Training Needs of School Foodservice Site Managers
The purpose of this study was to examine training needs of
school foodservice site managers nationwide. A survey instrument was developed
to elicit information regarding the training topics managers considered most important
and the delivery formats and modes they preferred. The instrument was mailed to
a sample of 1,000 participants drawn at random from a national database of U.S.
schools. A total of 339 (34%) of the 1,000 managers completed and returned the
Survey results yielded two distinct groups of topics for which
respondents expressed a relatively strong need for training. These two areas
were employee management and practical skills training. Analysis of survey results
also indicated that most respondents preferred training formats that were interactive,
hands-on, timely, practical, and demonstrative. Based on the results of this
survey, researchers recommend the use of relevant theme-based seminars focused
on team building and practical topics that would help site managers run their
operations more smoothly and efficiently.
Change is happening quickly in the school foodservice industry (DeMicco, Cetron,
& Williams, 2000). Much of this change is due to such factors as improving
technology, evolving demographics of workers, new governmental requirements, increasing
knowledge about nutrition, the growing need for marketing, and increasing competition.
These changes necessitate an ongoing evaluation of the changing knowledge and
skills that school foodservice site managers will need in order to perform their
work effectively over the next few years, as well as establishing the priority
of each of these training needs and the designs and delivery methods that are
most desirable in addressing these concerns.
This study builds on earlier research that examined the continuing education
needs of foodservice managers. Sneed and White (1993a) conducted a study for
the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) that assessed the continuing
education needs of school nutrition managers. They developed a list of 124 competency
statements based on earlier research, and then further refined the list by observation,
interviews, and review by professionals from a range of perspectives and backgrounds.
After dividing this list into two survey questionnaires, Sneed and White mailed
each form to a random sample of 600 managers (total of 1,200 managers), with
a 42% response rate. The areas covered in their survey included:
- personnel management;
- program accountability;
- financial management and record keeping;
- professional development;
- food production;
- equipment use and care;
- sanitation and safety;
- nutrition and menu planning; and
- food acceptability and service.
Sneed and White reported that the competency statements managers rated highest
in importance "related to safety, personal hygiene, sanitation, food temperatures,
service of meals, and adherence to federal regulations" (1993a). Those
competencies that were rated lowest in importance included nutrition education,
using computers to keep financial records, and issues related to the continuing
training of their staff.
Sneed and White (1993b) authored a second article based on the same sample,
reporting the continuing education needs of managers as reported by these managers.
Focusing on 48 job-related areas, they reported that those areas with the highest
mean ratings of need for continuing education included "state and federal
regulations, laws affecting personnel; health and safety laws, inspection and
enforcement; work simplification; employee motivation; transmitting child nutrition
mission and values; building professionalism in staff; time management; building
teamwork; and employee relations." Sneed and White also had asked managers
to rank 10 formats for continuing education, and found the two formats with
the highest rankings (state and district workshops or meetings) "are ones
that have personal interaction and are in close proximity to participants' homes."
The formats with the lowest rankings were teleconferences and audiotapes.
In addition to assessing the continuing education needs of school nutrition
managers, from 1995 through 1997, NFSMI developed a series of training needs
assessments for a consortium of state Nutrition Education and Training Programs.
These studies, which assessed statewide training needs of directors and managers,
were conducted by 12 states using survey instruments that were developed by
NFSMI and modified by the state agencies. The studies were intended to assess
the training needs within individual states, and they were conducted according
to the state-determined design. In summarizing results of the 11 state-level
studies for which comparable data were available, Sullivan (1998) found that
school foodservice managers' perceived training needs included leadership skills,
such as motivating employees to provide better customer service, managing to
ensure timeliness, and team building with school foodservice employees.
The current study, which was conducted concurrently with a survey of school
foodservice directors' professional development needs, updates and extends earlier
research by providing a recent national perspective on site managers' training
needs, as well as their preferred training formats and delivery modes. To accomplish
these goals, the study examined the following research questions:
- What knowledge and skills do school foodservice site managers need in order
to perform their work more effectively over the next several years?
