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Over the last year most companies have had to adapt—and quickly—to the impacts of the global pandemic. Louisville-based Fresca Foods, Inc. has faced COVID-related challenges head on, embracing training opportunities for workers, and forging new ways to connect employees with each other, and to the company’s goals.

The natural foods manufacturing company counts some of the world’s largest food companies among its clients. Fresca is categorized as an essential business, meaning many of its workers have continued to work in person at their facilities, even when other area employers have had to shut down or go fully remote. With approximately 400 employees, providing engaging training opportunities has been one key to the company’s continued growth.

“It’s easy to get fatigued in the pandemic environment,” says Jill Bagley, vice president of human resources for Fresca. “But we couldn’t just sit around and wait and do business as usual. We had to continue to grow our business.”

Keeping Employees Connected

One of the many steps Fresca has taken this year was to provide additional training options for employees—everything from their standard on-the-job safety and good manufacturing practices to Spanish language classes and resiliency coaching. “It has helped our employees stay connected,” Bagley points out. “Through these trainings, diverse groups of employees are connecting who wouldn’t have the chance to connect otherwise.”

It appears that providing this time for employees to touch base is working for Fresca. Reaction from employees has been very positive, according to Bagley. “People keep asking for more training, so it’s clearly making a difference.”These additional training opportunities have also helped the company keep staff on board—remarkably few employees left the company during the past year.

In the company’s annual employee engagement survey—which already showed a positive rating on training and development—the survey score improved 8.7% to very positive over the previous year, despite the pandemic circumstances. “Our people seem to really enjoy the sessions. Participants get a lot out of it,” adds Bagley. She says Fresca has also found that sustaining employee connections helps to maintain the company’s culture and work-life balance through the pandemic.

How FRCC Training Helps Local Businesses

For years, FRCC has offered corporate and workforce training for area companies through the college’s Corporate Solutions (CS) team. CS works with local employers to customize classes that meet specific industry needs, and help meet strategic business goals by improving individual, team and organizational performance.

Fresca has partnered with FRCC’s Corporate Solutions team on training its employees since 2017—with past sessions usually offered at the company’s facility in Louisville. But not surprisingly, all trainings had to be moved online starting last March when the pandemic hit.

Adapting to a Remote Work Setting

Fresca employees could either participate in training sessions from the office or from home—whatever worked best for them and their schedule. FRCC’s trainers have been “fabulous at adapting to the virtual environment,” says Bagley.

The trainers had to make a lot of changes on the fly since COVID hit. “They are great at running virtual meetings, breakout rooms—they’re great at engaging,” Bagley adds. “It’s not lectured based. They really break the material down in a way that our people get it.”

The trainings themselves have had to be offered on more flexible schedules. Both the instructors and the trainees have learned to figure out what works along the way and make changes accordingly.

Teaching Resilience

It’s been a tough year for pretty much everyone around the globe. In addition to the pandemic, a contentious national election and social unrest around the US, the employees at Fresca were also impacted by local wildfires in Boulder County last fall.

“The resiliency training we’re doing now focuses on how to stay strong and positive,” says Bagley. “It helps people to stay outwardly focused on what the organization needs to accomplish—and not get bogged down in the negative side of the world.”

The sessions help employees identify their own stress triggers and how to manage them when they arise. “It’s all about how you react to life’s challenges. The resiliency training we’re doing now helps us learn how to adapt to the situation at hand,” says Bagley. Of course that’s precisely what the company and its employees have been doing all year. “We’ve done sessions on building trust and how to adapt to adversity. Overall it has strengthened the organization.”

Fresca has also hosted Friday employee meetings via Zoom to keep everyone informed about changes as their workplace has adapted to a constantly evolving situation. “There have been so many unknowns this year. This really helped with people’s stress levels.”

Other Training Options

Over the years Fresca has offered its employees a slew of professional development classes with help from FRCC trainers. The purpose is to help them better communicate and work together to be more effective and efficient. “I remember an employee talking about one Excel trick that saved hours each week,” Bagley notes.

Other training topics for Fresca employees have included:

  • Project Management
  • Workplace Spanish
  • Accountability
  • Measuring What Matters
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Good Manufacturing Practices
  • Train the Trainer

Grants Available to Help Pay for Training

FRCC works with companies like Fresca to help them apply for grant funding to pay for this type of training. Colorado companies that meet certain criteria are eligible to apply for Colorado First and Existing Industry funds in a competitive grant process.

Corporate & Workforce Solutions at FRCC has acquired and administered millions of dollars in state funding through this program. Our team works with local businesses to apply for these grant funds, and upon successful award, they guide companies through implementation of customized trainings.

“It’s a creative solution that helps us to be more efficient with the resources we have,” said Bagley.

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