Finding the training sweet spot

MARS Australia, one of the world’s largest confectioners, called upon Federation University Australia (FedUni) to introduce a fresh cohort of personnel to food processing best-practice within its unique production landscape.

The introduction of new shift patterns and the retirement of key personnel at MARS Australia’s operations lead to the recruitment of more than 30 new ‘associates’, an in-house term for members of the confectionery manufacturer’s workforce.

Tim Knight, MARS training co-ordinator, sought to augment the established five-day MARS induction process with a formal qualification for the newcomers. “The new associates were not all familiar with FMCG — Fast Moving Consumer Goods — within the food industry, so we approached FedUni to customise the Certificate III in Food Processing to suit MARS criteria.”

The certificate incorporates food quality and safety, sustainable work practices, interpersonal skills, and improvement processes across interrelated production operations. “We’ve tailored the training to the participants’ job-specific role,” remarks Damian Larkin, a Business Development Consultant at FedUni. For example, associates working on packaging lines undertake a unit specific to this process. Designed to bring the new associates up to speed in a short time, the competency-based training also allows for identification of any skills gaps and provides the opportunity to address them.

Although not compulsory, 30 of the new associates are participating in the course. Students work at their own pace over an 18-month period, with some participants aiming to complete their modules sooner.

The diverse student group undertakes all their training on site at MARS. For every module, associates initially attend an informal workshop in a ‘classroom’ setting. They then each apply this learning to their daily work in the plant, where they are observed and assessed by FedUni staff. “Most participants say it’s been fantastic, finding it both challenging and interesting,” notes Tim.

The nature of shift work rendered a challenge to training delivery. “FedUni have been fantastic,” explains Tim. “We have site inducted the FedUni trainers so they can visit as required and provide training and assessment across our seven shift patterns.”

MARS Australia’s commitment to the ongoing professional development of its associates — existing and new — is evidenced by their excellent work-force retention rates. Incorporating training from Federation University Australia into the traditional induction process will provide these participants with a formal qualification for life.