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Stop! Do you know the difference between training and educating your employees?
Stop! Do you know the difference between training and educating your employees?

Training has long been viewed as an essential component of successful businesses. Food companies are no different. The question being raised today is whether or not it is truly training that leads to success or is it something more? Offered as an alternative to training alone is training supported by education.


Let’s first explore the key differences between training and educating. Training is an account of what to do or how to do something. Training will elicit behavior based on external forces. Positive or negative feedback will dictate behavior. This is similar to how one may train a pet. One of the problems here is that if there is no negative feedback, poor habits can develop over time. It becomes a situation that must be constantly monitored. On the other hand, personnel who have been educated are more likely to “run on autopilot.” They do not need the positive and negative reinforcement at the same frequency to maintain proper behavior. In the education process, a person is provided the understanding of why a particular behavior is important and is informed not only about the task, but also about the entire system (i.e., quality, food safety, employee safety, GMPs, etc.). Education will elicit behavior based on internal forces. Educated personnel act based on what they understand and know.

As a further example of how training alone falls short, think about an employee who is trained to wear a hairnet. After attending a training session in which he is told that he must wear a hairnet and is given guidance regarding the proper way to wear a hairnet (completely covering the hair and ears), he may still not understand the importance of wearing the restraint (to prevent product adulteration). If he sees others that are not wearing the hairnets or who are not wearing them properly, he is essentially being re-trained. On the other hand, if the employee is educated, even if he observes others not complying with the proper practice, he is more likely to continue the proper behavior because he understands why it is important. He may even take steps to educate the non-complying persons.

In addition to the ability to work without constant feedback, educated employees offer other benefits to an organization. These benefits are noticed when there are obstacles to routine activities, when there is a need for a change, or when employee input is required. The ability to recognize and deal with change is essential for successful food companies. If this ability to recognize and respond is found in all employees, the chances for success greatly improve. When things do not go as planned, as often happens in the food processing environment, educated employees are better prepared to make good judgments.

Consider an employee who is trained to move a pallet of ingredients from Point A to Point B. If he arrives at Point B and finds that the location is not available, a trained person may not know how to respond. On the other hand, an educated person will have knowledge about the task that will allow him or her to properly adjust behavior. If the person understands, for example, the reason that the product was to be moved, he can act accordingly. Was the purpose to remove an ingredient out of Point A so that cleaning can happen there? Was the purpose to place the ingredient at Point B so that it would be available for use at that location? Was the purpose to move the product to a hold area for eventual disposal because the product is contaminated? An employee who is not educated could place the material in an area that could be undesirable or even dangerous, such as a location in which it can become contaminated by cleaning practices or allergens, or in an unsecured area where a contaminated product may be accidentally put back into use. Knowing why an activity is being performed can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful execution.

In addition, changes are easier to implement with educated employees, as they are better prepared to understand why change is necessary. Have you ever heard an employee utter a statement such as “We’ve always done it this way”? This is clearly a declaration from a trained employee. The trained employee sees that an established procedure results in a predictable outcome without questioning whether or not the outcome is still viable. An educated employee sees the bigger picture and is more likely to understand why a different outcome may be required. As an example, many plants have made adjustments to their cleaning procedures in recent years to ensure that methods are not only effective against microbiological concerns, but also effective against allergen concerns.

The same cleaning strategy may not be effective for both issues. An employee who is educated about the reasons for cleaning is more likely to understand the need for changes in methods. Adaptability is certainly a valued trait in an employee. Continuous improvement is a goal of most organizations. Ideas about where improvement is needed often comes from the employees working with the various processes. When a person is educated, he can better contribute. Rather than being a follower, he can be an initiator. By understanding his role, he is more likely to make suggestions for improvement. What company couldn’t benefit from more useful input from employees at all levels of the organization?


While the emphasis of this article has been on the need for education, it is important to understand that both training and education are needed for success. An employee cannot simply be educated about the importance of performing a task; he must also be trained on how to do the job. Consider an employee educated about the importance of cleaning, but who has not been properly trained to perform the job. While he understands the goals of the task, he is not likely to meet them without having the skills that are gained in training.

By pairing training and educating, the best results are obtained. Employees have long been recognized as a company’s greatest asset. When proper training and education are provided to employees, a vital investment in this asset is being made. The returns on this investment will likely exceed expectations.

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