At a time when labor challenges persist in the baking industry, training has never been more important. Effective training ensures that product quality is upheld as well as employee and food safety standards. Without training, baking companies cannot hope to turn out high-quality baked goods in a way that keeps employees and consumers safe, especially with the coronavirus (COVID-19) to contend with.

“Training is the positive transformation of people,” said Jaime Correa, chief executive officer, AbiMar Foods, Abilene, Texas. “It benefits the person by developing their careers, and of course it has a positive impact on the company and operation by stabilizing the processes.”

However, as with every aspect of industrial baking, the virus served as a roadblock to effective training. Companies had to quickly pivot to training workers remotely or in a socially distant way. The adoption of digital training tools was accelerated. Now that the pandemic is better under control and protective protocols are in place, baking companies have new training tools available to them.

“As things progressed and we were starting to open up, another challenge to think about was, ‘How do we safely provide in-person training with social distancing, wearing masks and handling samples we wanted to share?’ ” said Cari Rasmussen, food safety specialist, Commercial Food Sanitation.

In this new world, bakers have several digital tools and in-person best practices to ensure their teams are getting the most out of training opportunities.

The pandemic accelerated many things, not least of which is the adoption of digital tools to teach and communicate. As the pandemic subsides and in-person training becomes safer, there may still be situations where digital or remote training is preferred. Knowing when to use digital training tools and when in-person training is necessary can help bakers optimize training.

There are several benefits to using digital training tools. These can be self-paced or through online platforms where training events can be held live virtually.

“It’s much easier to bring people together from different facilities or countries around the world to be involved in virtual training, and it can also be much more cost-effective,” said Ryan Will, bakery professional, AIB International.

If the training requires hands-on work, however, either with a specific formulation, product or piece of equipment, Mr. Will recommended that baking companies hold those sessions in person.

Ms. Rasmussen boiled this down to leaning on digital training to teach basic information on a topic or process and teaching the details in person. Digital tools are great for refresher training, for example, while a new employee learning how to do a production job will need to interact with the equipment in person.

“Remote training is good for presenting information that might not need a lot of additional explanation,” she said. “If you want trainees to have more of a discussion around a topic or it’s a brand-new process, you will want to be in person to read the room and address any concerns that come up.”

This is how AbiMar has approached training since the pandemic began. At the start of the pandemic, the company pivoted its training quickly. The team made videos in-house to go over foundational knowledge — general food safety, general behaviors expected on the production floor and company culture. When training for specific positions and skills, trainees are paired with a mentor to give them hands-on experience with a subject matter expert.

“That’s helping us get content to our people faster and then give them more specific knowledge on the production room floor,” explained Felipe Velasquez, director of operations, AbiMar Foods.

Whether pursuing in-person or digital training tools, companies should consider several variables to determine the best course, Mr. Will said.

“When weighing the advantages of each, I recommend thinking through who is being trained, where your team is located, cost-effectiveness, the trainer’s experience on that platform and the expertise you can provide to your team,” he said. “That should lead you to the best solution for your team.”