Alchemy Systems works with some of the biggest brands in the food industry helping them save money, reduce risk and manage their operations. They also provide consulting that helps companies “protect their people, profits and brands”. Their specialty focuses on food safety, workplace safety and operations solutions that will optimize food production front lines.
Recently, I sat down with Holy Mockus, an expert at Alchemy Systems. Holly and I spoke about some of the challenges and trends that she sees in the food industry, and how she would recommend that companies begin to tackle them.
To give you a bit of background, Holly has over 30 years of experience in the food industry at companies like ConAgra, Kellogg, and Sara Lee. She has expertise in food safety, quality assurance, sanitation, and plant regulatory affairs. She has also authored several chapters related to the importance of record keeping and documentation in the food industry, and is passionate about the importance of training in the food industry including the cultivation of successful safety cultures.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you see customers in the food industry encountering?
There are many challenges in the food industry – probably the top three relate to the optimization of the workforce in this people intensive business - turnover, effective supervisor / employee communication strategies, developing the next generation of food industry leaders – while continually striving to meet regulatory and customer requirements and expectations.
What are the best ways for manufacturers to address these challenges?
The constant churn of turnover can have a devastating effect on a worksite’s culture. Turnover tends to be the highest among new employees, so the development of effective on-boarding programs is a necessity. There are little to no life experiences that prepare a new hire for working in a food manufacturing plant for the first time – its wet, cold, hot, dry, noisy, slippery, smelly – in other words not glamorous! An on-boarding program that provides context, facility tours, mentoring, interactive classroom and on-the-job training is critical.
The supervisor has become the hub of all programs and requirements in food manufacturing. Every department depends on the supervisor to interface effectively with the front line workers in the long journey to producing safe quality foods efficiently every single day. Truly effective supervisors have the resources in place to highlight important topics with their teams and are provided the opportunity to catch employees doing things right and he has the ability to easily document these interactions. These types of communication strategies pay dividends in building a strong culture through strengthening the supervisor-employee relationship.
Succession planning at the plant or worksite level is a difficult task. Having a program in place to grow hourly employees into leaders, supervisors and managers is critical to the sustainability of a positive culture that encourages employee engagement across the board. Employees that are involved in the development of training knowing that there is a path for growth and development have the feeling of forward momentum that is so critical to fueling a sense of purpose in everyday manufacturing activities.
What are some of the best ways to train and motivate front line workers? What impact do you see that training has on a manufacturer's business?
There are many different ways to train effectively, although data from our recent industry survey is telling us that the majority of workers prefer to learn at their own pace – like using eLearning or a Kiosk set up in a learning lab.
They also understand that on-the-job training is very important and would like more interaction with supervisors and peers as this occurs. Group based training is also very effective in that the trainer has the opportunity to interact directly with the learners and can provide real life examples which makes the training more personal and relatable. And all training needs to be followed by reinforcement, through additional touch points like digital signage, posters, and supervisor interactions so the knowledge is retained and put into practice.
Training impacts every aspect of a manufacturer’s business by giving employees the information they need – the hows and the whys – to get the job done. Training — manufacturers can’t afford not to!
What kind of work do you do around food safety?
Alchemy Systems has a complete library of food safety training courses geared to the front line worker that provides context and relevancy to the different verticals within the food industry. The content can be tailored by our customers to meet their exact needs. Our Professional Services department is also available to assist in customization needs for those that don’t have the bandwidth to do it on their own.
We also have a consulting division that can help companies and worksites as a second set of eyes in working toward regulatory and customer compliance to food safety programs. Laura Nelson is a leader in food safety and is involved in a number of industry food safety initiatives providing her expertise to the many continuous improvement projects that are worked on each year.
Alchemy also sponsors a number of events within the food industry by sourcing speakers who will willingly share their case studies and experiences as we all partner together in an industry that has embraced the concept that food safety is not competitive.
What are your favorite industry events related to food operations, QA and food safety?
There are many excellent industry events – Food Safety Summit, GFSI, BRC, SQF, IAFP, Alchemy Conference, etc.
However my absolute favorite events are those that manufacturing facilities host for their employees – food safety and workplace safety fares held at the plant level provide an awesome opportunity for employees to learn and gain insights into the importance of what they do every day.
Companies that host their suppliers or peers for a food safety summit or consortium serve as excellent networking and best practice sharing sessions.
Are there any other food industry related resources that you'd recommend for operations and/or purchasing personnel?
When working in manufacturing plants there were several resources that I used on a regular basis.
I would recommend that all ops and purchasing personnel sign up for automatic updates from USDA, FDA, and CFIA – for changes to regulations, recall and withdrawal information, and for public health notices. They don’t have to be read in depth – a quick scan of the headlines will let you know if you have a supplier that has had an event or if there is a change to regulation you should be talking with your food safety or quality departments about.
Blogs and newsletters from contract suppliers and equipment suppliers are also available and can provide great information with just a quick scan.
Many times the best resources can be found in your food safety, quality and sanitation departments – a portion of their responsibility should be to consume the technical information and relay it to the organization in a manner that is meaningful and easy to digest for those that are non-technical and do not speak the regulatory language.
About Alchemy Systems
Alchemy is the global leader of innovative solutions to help food companies engage with their workforces to drive safety and productivity. Over two million food workers at 15,000 locations use Alchemy's tailored training, coaching, and communications programs to safeguard food, reduce workplace injuries, and improve operations.