- What is the relative priority of each of these training needs?
- What are the preferred training formats for meeting site managers' training
needs over the next several years?
The researchers developed a preliminary survey instrument by collecting
qualitative data through a series of telephone interviews with 10 school site
managers selected at random from lists of site managers working in different states
(e.g., Florida, North Dakota, Oregon). No attempt was made to ensure that all
regions, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), were represented.
In these interviews, site managers were asked to comment on the knowledge and
skills in which they were most interested, as well as the training formats they
preferred. The researchers also reviewed relevant research literature (Sneed and
White, 1993a; Sneed and White, 1993b; Sullivan, 1998), including some of these
topics in the pilot test version of the survey.
To assess the instrument's content validity, the researchers conducted a focus
group interview with five site managers at the American School Food Service
Association's Annual National Conference in July 1999. In response to suggestions
from these site managers, the instrument underwent minor revisions. The researchers
then conducted two pilot-tests of the revised draft instrument. In the first
pilot-test, the survey form was sent to a random sample of 100 schools, with
the envelopes addressed to "Food Service Site Manager, XXX School."
This pilot-test resulted in a relatively low rate of response (approximately
Based on an assumption that school personnel who routed incoming mail might
not have been familiar with the term "site manager," the researchers
conducted a second pilot survey by sending the survey to a different set of
100 schools, with the envelopes addressed to "Principal, XXX School."
The cover letter for this survey asked the principal to direct the survey form
to the site manager or cafeteria manager. This pilot survey resulted in a slightly
higher response rate (approximately 24%).
In both pilot surveys, a cover letter to site managers asked them to complete
the survey and to comment on the form as a whole and on individual items. The
researchers used information they had received from these site managers to make
minor revisions in the content and format of the instrument. As a final step
in ensuring content validity, the National Food Service Management Institute's
(NFSMI) executive director presented the instrument for review by the Food and
Nutrition Subcommittee of the Education Information Advisory Committee (EIAC),
Council of Chief State School Officers. Final refinements in the content and
format of the survey instrument were made in response to EIAC's suggestions.
The final survey instrument included 13 demographic items, 38 training topic
items, 11 items addressing preferred training formats, 11 items focusing on
preferred delivery modes for training, and 1 item asking respondents to rate
the priority they personally assign to their own training (see Table
1, Table 2, and Table
3 for more specific information about the included items). Participants
were asked to rate their own need (Much needed, Somewhat needed, or Not a priority)
for training in each of the 38 topic items, and their preference (Highly preferred,
Preferred, or Not preferred) regarding each training format and training delivery
The researchers obtained a list of school names and addresses at an
Internet site maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics. Numbers
were assigned at random to each school, and the 1,000 schools with the lowest
randomly assigned numbers were selected for the sample. The sample size was
established by estimating the number of responses needed to ensure the desired
level of precision and to warrant confidence in the results, given the population
size and anticipated response rate. The researchers estimated that a sample
of approximately 1,000 would be needed to achieve the desired level of precision
(i.e., sampling error no greater than ± 5% at a 95% confidence level).
The data collection procedure included an initial mailing of the survey
instrument to the 1,000 schools in the sample. A cover letter accompanied the
survey inviting participation and assuring participants of complete confidentiality.
During the pilot-testing process, the method of addressing the envelope to the
school principal had yielded the higher number of responses, so this method
was used for the initial mailings during the actual survey. Identification numbers
stamped on the back page of the instrument were used to avoid sending reminders
to managers who already had responded, as well as to permit the researchers
to sort and analyze responses by the USDA region.
The first mailing attempt was followed several weeks later by a reminder,
again addressed to the principals, who were asked to have the schools' foodservice
site managers complete and return the survey form. With a response rate of less
than 20%, the researchers sent a second reminder and a copy of the survey form
to non-respondents. Envelopes for this mail-out were addressed directly to the
schools' cafeteria managers. Responses to this mailing increased the total response
rate to 34%.
The researchers used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS, version 8.0) and Microsoft Excel to compile and analyze the data.
