By: Rhett Asher, Vice President, Asset Protection, Data Security & Crisis Management, Food Marketing Institute
New Technology Making Associate Training Cool Again

I swear it’s true. UFO’s were sited at FMI Connect, or at least they were in the Emerging Technologies to Drive Operational Performance and Associate Behavior session last week. These space visitors, along with a kraken from a refrigerator leak and some dancing bacteria on a meat slicer, were part of a demonstration on how new technology is helping train today’s tough-to-teach food retail associates.

According to a recent Gallup poll, about 51 percent of employees are not engaged and millennials are the very least engaged segment. The National Center for Biotechnology reports the average attention span is about 8 seconds. For comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. However, we know millennials are digital natives, excel in collaborative learning environments and desire frequent feedback. As we learned from Alchemy Systems and Frameworks, Inc., new technologies can help overcome these learning gaps. Here’s how:

Two-Way Communication Gap

Instead of the old top-down form of communications, food retailers are developing two-way communications platforms. One example is a password protected Facebook page for employees complete with brief learning touch-points and the ability for associates to post lessons learned and share information across stores. Another example is an app specifically developed for store associates that allows them to ask questions and get timely answers. One company using such an app has seen associate questions grow from 3,500 per month to 16,000 questions per month in just one year.

Attention Span Gap

With shortening attention spans, food retailers need to do more to grab associate’s attention. One way is to have digital signs that share information for employees in breakrooms. These digital signs run in a loop and include both corporate managed messages and local, valued information such as weather or sports scores. Including store-level specific measures and real time metrics can help drive conversations organically among associates.

Experiential Learning Gap

Today’s training systems can use gamification and short 5 – 7 minute e-learning sessions to better engage associates. By including a certification program with training and comparative scores, you can help support the need for greater feedback and competition.

Taking experiential learning to the next level is the use of augmented reality. This technology takes the existing world around us and digitally shows us changes or situations—hence how I can be sitting in a workshop session and suddenly the screen in front of me shows me sitting with a spaceship over my head. Imagine associates using a tablet in your store to learn the proper way to handle a refrigerator leak or other best practices by “seeing” it right in the aisle. The interaction, gamification and experience is sure to be something they won’t forget and may help them be better trained and prepared.