Building a National Competency-Based Learning System for Food Officials
By By Craig Kaml, Ed.D., Christopher Weiss, Ph.D., Susan Brace, Paul Dezendorf, Ph.D., and Gerald Wojtala
The push to improve training for government food protection professionals began in earnest at a 2008 meeting hosted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At what was referred to as the “50-State meeting,” federal, state and local government professionals recognized that to establish a truly integrated food safety system (IFSS), the workforce at all levels of government should be afforded high-quality training. The IFSS envisioned by FDA represents a national collaborative of food protection regulatory agencies working in concert to protect the nation’s food supply. In order to achieve the IFSS concept of mutual reliance across all levels of jurisdiction and agencies, there must be comparably trained and assessed food protection professionals.
The Partnership for Food Protection (PFP) was created to oversee the projects coming out of the 50-State meeting, and a Training and Certification Workgroup was formed with a charge to develop standard curricula (and certification programs) that would promote consistency and competency among the IFSS workforce. The goal was to develop a competency-based National Curriculum Standard for the estimated 30,000 to 50,000 regulatory food protection professionals in more than 2,500 federal, state and local jurisdictions across the U.S.
The driver for the PFP Training and Certification Workgroup was a 2010 FDA vision document that called for establishing training processes and standards that would ensure a competent, integrated workforce doing comparable work. Then in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act [in 209(a) of 21 U.S.C. 399c(a)] formally required FDA to set standards and administer training and education programs for state, local, territorial and tribal food safety officials.
Much has been accomplished in laying a solid foundation for an overall system that encompasses training processes and standards, but it can get confusing to the casual observer of the science of training. So in this article, we hope to give a high-level view of the work being done by FDA and the PFP in conjunction with other training partners including the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI).
Training System Overview
The overall collection of subsystems that make up this training space has been dubbed the IFSS Competency-Based Learning System (Figure 1). Much work has been accomplished in creating and improving many of these subsystems, which include:
• Curricula and learning design
• Integrated training development
• Quality review and placement verification
• Delivery mechanisms
• Instructor quality systems
• Self- and supervisor assessments and gap analysis
• Competency coaching
• Learning plans
• Record-keeping and learning management
National Curriculum Standard
The National Curriculum Standard (NCS) is a training curriculum framework for regulatory food protection professionals composed of competency and proficiency statements. The NCS establishes the proficiency and quality standards for national training and the potential career pathways that are pertinent or common to all IFSS regulators. The NCS will provide these food protection professionals with a comprehensive national curriculum framework that is career-spanning, standardized and based on standards and competency.
The NCS identifies the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attitudes or attributes (KSAOs) with expected levels of performance to be able to conduct specific job activities or tasks. It is the “backbone” in identifying what the training content needs to accomplish and the conditions necessary for food protection professionals to be successful in their job. The NCS blends two methods to identify curriculum KSAOs: a competency framework approach and a job/task analysis (JTA).
The competency framework approach expresses the KSAOs expected for the job and various tasks as “competency statements.” A competency statement explains what someone should be able “to do” or “know” to do the job or perform a task and to an identified proficiency level. The competency framework process can be advantageous to task analysis for new jobs (like regulating produce farms under the Produce Safety rule) or jobs that require mostly cognitive functions to complete. The JTA method is used to “deconstruct” existing jobs and identify the duties, tasks and steps performed on a job as well as KSAOs that make up a job. This method is useful when a task requires many steps to complete. Competency statements elaborate on the expectations and further define the KSAOs identified at a high level in the JTA. Taken together, both the competency framework and JTA approaches provide a powerful foundation for the IFSS Competency-Based Learning System and the NCS.
The NCS, being championed by FDA’s Division of Human Resource Development, is the first intentionally designed, professionwide, competency-based curriculum road map of its kind that provides the blueprint for the ultimate integrated training plan. The NCS, which was designed through collaboration across jurisdictions at the federal, state and local levels, identifies need-to-know content throughout the food protection professional’s career, regardless of his or her regulatory jurisdiction or area of specialization (Figure 2). The different frameworks can be accessed at incs.ifpti.org/Frameworks/Home. (See, for example, incs.ifpti.org/Frameworks/FoodProtectionProfessionals and incs.ifpti.org/Frameworks/AnimalFood.)
This is the first time that key performance indicators (KPIs) are being developed for competencies specific to food protection professionals at all levels, in all regulatory program areas and across all jurisdictions. Competency statements and KPIs can be used in conjunction to clearly define the performance expectations, or professional standards, within the profession. Prior to the development of KPIs, the perception across the regulatory arena was that performance expectations were unclear and ill-defined. Assessments conducted with KPIs can also be used to identify competency gaps in individuals or in groups, allowing agencies to target and scale learning experiences to address identified gaps for individual work units or an agency as a whole.
A National Curriculum
As training courses, resource materials and learning events are developed or updated to meet the NCS, in essence they become part of the national curriculum for food protection professionals to help ensure that consistent training approaches and related public health activities are being conducted to the same standards of proficiency and quality required across the country. The national curriculum is the training content (blended courses, job aids, field learning experiences, etc.) designed and developed to meet the NCS. By designing learning experiences within the curriculum framework, the training can meet the “standard.” So from the NCS process, the competency statements and JTAs are then utilized to draft the course design documents (also known as course blueprints) to then develop the course content, delivery mode, participant and instructor manuals and/or job aids.
