Why bitesize learning works for Burton’s Biscuit Company


Burton’s Biscuits Co employees in action

A change in management and the need to deliver more courses online led to the creation of a new learning framework for Burton’s Biscuit Company, which produces well-known brands such as Wagon Wheels, Maryland Cookies and Jammie Dodgers. Personnel Today spoke to learning and development manager Emma Scinaldi. 

When Emma Scinaldi joined Burton’s Biscuit Company as the new learning and development manager in 2017, there had already been significant change. The prior year had seen the appointment of a new CEO and new HR leadership team, and there was a strong drive to change the company’s approach to work.

Emma Scinaldi, L&D manager

As part of this, the new management board was keen to align learning more closely to the values of the company. This led to the HR team putting in place a new leadership framework known as “Being Your Best”.

Before 2016, the work and learning culture had been more directive and hierarchical, she explains. “There wasn’t really a culture of learning at the company, and we wanted to give people some clarity around our expectations of them at different work levels. We wanted to build a more supportive, inclusive environment.”

Logistics for face-to-face learning could be complex, too. With multiple bakeries situated around the country, cancellations or date changes were difficult to balance, so there was a push to create more online, bite-size learning. “People were asking for training but the closer it got to the course they would end up cancelling, so we needed to make it more accessible,” she adds.

Values-based learning

Burton’s worked with learning specialist Skillsoft to develop a suite of in-house learning content that would map to a framework of development opportunities as well as reflect the company’s values.

Scinaldi says: “We wanted to get to a point where managers could discuss the framework and pull out development suggestions for workers and – rather than booking a course – they could get stuck in 10 minutes later.

“Some of it is bitesize courses they can just dive into, or there are videos and book summaries so people can build them to match their objectives and really take ownership.”

When the pandemic hit, she assumed employees would jump at the chance to complete online courses but it was a slower burn than expected.

“I thought numbers would go up as we were at home, but people were just settling into a new way of working,” she adds. It has since taken off, however, and December has been the learning team’s busiest month so far.

Bespoke pathways

The Being Your Best framework has bespoke pathways for different functions, including sales teams and new starters. One advantage is that Scinaldi’s team can send coursework materials prior to any live virtual training sessions so people can make the most of their face-to-face time.

The plan is to keep much of the live training over video as this makes it easier to bring together employees from different bakeries, rather than having to travel around the country.

Scinaldi also hopes to bring training to more of the weekly-paid, flexible workforce. “This can be more complicated as they’re often working on the production line,” she adds. “But if we can bring in mobile devices or iPads that might work, and it’s good for our employer brand and retention.”

A major consideration is that the way employees access content works for them, rather than trying to impose learning approaches. At leadership level, for example, many participants value opportunities for dialogue and networking as would be the case to case in a face-to-face programme.

We wanted to give people some clarity around our expectations of them at different work levels.” – Emma Scinaldi, Burton’s Biscuit Co

“We’re doing more online than previously thought and that suits some people more than others. But we need to be aware of people’s time. So they need flexibility, ownership and content that works for them,” says Scinaldi.

Communication has been crucial to the success of the new learning framework, she adds. More than 900 learning hours have been completed this year, with 287 unique engaged users out of a workforce of around 450.

“We did a big launch and had champions around the business. We’ve created specific learning paths, shown employees what the top 10 courses are each month and who’s doing what right down to each site. Once people are using them we encourage them to share their stories; it’s all about going back to what the benefits are.”

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