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How to Digitize Restaurant Training Programs (and Improve Retention)

Why does training - one of the most important aspects of hiring and retention in restaurants - remain on paper, when everything else in the recruitment process is done online?  

Here's a common scenario: a new employee comes into your restaurant for their first day and is met with an endless pile of paper-based training materials to complete. They quickly begin to wonder if they should even bother coming back for more old, antiquated processes on day two.  

If this is occurring in your stores, it's time to meet today's app-loving workforce where they are and transition to online learning. Millennials and Gen-Z workers comprise an increasingly larger share of the eligible labor pool, and they are all tech-savvy. Today's teens and young adults are the world's first "digital natives," meaning they've never known a world without technology. They were practically born with a mobile device in hand. So when you hand them a pile of paper-based training materials, it's no surprise it disengages them. 

Attracting and retaining employees through e-learning 

To attract and retain members of this younger workforce, you'll need to provide them with tools and apps that are as user-friendly and engaging as the ones they rely on for everything else. Operators that roll out next-gen tools differentiate themselves from other "old-school" employers by showing that they are forward-thinking and innovative. By investing in the latest technology, you create a more secure and attractive workplace environment—one in which employees can see themselves establishing roots and even building a career.

Although e-learning has long been utilized by industries such as health care, energy, and finance, until recently, the foodservice industry has lagged behind in implementing training technology. Since this transition off of paper can seem overwhelming, many companies find it helpful to approach the shift to online learning in phases. Often, phase one is simply putting your paper materials online. 

6 ways to transition from paper-based training programs to e-learning: 

1. Determine Benchmarks

Establishing benchmarks will help you assess your new training method and measure the results of e-learning. To measure results, you'll want to evaluate how your current training is doing and how long your training methods are taking. Look at how long your current training process takes - from the time of initial hire to scheduling an employee for a solo shift. Additionally, assess the cost of maintaining your paper materials and how much time it takes to cross-train an employee in other departments. These initial measurements are essential for analyzing results and comparing the two methods.

2. Select the Right LMS Provider

Choosing a learning management system (LMS) is no easy task. There are hundreds of providers out there, but only a few focus on the hospitality industry. It's best to look for a provider who is willing to start small and help you grow into this new adventure over time. Explore companies who will work with you every step of the way and give attention to the changing needs of your organization as you gain confidence and become more sophisticated in e-learning techniques. Transitioning to online training can be daunting, and you may want to take it slow to prove the value proposition and help the rest of the organization adopt this new way of training over time. Be mindful of what level of support and industry knowledge you need from an LMS company to support a phased adoption, and don't rush the decision process. 

3. Find Your Starting Point

Rather than putting all paper materials online and rolling out a new training solution for every position, consider identifying one or two positions to serve as a short pilot. You can also incorporate validation tools such as exams, surveys, and checklists to assist with the pilot. Creating a pilot will allow you to evaluate which positions could benefit the most from e-learning. Is there a position experiencing a problem that you could impact with access to online training? Or is a certain position filled with staff who would eagerly embrace online training? These may be good candidates for the pilot. Also, you'll need to set a time frame for how long you'd like to run the pilot. This will allow you to get feedback from the staff, measure your results, and determine if you need to adjust as you put the rest of your materials online.

4. Avoid the Data Dump

As you begin to transition your paper-based training into online training, think about breaking up the materials into smaller sections. Creating corresponding checklists, exams, quizzes, and surveys will help to reinforce the concepts learned. Employees will find it easier to retain information if it is broken up into separate quizzes on each section instead of one giant test at the end.

You should also consider whether every single page of your operations manual needs to be converted to an online format. Operations manuals often include everything the learner needs to know about a position, but a hands-on trainer can easily cover many of these things. A good rule of thumb is that if the learner can pick up a new skill within minutes of working with a hands-on trainer, you probably don't need corresponding online training. For example, the manual may have the steps for brewing coffee, but most people can learn how to use their coffee pot after one demonstration from the trainer. There's no need to make the learner read/see/experience it again online.

5. Accept the Reality of our Modern Attention Span

When it comes to e-learning, less is more. People generally have small attention spans and are more likely to tune out after a short amount of time. According to research, only 4% of page views last more than 10 minutes. Additionally, only 49% of web pages with 111 words or less were fully read, and this percentage drops in half when you boost the number of words to 500 or more. This means you'll get better results if you identify the most critical information the learner needs to know and put that material online. If your online training is excessively long, employees will get bored and click through to get a completion.

6. Measure Results Before the Launch

Once you've chosen how to chunk your paper materials for online learning, make sure to time how long it takes you to read them to validate that your materials are the length you intend. Don't just go by the number of pages because, depending on the material, one three-page section on food safety may take longer than a three-page section on cash register functions.

Additionally, before introducing the new online training, ask someone unfamiliar with the material to go through the content and take the exam. If they cannot pass the exam, you may need to adjust your questions or break the training into smaller chunks.

When you decide to transition from paper-based to online learning, remember to look before you leap. Taking the time to develop a strategy will give you a greater chance of long-term success. The key is to remember that this is not a mad dash to the finish line but rather a purposeful evolution that continues to assess, respond, and adapt to how your learners adopt and use new programs. Learn more about CrunchTime's talent development solutions.