A general perspective is that compliance training like Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) must be serious. The reality is that we are all human, and we learn well when we feel open-minded and even better when we are having fun. 

Whenever I talk about creating a fun learning environment, I remember a specific moment in my corporate career as a plant hygienist. I was walking with our corporate food safety specialist along the periphery of a building to check for gaps or holes that would allow pests to infiltrate the production area. 

“Pretend you are a pest. Now, find ways to get into the building,” she said. 

It happened that we were about to conduct our annual GMP refresher. I was responsible for enhancing employees’ awareness of pest control and keeping the production areas free of pests. Her words sparked in my mind, and I began mentally designing my pest control refresher training on the spot. 

That year, I asked the participants to pick a toy pest from a box to trigger the same question: “You are the pest you just picked. Now, find ways to enter your processing area.” The employees had a fun time during the training, and we shared learnings in a number of important areas:

  • How each person can do their part to prevent pests from entering the premises
  • How to keep areas clean and free of food remains so that pests are not attracted
  • How personnel working in production areas can ensure that pest monitoring devices are not moved by operational activities 
  • How to pay attention to the outsourced pest controller when they visit the plant. 

Issues like pest control need everyone’s attention. Ensuring that trainees are engaged and agree to take ownership in applying their new learning is crucial. I was fortunate to have like-minded colleagues, and we conducted many rounds of GMP refresher courses that are still remembered today. 

GMP training can be intense because it is packed with long lists of “do this” and “don’t do that” guidelines. It is not unusual to notice attendees’ attention wandering during compliance training. Here are three tips to make GMP training fun and engaging: 

  1. Make it relevant. Adult learners are interested only in the topics and issues pertinent to them. Instead of simply reviewing the list of points to be covered, allocate time to elaborate on the issues relevant to the learners. For example, explaining details about cleaning in place (CIP) to staff that are not involved with CIP will quickly lead to boredom. Cover only the principles of CIP and allocate the extra time to elaborate on other cleaning methods that are critical to the other staff. Also, make sure to use examples that are relevant for the attendees. If the training content is in context for them, then they will naturally find the links between what they already know and what they need to know. When the employees already know the topics the trainer will discuss, it is even more challenging to design a lecture. Asking the participants to share what they already know, and then adding to what they have shared, is a better approach. 
  2. Make it interactive. Questions and quizzes work well in creating interaction with the attendees, provided they are designed with the right timing and precise phrasing. However, you must be prepared to steer the discussion back on topic if the audience responses begin to stray from the lesson. Some attendees may give a wrong answer or bring up something irrelevant to the topic. The trainer must be able to keep the class on track at all times. If time permits, small group discussions work well, too. People in the manufacturing environment are more action-oriented than those who are mostly desk-bound. Visual stimuli and hands-on training tools help them be fully present and actively involved in the group discussion.
  3. Incorporate with field experience whenever possible. Staff need to connect new learnings with their work to know what they need to do. Try to mix the training session with a hands-on exercise in the factory. Compared to a three-day solid lecture followed by a month of practice, giving bite-size lessons followed by a role-play or factory walk is more effective. This methodology brings visible outcomes for in-house training. It is also applicable to external training. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the food industry has shifted away from three-day or five-day consecutive classroom training courses and pivoted toward virtual learning. Virtual learning does not replace face-to-face interactive learning; however, if planned well, self-paced virtual learning followed by an instructor-led discussion to digest the information, and then a hands-on exercise, is an optimal combination for learning. 

A bonus tip is to employ humor. Humor always brightens the environment and brings positivity. Research shows that when people find something funny, they tend to pay more attention and remember associated learnings better and for a longer time. Use humor appropriately, whenever possible.