Filling Food Industry Skills Gaps

In Trends by Heather Brown0 Comments

Change is afoot in the food industry. In the next decade, it’s predicted that 2 million factory jobs will be left unfilled.

Besides facing a labor shortage, the nature of food industry work is also changing. Technology now permeates every aspect of the most competitive food companies. Automation and connectivity are defining new norms in research, testing, supply chains, plant operations, food and worker safety, transportation, marketing, and sales. Consumer demand and safety regulations call for better transparency and communication across departments and across industries.

So how can your company tackle both the need for more workers and need for new skills? Here are a few ideas that will help:

Industry-based certifications

Workers within the industry need to be trained in the new skills their jobs require. There aren’t a lot of options currently, but one pioneer in this area is the Food Industry Technician Development Program (FIT).

FIT is a collaboration between the Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA) and the Food Processing Education Consortium (FPEC). Their industry-approved certification prepares new technicians both academically and practically. They also offer career growth opportunities to those already in the industry who need to realign their skill sets.

Technical education programs

It’s tough to succeed in the food industry now with just a high school diploma. But a four-year liberal arts degree isn’t always necessary or practical, either. National Skills Coalition research shows that 54% of the U.S. labor market calls for “middle skills” jobs, yet only 44% of the country’s workers are currently trained to this level.

The term “middle skills” refers to both the amount and the type of training necessary. Although vocational and technical programs have fallen out of fashion since the 1970s, those are just the types of programs needed to prepare manufacturing workers for the specific hands-on and technical requirements of new and emerging food industry jobs.

Re-branded perceptions

The manufacturing industry needs a makeover in the minds of employers and workers alike. Food jobs in the 21st century require higher skills and higher pay. This report from the New England Council outlines the “game changers” in digital and internet technology that are redefining the manufacturing landscape.

If you’re hoping to attract and retain food industry expertise, here are some ways you can think and act differently.

Go local

Yes, the movement toward locally-sourced food can apply to the workforce as well. Reach out to your communities for partnerships that can strengthen your operations with new employees and new skills for existing employees.

Get online

In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), your systems need to be connected. Those who are training for food industry careers will be versed in the latest technologies, and they’ll expect to be able to use them.

Invest in personnel

Offer your employees development opportunities. Be willing to restructure your organizations and workflows to better accommodate the new requirements of technology and safety regulations.

Recruit widely

Seek out talent in other industries. You may find individuals preparing for or working in IT, communication, healthcare, or education who would like to put their passions and skills to work in the food industry.

Listen hard

Listen to what your employees are saying about how your facilities can perform better. Listen to technology developments and experts who can tell you what new skills and tools are needed to keep your food safe and appealing to your consumer base.

Expand your network

Partner with vocational and educational institutions to instill new expectations about what a career in food manufacturing might entail. If GE can do it, so can you. Reach out to other industries to see how their processes are developing and how they’re working to recruit and train the talent they need.

The food industry is in a constant state of evolution. New technologies, processes, safety requirements, and supply avenues are waiting to disrupt your operations, hopefully changing them for the better. Knowing the new skills your employees need is the first step toward finding and training them for success.

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