Data analysis steps included:
- compilation of the number and percent of respondents selecting each response
- chi-square analysis of contingency tables (significance determined at a
0.05 alpha level) to determine key relationships between demographic characteristics
(e.g., region) and level of interest in training topics; and
- development of a need index, format preference index, and delivery mode
preference index to summarize levels of interest in the various topics, formats,
and delivery modes.
The researchers computed the need index by weighting each response through
a reverse scoring method. The responses were as follows: "Much needed for
my own training" received a weight of 3; "Somewhat needed for my own
training" received a weight of 2; and "Not a priority for my own training"
received a weight of 1. The mean weight of all respondents' ratings for a specific
item determined the need index for that training topic. The researchers used
a comparable method to compute the Format Preference and Delivery Mode Preference
indices. On all three indices, a high rating indicates a strong preference for
that item among survey respondents.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
A total of 339 (34%) of the 1,000 site managers in the sample completed and returned
the survey forms. Seven additional (0.7%) surveys were undeliverable by the U.S.
Postal Service. The 34% response rate was somewhat low compared to the response
rate of managers in Sneed and White's (1993b) study (42%). Because sample size
is important in ensuring accuracy of the results and because the researchers anticipated
the possibility of low response rates based on response rates in the pilot studies,
the sample size was increased to ensure that a sufficient number of surveys would
be returned to warrant confidence in the results. By using the equation n (surveys
received) = 339, the level of precision associated with survey items is 5%
at 95% confidence. That is, at a 95% level of confidence, the actual extent of
support for a given item among the population of school foodservice site managers
would lie within 5% of the frequency obtained in this survey.
Representation and Precision of Survey Results
After assessing the extent to which survey results could be generalized
with some confidence to the broader population of all site managers, the researchers
concluded that the managers who responded to the survey were sufficiently representative
of managers nationally to warrant confidence in using survey results as a basis
for planning for the broader population of site managers.
The researchers first analyzed responses to determine whether respondents
appeared to be representative of all U.S. school foodservice site managers based
on regional representation. Two regions (Southeastern and Western) were somewhat
under-represented, and two regions (Mountain-Plains and Midwest) were somewhat
over-represented in the sample. Virtually no differences existed between the
expected and actual values for the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Southwest. Results
of a contingency table chi-square analysis show that differences between the
expected and actual regional distribution of responses were not significant.
After careful examination of all items, the researchers concluded that regional
under- and over-representation was sufficiently minor to preclude inferences
of substantial effects on item rankings.
Demographic information provided by the 339 respondents indicated the
following notable characteristics:
- Almost three-fourths (73%) of respondents worked in schools with fewer
than 1,000 students, and a total of 88% worked in schools with 2,000 students
- The largest percentage of respondents (39%) worked in elementary schools,
while 29% indicated they worked with grades K to 12. Almost half (46%) of
the respondents had 11 or more years of experience as a site manager. There
was a notable percentage drop between those who reported 11 to 15 years of
experience as site managers (21%) and those who reported 16 to 20 years of
experience (9%). Only 9% had more than 25 years experience.
- Approximately one-third of all respondents (31%) supervised zero to three
employees, while another 33% supervised four to eight employees. The majority
(80%) of the respondents indicated that their staff positions are relatively
stable, changing less than 5% each year. Only 9% of the respondents indicated
they had a turnover rate exceeding 10%. This might explain why managers assigned
relatively low ratings to the topic of dealing with employee turnover (Table
- Almost all (96%) of the respondents' schools participated in the National
School Lunch Program, and 74% participated in the School Breakfast Program.
The overwhelming majority (89%) of respondents worked in foodservice programs
that were self-operated. In addition, most respondents (83%) reported that
their schools used onsite food preparation.
- Overall, 68% of the respondents indicated that 50% or fewer of their students
were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. More than half (61%) of the
respondents' schools served fewer than 500 reimbursable lunches per day. Half
of the respondents indicated they work in schools where the student participation
rate in the school lunch program is greater than 71%, while only 8% reported
a rate less than 30%. Almost half (47%) of the respondents expected no change
in student participation rates over the next two years, while 45% expected
an increase in their student participation rate (excluding a la carte). Only
8% expected a decrease.
