Refining Employee Orientation Through Educational Lens

Katie Barrett spends her days at work developing sample quizzes, worksheets and homework assignments. But she’s not a teacher – at least, not in the usual sense.

Katie BarrettThe senior education major is a 40-hour-a week intern for Beck’s Hybrids, the sixth largest seed company in the United States. Her job is to figure out the best ways to train new employees of the 75-year-old, family-owned company, based in Atlanta, Ind.

Since August, Barrett has used her education in classroom methods to assess Beck’s “onboarding” process of new hires and develop educational tools for trainers. She’s also introduced Beck’s employees to additional digital technology useful for sales presentations.

“Katie is helping our subject matter experts develop better methods of transferring information to our distributors and other new employees,” said Beck’s Director of Education Tim Newcomb.

Beck’s onboards up to 50 new employees per year, training them in job responsibilities and the company’s culture, he said. Salespeople train for six weeks, learning all aspects of the company’s operations, so they can support Beck’s dealers and customers in a five-state market.

Barrett participated in the sales onboarding “to see what works and doesn’t work” in the training, even taking the three-hour final exam, Newcomb said.

Beck’s trainers know their business well, Barrett said. She did think they could strengthen trainees’ retention of information by providing written objectives for each class.

“That’s ‘Education 101’ for me,” she said. She reviewed lesson notes with the trainers and documented key points of each session. Some of the experts have already incorporated Barrett’s written objectives into their training sessions.

She’s also developed handouts, quizzes and take-home assignments that encouraged salespeople to review a manual they’d use frequently in the field. Knowing that some students learn best through visual cues, she created lesson charts and a training calendar.

Beck’s has used some “situational” testing, in which trainees consider real-life situations based on the company’s operations. Barrett suggested taking this approach further with “story problems” to engage those whose learning style is more hands on.

“An example would be having training employees learn to calculate underpayments or overpayments of an account – things they will have to do on the job,” she said.

Barrett realized that the digital technology some teachers use to enhance classroom presentations and group projects could be useful to Beck’s sales staff and administrators. “I showed them Wordle (a word cloud program) for brainstorming, Prezi [sort of an interactive Powerpoint] and Evernote [an iPad application that Beck’s can use to share articles and resources].”

Barrett even led a training session for some Beck’s seed dealers, who are all veteran farmers. “She did a good job presenting a very technical piece to about 40 farmers,” Newcomb said.

Barrett is completing the internship as an alternative clinical experience, in place of student teaching during fall semester. 

“Katie recognized that classroom teaching wasn’t a good fit for her,” said COE Assistant Dean Angela Lupton, who oversaw Barrett’s internship along with Assistant Professor Catherine Pangan. “I’m proud of her that she took the risk of entering an industry she didn’t know and figured out how to use teaching methods successfully with non-traditional learners.”

Barrett’s success at Beck’s could be a model for future non-classroom clinical experiences for students when they opt to not pursue licensure, Lupton said.

Newcomb said choosing an education major as an intern was unusual for Beck’s as well, but the company benefitted from her outsider’s perspective and educational expertise. “She did more than I expected,” he said. “I’ve seen commitment to process, follow-through and good thinking from Katie.”

Working with adult learners in a non-classroom setting requires a different approach from teaching K-12 students, Barrett said. “A teacher always starts by assessing what a student already knows” she said. “Adults will know a lot. You can bounce ideas off them. It’s fun.”

Adults can be reluctant to adopt new technologies and new ideas, especially if they’ve been successful with existing modes of operation, she said. “The trainer has to show them why it’s beneficial to change.”

Her experiences at Beck’s have given her skills and preparing for jobs informal, non-traditional education, Barrett said. “Working with departments from product research and marketing to customer support, I’ve learned how to wear many hats.”

Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson(317)

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