Through this open-source approach, FDA’s partners (associations, institutes, academia, industry, etc.) can develop and deliver equivalent training based on the standard and be a recognized part of the curriculum. The structure of the competency-based curriculum frameworks contained within the NCS also allows for the creation of career-spanning personal learning plans and aligns learning experiences (courses, field training, etc.), resulting in both the elimination of duplicative efforts and the efficient use of resources. A logical next step is to base an employee performance evaluation system on the NCS.
Interactive National Curriculum Standard
An online system (the Interactive National Curriculum Standard, or INCS) is currently being built out. You can check the progress of the INCS at incs.ifpti.org. Most of the competency work has focused on entry-level food protection professionals as well as other frameworks for animal food, retail food, manufactured food and laboratory officials. The INCS features an interactive website that allows the user to identify competency statements within each content area of the IFSS Framework, Animal Food Framework, Manufactured Food Framework and Retail Food Framework. The system also includes a course catalog that aligns learning experiences (courses, field training, etc.) with specific content areas and links out to the service provider of those learning experiences. Service providers can upload a course or other learning event into the system to be reviewed for inclusion. If successful, the provider’s course will then be placed into the national curriculum and be designated as meeting the targeted part of the standard (competencies).
A unique feature of the online system is an assessment instrument that allows individuals to assess themselves against a set of identified competencies, and allows supervisors to assess their staff against that set of competencies. The assessment feature also allows the user to create a gap report for use in competency coaching and the development of personal or group learning plans.
The National Assessment and Training Strategy
Armed with the updated tools provided by the IFSS Competency-Based Learning System, including the NCS, a National Assessment and Training Strategy (NATS) approach is being implemented. This strategy focuses on the agency (whether federal, state or local) and more specifically the field (where the job/task is carried out) as the locus of training and assessment. The concept is simple: formalize the training of employees on the job rather than in classrooms, allowing them to learn (and be assessed) while conducting work assignments. This strategy addresses the age-old problems associated with reliance on classroom training such as cost, time, accessibility and instructor quality.
The NATS methodology leverages unused organizational capacity in the form of agency personnel who may be subject-matter experts, supervisors or lead workers but at present are not a part of the training process in most agencies. These personnel have significant training experience, credibility within the agency and presumably a long-term interest in the quality and dependability of agency services. Overall, the novel NATS methodology yields a training resource multiplier effect: Existing training resources of funds and personnel will be multiplied in their impact by shifting training dollars to field-based instruction and assessment.
Implementation of NATS will standardize the training process of these field-based instructors and assessors across all food protection agencies. The focus of NATS is field-based competency training provided within a given agency by trained agency personnel who guide and mentor trainees to develop competencies directly related to job performance and in alignment with the NCS. This does not preclude the integration of field-based instructors or assessors across agencies to gain maximum efficiencies.
Present food protection training is typically judged using attendance, user satisfaction surveys and knowledge checks. NATS will focus on behavior and job performance to measure competency attainment and proficiency; identify employee and work unit gaps; create training plans; and use field-based learning experiences supplemented as needed by alternative modalities (such as online courses and classroom training) and field-based assessment.
NATS assessment measures will be associated with specific, clearly defined and job-specific competencies that are already identified and validated in the NCS and represented by associated KPIs. These assessment measures may be quickly and directly applied by agency personnel, thus allowing anywhere, anytime assessments rather than conforming to the limitations of existing assessments. As a result, NATS shifts training from a fragmented and inconsistent approach to a competency-based NCS available across the profession, which creates a training resources multiplier that greatly increases the impact of present training budgets. Key to this approach is the ability to audit the entire system against the standards using the INCS.
FDA, the PFP and training partners have worked hard over the past few years to build out the IFSS Competency-Based Learning System components, but much work is still needed. FDA continues to show its support through funding, coordination and guidance. As these processes are developed, there will continue to be transparency and sharing with the food protection community. In fact, in September 2016, FDA will hold the second annual Regulatory and Public Health Partner Training Summit. This summit invites a diverse array of stakeholders to leverage perspectives on development, implementation and metrics for the IFSS Competency-Based Learning System. For more information, email FDA at TrainingSummit@fda.hhs.gov.
Craig Kaml, Ed.D., is the senior vice president of the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI), where he oversees curriculum design and development, course review, instructional design, course development, instructor development, course delivery, assessment and evaluation. His extensive background is in adult learning theory and application, instructional design and instructional technology. Dr. Kaml is also the creator of the IFPTI Curriculum Development Process, which FDA is utilizing to build out the curriculum frameworks, competencies and KPIs associated with the NCS.
Christopher Weiss, Ph.D., is the director of Curriculum Framework Development for IFPTI and has facilitated the development of competency-based curriculum frameworks for a variety of regulatory audiences, including animal food control officials, food and feed laboratory professionals and regulatory food protection professionals working in the manufactured and retail food arenas.
Susan Brace is currently the project manager of the Curriculum Standard for IFPTI, where she manages curriculum framework development, oversees scheduling, logistics, pre- and postmeeting documentation, and acts as a facilitator and/or co-facilitator during the curriculum framework development meetings.
Paul Dezendorf, Ph.D., teaches master’s-level courses in health science and public administration at Western Carolina University. His teaching and research interests include the diffusion of innovations among groups, populations, organizations and societies, along with the communications relationships between government agencies and their constituencies.
Gerald Wojtala is the executive director of IFPTI, where he has overall responsibility for providing and managing organizational resources. Mr. Wojtala has an extensive background in food safety inspection, state and federal regulation and food regulatory program management. He served as the deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Food and Dairy Division and was president of the Association of Food and Drug
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