- Only 46% of the responding site managers indicated they currently had Internet
access, while another 17% indicated they would have Internet access at their
workplace within the next year. More than one out of three (37%) did not expect
to have access to the Internet within the next year.
- Finally, there was relatively little regional variation in the proportion
of respondents who indicated they had a high level of interest in further
training, with 33% to 44% selecting the high priority response category. The
regions varied more broadly in the proportion of managers reporting a low
interest in training. Almost one-fourth (23%) of the respondents in the Mountain
Plains region indicated a low level of interest in training, compared with
an overall mean of 12%. In the Southeast and Midwest, the percentages of respondents
reporting a high interest in training (56% and 36%, respectively) were five
times larger than the percentages in those regions reporting a low interest
(11% and 7%, respectively).
Site Managers' Perceived Training Needs
Results of the survey of school foodservice site managers yielded a
distinct group of topics for which respondents expressed a relatively strong
need for training. Table 1 provides a complete
listing of the training topics ordered by the mean rating of respondents' perception
of their own need for training. A total of 12 items had a need index above 2.0,
indicating a relatively strong need for training.
Higher priority training topics. The topic with
the highest need index rating (2.2±0.8) was team-building and motivating
foodservice workers. This item was rated as "Much needed" by 38% of
the respondents and as "Somewhat needed" by 40% of the respondents.
A similar item, communicating effectively with foodservice workers to reduce
conflict, tied with five other items for the second highest rating (2.1±0.8)
and was rated as "Much needed" by 33% of the respondents and as "Somewhat
needed" by 40% of the respondents. In addition, a related item, evaluating
on-the-job performance and providing constructive feedback to workers, was tied
with nine other items with a mean rating of 2.0. One more item related to dealing
with employees (encouraging professional manner and dress by foodservice workers),
had an overall need index below 2.0 but was rated as a needed training topic
by 80% of respondents with experience levels of 16 to 20 years. These results,
combined with anecdotal information received through telephone interviews with
managers prior to development of the survey instrument, suggest that learning
to motivate and unite workers is an important topic of concern among site managers.
Insight gained through telephone interviews and survey results indicate that
much of site managers' time and energy is devoted to dealing with employee relations
and performance issues. Managers in Sneed and White's (1993b) study rated these
issues (e.g., building professionalism in staff, building teamwork, employee
relations) high in regard to need for continuing education.
Another highly rated topic was using fire extinguishers correctly and training
employees to use them, which had a need index of 2.1±0.8. This high rating
is indicative of its importance to site managers as an issue that needs to be
addressed through training. Further, this rating is supported by anecdotal information
received during a telephone interview during which a site manager reported that
one of the most useful training sessions she had attended involved a demonstration
of how to extinguish a grease fire.
Three topics related to food handling and preparation also received high ratings
of 2.1±0.8 (Table 1). These items included
handling food properly (cooling, heating, thawing), preparing food efficiently
(using fewer steps), and training employees to use kitchen equipment and utensils
safely. All three of these items were rated as "Much needed" or "Somewhat
needed" by 71% to 74% of all respondents. Responses to the third item varied
according to respondents' experience level, with interest in training being
expressed by 87% of respondents with 16 to 20 years experience and by 85% of
respondents with less than 2 years experience, but by only 56% of those with
11 to 15 years experience and 58% of those with more than 25 years experience
Although the training topic of using computers for ordering supplies, e-mailing
forms, etc., had a need index of only 1.9±0.9 (Table
1), it deserves mention because 33% of the respondents rated it as "Much
needed." Only seven items received the same or a higher percentage of "Much
needed" ratings, and all seven of those items had need indices above 2.0.
The low need index for training in computer use is due to the fact that 41%
of the respondents rated this topic as "Not a priority." Thus, there
appears to be relatively little middle ground, with the need for training in
this area being very high for some and very low for others. This disparity may
be linked to the demographic data indicating that only 46% of the respondents
reported having Internet access currently, while 37% reported not anticipating
having it within the next year.
