The ideal situation for staffing a produce department is to put together a veteran team. But many times that just isn’t possible. Skilled help is hard to find, and a manager’s time is limited.

Everyone’s responsible for training rookies

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

A good alternative is to staff the department with as much experience as possible, and then fill in the gaps. Given this scenario, a manager often has to compromise with a blend of whiskered veterans and wet-behind-the-ear rookies.

One mistake managers make is to lump all the skill together in the morning or Monday-Friday shifts.
This leaves the new guys to fend for themselves, alone in the evening and on the weekends — when the majority of consumers shop. This translates into a range of standards and performance too, with the morning crew complaining about what the night shift did and vice-versa.

The best alternative in my experience at a new or established store was to blend the old with the new, even if it meant crossing the seniority line and ruffling a few feathers. The function of the crew after all, is to maintain standards by working together. An organization should never be a comfort-work zone for a handful of individuals — the tail wagging the dog, so to speak. As soon as the rookies got up to snuff, I’d tell the veterans, the sooner they could expect a seniority-based schedule.

Besides, I needed those vet’s help for the training. Also, the better they trained the rookies, the easier life would be when the vet had to follow the new person’s shift.

I’d schedule the rookies to work alongside the veterans. The trainers were given a lot of leeway, but also made sure they followed this example, taken from an old Produce Marketing Association training skills workbook manual.

Steps in providing on-the-spot, on-the-job training:

  • Demonstrate the task, explaining carefully as you go.
  • Ask the trainee to perform the task.
  • Constructively explain and correct any error the trainee might have made.
  • Ask the person to perform the task again, and when it is done correctly, have the trainee repeat the process, stating aloud the key points as they are performing the duty.
  • Ask questions of the trainee to ensure that all the key points are clearly understood.

Of course, the entire training program for produce clerks can’t be squeezed into five one-line directives. But this was a rough outline to keep them on track. I’d also assist in the training as much as possible and made it a point to observe how my veterans were handling things.

Running a produce department, I reminded them constantly, is a team effort.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail

Do you have any tips for training new employees? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.