A specialized education center is training the next generation of food processing talent, helping manufacturers keep up evolving technology.
The Craig Richardson Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT), at Conestoga College in Cambridge, Ontario, opened as part of a $125 million expansion at the school. The IFPT was borne out of a labor study that showed resources needed to attract and retain skilled workers were lacking.
At the center of the IFPT program is its 8,000-sq.-ft. pilot plant facility, the only such training facility of its kind in Canada. The three operational processing lines (liquid bottling, vegetable processing, and bakery) give students practical experience not normally found in classrooms and textbooks.
“These provide students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience right from receiving the raw ingredients to finished, packaged products,” IFPT communications officer Susan McLachlan told FoodProductionDaily.com.
According to McLachlan, food processing workers are increasingly called upon to do a broader range of more complex tasks on the job.
“Technology in the industry is increasing,” she said. “There is now a need for a more skilled worker on the production, due to the technology production floor workers are being asked to complete and the technology they are working with.”
The IFPT works to cultivate a skilled workforce through education and training. Topic areas include food safety, food processing, electronic instrumentation techniques, automation, packaging and plant supervision.
McLachlan said the global processing industry faces a real threat in that valuable, knowledgeable staff are leaving the industry each day—and taking their knowhow with them.
“The current skilled group of workers in the food and beverage processing industry retiring at a rate of 10% per year,” she said. “It is imperative that there are an adequate number of highly skilled workers available for the implementation and maintenance of latest technology and to keep the industry as a major economic force in the upcoming years."
Food processing is especially important in Canada, McLachlan said, as it is the largest manufacturing sector in the country. For the industry to remain fruitful, she said, workers must be brought in to operate, maintain and repair the machinery—and to help keep the food supply safe.
“Skilled workers are vital in ensuring that the food supply is as safe as possible for the communities the food serves,” she said.
The facility is opening its doors to the public on Saturday during Doors Open Waterloo, an event produced by Canada’s Waterloo Region to promote its industry and culture. For more information, visit the Region site at www.regionofwaterloo.ca.