Lower priority topics. Nine topics were rated as
"Not a priority" by 50% or more of the respondents (Table
1). One of these topics was competing effectively with fastfood chains.
Half of the respondents did not consider this topic to be a priority, although
77% of respondents with 16 to 20 years experience did express interest in training
in this area. This topic also was mentioned in several telephone interviews
prior to development of the survey.
The other topics not considered priorities by most respondents involved feeding
programs, such as the School Breakfast Program, After-School Snack Program,
and Summer Food Service Program. Also not considered priorities were recycling,
dealing with employee turnover, working with vendors and others outside the
school, managing water safety and analysis, and managing vending machines and
stadium concessions. Overall, it appears that site managers are less concerned
about secondary responsibilities than about their primary responsibility of
managing staff and food production/presentation issues at their own sites.
Site Managers' Training Format and Delivery Mode Preferences
Survey results (Table 2) indicated that
most respondents preferred training formats that were interactive, hands-on,
timely, practical, and demonstrative. More than 80% of the respondents rated
the following formats as "Highly preferred" or "Preferred":
- Seminars that allow interaction with other managers;
- Focus on timely topics (e.g., new temperatures for meats and poultry);
- Use of demonstrations ("how-to" sessions); and
- Inclusion of practical information in the session.
Formats with a high level of involvement by participants, including hands-on
activities and small class settings, were preferred by 79% and 78% of the respondents,
respectively. Another preferred format was printed materials handed out during
the session, which was a preference of 73% of the respondents. The two training
formats least preferred by respondents were instruction by local chefs in food
preparation and presentation, and the use of role-playing as a part of the training
Training Delivery Modes
Survey results (Table 3) indicated that
most respondents preferred a group-based training that allowed for networking
with other site managers, such as in seminars, conferences, and workshops. At
least 77% of the respondents preferred or highly preferred the following delivery
- theme-based seminars allowing for discussions;
- state agency sponsored conferences/workshops;
- sessions sponsored by the foodservice industry;
- state school foodservice association conferences; and
- district-wide inservice workshops.
All five of these delivery modes had preference indices of 2.1 or higher.
These results seem to support what Sneed and White (1993b) found in regard to
preferred formats: managers prefer state and district workshops or meetings
that include "personal interaction and are in close proximity to participants'
Only one self-study delivery mode, video-based instruction, had a preference
index above 2.0. Even so, its preference index of 2.0 was notably lower than
the other preferred modes (with the exception of conferences held by the American
School Food Service Association), and only 29% of the respondents highly preferred
video-based instruction. Computer-based instruction (CD-ROM or disk) and courses
offered by colleges/universities had preference indices below 2.0.
The least preferred training delivery modes were instruction delivered via
the Internet/World Wide Web (1.6±0.8) and interactive teleconferences
(1.5±0.7). More than 50% of the respondents did not prefer these delivery
modes. It is important to note that only 46% of the respondents currently have
Internet access. Participants in Sneed and White's (1993b) study also reported
the lowest rankings for teleconferences. In general, more isolated, "on-your-own"
training modes seem to be less popular than those modes that allow site managers
to interact and learn together.
CONCLUSIONS AND APPLICATION
Based on survey results, the training needs of school foodservice site managers
might best be met by relevant theme-based seminar programs that allow site managers
to meet and network with each other. These seminars might be most useful when
focused on team building and practical topics that would help site managers run
their operations more smoothly and efficiently. Because printed information was
one of the preferred delivery modes, printed material might be useful to seminar
participants. While video-based instruction was seen as an acceptable self-study
mode, this category had the highest number of respondents who considered it simply
a "preferred" training delivery mode.
More specifically, the researchers recommend that foodservice site managers'
training programs focus on several key issues, which were found to be central
among the needs expressed by survey respondents.
Employee management and training. Because employee
management and training represent 5 of the 12 highest-ranked training topics,
perhaps most training emphasis should be placed on these areas. Team building,
motivation, communication, employee evaluation, and training skills should be
topics that are addressed at district and state conferences and seminars. Because
these topics are closely related, a training session that focuses primarily
on one of these topics might include elements that would be helpful in the other
areas as well. For example, training in team building and motivating foodservice
workers ideally would include training in using effective communication, performance
evaluation, and constructive feedback. In meeting training needs in this manner,
learning might be more effectively carried over from one topic to another.
