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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Food Processing Technology Opportunities not recognized by High School Students in Ontario

I heard a disturbing report recently at a traceability information event hosted by Carlisle Technology. The event took place at the beautiful campus of the Institute of Food Processing Technology in Cambridge, Ontario. During his brief presentation, Luis Garcia, the Chair of the institute mentioned that, even with its well equipped (full line) food production setups, the institute is still looking to attract a larger number of studentsThe report identifies opportunities from two perspectives: 1. High school students in the area may not be sufficiently aware of the opportunities with a short training program that immediately gives them marketable skills. 2. The food industry is starved of competent operation level workers at the entry levels.  
Food companies are significantly populated with graduates from university or longer college programs in food science and/or technology but they mainly seek management roles. Even if they take plant floor roles, they only see these as stepping stones.
The typical business experience is that most employees hired for routine plant floor operations are new and have to go through a learning curve. In the learning period when optimum proficiency level has not been attained, some time and economic loss to the employer is expected and acceptable. Unskilled plant floor employees also typically have higher incidents of mistakes in the early days of employment. These mistakes are significantly costly to the employers and avoiding them is preferred.
Comparatively, the slightly higher wages that employees with specialized skills training may expect do not end up costing as much as the cost of mistakes by unskilled employees. The cost may not necessarily be limited to direct financial losses. Some mistakes may lead to indirect cost of defecting consumers who simply stop buying the products from a manufacturer that disappointed them due to such mistakes.
The reduced amount of required training on the plant floor for employees as a result of the specialized skills acquired through programs like the IFPT technical competence training also provide added cost reduction benefits. With trainer and trainee time reduced, the direct financial gain to the company is indisputable. So why are we not informing and encouraging more high school students who may actually prefer this kind of training and opportunity for joining the workforce quickly?
The stigmatization of non-university education may have something to do with the lack of push. There may even be a deliberate commitment to discouraging students from even considering such opportunities.
Apart from the obvious need to create the awareness and encouragement in the high schools, companies can also take advantage of the IFPT programs. I believe that the Institute will not turn away companies that wish to send their plant floor employees to the specialized training applicable to their operation. To allay the fear of who will be left at the plant to do the work that is necessary in the absence of employees sent to such training, nothing prevents a rotating type of arrangement. Employees could take turns until all have received the training. Trained employees may leave to other companies but if all companies are thinking this way, it may only mean the circulation of skilled workers. The industry still stands to gain.

IFPT Food Tech Tuesdays: If you have miss the previous opportunities, you still have two chances on June 10th and 24th to enjoy a guided tour of the state-of-the-art food processing pilot plant featuring highly automated and robotic equipment and learn more about career and training opportunities within the food and beverage manufacturing industry.  All are welcome.  Closed toed shoes and long pants are required.
Posted By Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection 

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