instruction screens without asking a question, to ensure they understand.
It’s sad to think that so many are exiting the U.S. educational system so ill-prepared, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we need to respond properly.