Three preferred topics involved training employees to perform specific tasks
(e.g., use a fire extinguisher, use kitchen equipment and utensils) or to follow
certain practices (e.g., wash hands, use gloves). In order to be able to train
employees effectively, site managers must first learn effective teaching techniques.
Demonstration sessions may be useful for helping site managers learn to break
tasks down into simple steps, to model tasks, to reinforce incremental progress,
and to re-teach as necessary.
Management training in many settings includes role-playing as a skill-building
tool. It should be noted that role-playing was not a preferred training format
among respondents. Therefore, in training sessions that address employee management,
it may be more effective to employ a discussion-oriented approach, possibly
moderated by an individual with experience in employee relations, motivation,
evaluation, and/or instruction. Small groups also would allow for more involvement
by all participants. The preference for printed materials could be addressed
by providing participants with outlines of the session and with printed checklists
that could be adapted for local employee evaluations.
Practical Skills Training
The remaining preferred training topics dealt with practical skills
that were needed on the job. Respondents wanted training in how to use fire
extinguishers; how to handle food properly in terms of cooling, heating, and
thawing; how to prepare food efficiently (using fewer steps); how to enhance
the appearance, taste, and presentation of food; how to modify recipes to reduce
fat, sugar, and salt; how to market/promote the foodservice program; and how
to ensure quality customer service.
Demonstrations ("How-to" Sessions) and Hands-on
Activities Are Preferred Formats That Fit Well With Practical Skills Training.
These strategies (learning by observing and learning by doing) should be used
when possible, especially since these activities help to make training more
practical. Session leaders should attempt to use settings, equipment, and products
similar to those found at the managers' sites. Local chefs were not preferred
as instructors or session leaders by most respondents; therefore, more effective
session leaders might be individuals who are more familiar with a school environment.
Video-based instruction, supplemented by printed material, is also a training
option in the areas of food handling, food preparation, food presentation, and
recipe modification. Whatever the delivery mode, supplementation with printed
material might make the training more effective.
The topics dealing with marketing/promoting the foodservice program and ensuring
quality customer service may be addressed effectively in seminars that allow
interaction and networking with other site managers. This format permits the
sharing of ideas and experiences that are helpful in determining what works
best in certain situations. Training in computer use may be worthy of consideration
due to the relatively high percentage of respondents who rated it as "Much
needed." However, such training should be targeted only toward those site
managers who are prepared and equipped to benefit from it.
In summary, school foodservice site managers in this survey sample seem to
be interested in training that focuses on very practical topics conducted in
very practical training sessions that carry over directly to their work environments.
Sneed and White (1993b) argued that training formats matter because they impact
managers' levels of participation, and this study indicates that managers might
best participate in theme-based seminars that allow for both networking and
discussions with other foodservice managers.
This study was conducted at the Center for Educational Research and Evaluation
in the School of Education, the University of Mississippi. This project has been
funded in part by federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
to the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi.
The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies
of USDA, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations
imply endorsement by the U.S. government.
DeMicco, F., Cetron, M., & Williams, J. (2000). The impact of trends on school
foodservices. The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, 24(1), 3-7.
Sneed, J., & White, K. (1993a). Development and validation of competency
statements for managers in school foodservice. School Food Service Research
Review, 17, 50-61.
Sneed, J., & White, K. (1993b). Continuing education needs of school-level
managers in child nutrition programs. School Food Service Research Review,
Sullivan, K. (1998). Training needs of school nutrition program division directors
and managers in public schools: An eleven-state summary. Unpublished manuscript.
Kathleen Sullivan and Maxine Harper are director
and educational research analyst, respectively, Center for Educational Research
and Evaluation, School of Education, University of Mississippi, University, MS.
Charles K. West is associate professor, Family and Consumer Sciences, University
of Mississippi, University, MS.