Retailer successes with computer-based training, including savings from reduced training time and greater consistency, have encouraged CBT's expansion beyond educating cashiers. Several retailers, including some of the nation's largest companies, are employing CBT modules specifically for deli, bakery and safety training.
CBT is even being used for less tangible topics, such as counseling and supervisory skills, as part of training programs at the managerial level.
A&P, Montvale, N.J.; American Stores, Salt Lake City; Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis.; and D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., are among the companies expanding the availability of PCs at the store level, and CBT is a key reason, they told SN.
Retailers are also attempting to tie CBT more closely to their information-systems infrastructure. The 1,700-store American Stores chain, for example, is developing a dynamic user interface that allows employees to access all CBT offerings that apply to them and check their scores, said Frank Harward, multimedia and information-technology training manager at American Stores.
"From the user's perspective, I have one place to go," he said. "I can see all of the offerings that apply to me, and I can check my scores all in one location."
Looking toward the future, retailers hope to network the PCs used for training at the stores in order to pull employee scores and other information back to headquarters. One retailer estimated this may become a reality in two to five years.
CBT's success in reducing training time, resulting in cost savings, thus far has been recorded primarily with cashier-training programs. Most retailers start with CBT for cashiers because they represent the largest segment of store employees, according to Bill Thauer, human resources training manager at Copps.
In addition, well-trained cashiers are integral to a retailer's ability to provide strong customer service, since they may be the only employee a customer comes in contact with during a shopping trip.
CBT for cashier training and produce identification for cashiers gave Copps 20% to 25% savings in terms of hours required for cashier training. Time savings came from individual cashiers being trained more quickly via CBT, and less need for group training sessions, Thauer said.
D&W Food Centers translated its reduced training time into dollars. "In three four-week periods within a two-year test, we had cost savings in excess of $23,000," from a CBT program for cashiers, said Tony Jones, director of training and development.
Some of the other benefits of CBT included a more consistent message and greater flexibility in training times, since CBT doesn't require a human trainer to be present.
Retailers are hoping to duplicate their results with cashier training in high-traffic departments that require specialized knowledge and customer-service skills.
After CBT for point-of-sale personnel, "next comes the more prominent peripheral departments such as deli and bakery, and down the pike supervisory skills," said Copps' Thauer. "These CBT programs focus mostly on sales, customer service and sanitation.
"You can assure yourself everyone will see and go through the same thing," he added. "You can also make sure that people have gone through the program because the system provides testing and tracks results."
D&W will also be springboarding from cashier training into new CBT programs, including safety, deli and bakery. These are "all areas that would return positive results in terms of information for the trainee," Jones said.
A&P and Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., will be testing the final version of the new Deli Basics CBT from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, Madison, Wis. The CBT program is expected to be available to the supermarket industry this June.
The one-hour deli orientation program would be most useful for an employee's first day on the job, said Mary Kay O'Connor, director of education at the IDDA.
The program covers department orientation, including the basic expectations of the job, the importance of the associate's role in the department, the relationship of the deli to the whole store and the customer's perspective.
A section on customer service follows the orientation and the food-safety and sanitation information. The other section is product knowledge, which covers the most-asked questions at the deli as well as how to read nutrition labels. This section also provides an explanation of common retail terms.
Manufacturers involved with developing the program include the BilMar Foods division of Sara Lee, Zeeland, Mich.; Russer Foods, Buffalo, N.Y.; Continental Deli Foods, Oklahoma City; Norseland Inc., Stamford, Conn.; Willow Brook Foods, Springfield, Mo.; and Land O' Lakes, Arden Hills, Minn.
Besides the bakery and deli areas, CBT programs are also being developed for management. A&P is reportedly working on CBT for front-end counseling, which would be part of a series of CBT programs for management, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Michael Rourke, senior vice president of communications and corporate affairs at A&P, declined to comment on any new CBT programs the retailer is using, though he did note that CBT has become a very big part of the retailer's training programs in a relatively short period of time.
A&P began using CBT three years ago and since then has implemented programs for cashiers and produce identification, direct-store-delivery receiving, labor scheduling, safety and sanitation. Nearly all of A&P's 950 stores have a personal computer for CBT, Rourke said.
"Your people are your biggest single asset and well-trained, knowledgeable people are the most important thing we can provide our customers," Rourke said. "We look on it as a very worthwhile investment in the heart and soul of the business."
American Stores is also investing heavily in CBT programs and hardware because it also views CBT as a strong training tool. Currently, the retailer has 23 PCs devoted to training in its stores. Another 350 will be distributed over the next six months. The retailer's goal is to have one PC for CBT in each of its 1,700 stores.
Copps, which is hoping CBT will help reduce employee turnover, already has 13 PCs for CBT and is purchasing another 10 this year. The 23 personal computers will be operational by mid-year; some of Copps' 18 stores will get two computers, others will get one, depending on the need, Thauer said.
"We're going to test to see if CBT can help in reducing our turnover, and we want to have more computers available," he said.
At D&W, it's not a question of whether to add PCs for CBT, but when to do so. "CBT is part of our training methodology and the returns and the results speak for themselves," Jones said.
Retailers who are not using CBT, including Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn.; and Eagle Food Centers, Milan, Ill., are closely watching developments in this area.
"I think all companies are interested in improving the training of their employees, and certainly CBT is an option that looks attractive," said George Deriso, training coordinator at Winn-Dixie.