In the US, 3.5 million middle-skill jobs go begging—jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree, but often do require hands-on OJT and/or a two-year associate’s degree, said Scott Scriven at the recent PROCESS EXPO in Chicago. Scriven, chairman of both the Foundation of the Food Processing Suppliers Association (FFPSA) and the Food Processing Educational Consortium (FPEC), described the creation of the Food Industry Technician Development Program (FIT), which will provide certification for technicians in the food and beverage industry.
“The FPEC has been working very closely with leading US food manufacturing companies to develop a program that directly applies to the positions these companies need to fill,” says Scriven, who is also vice president of the slicer business unit of Provisur Technologies. “Our goal is to address this critical need for trained service technicians. Simply put, with the program being developed, we intend to educate, train and provide competent, certified individuals to fill these important positions in our business. Technicians who receive the FIT certification will have incredible job opportunities in the US food manufacturing industry that include high-end salaries and benefits.”
FPEC is partnering with ITT Technical Institute, which has more than 100 locations around the country, to set up a mechanical/electrical engineering-based, two-year associate’s degree program that meets the needs of the food and beverage industry, as well as its equipment suppliers. “We are excited to work with FPEC to develop a curriculum that will benefit our students and help prepare them for important industry jobs,” says David Catalano, senior vice president of business development at ITT Educational Services Inc. “Given the size of the food and beverage industry, and the need for middle-skills workers in the US, we are very excited about the opportunity to help these companies grow—and to assist our graduates in identifying entry-level jobs.”
“Our goal is to address this critical need for trained service technicians. Simply put, with the program being developed, we intend to educate, train and provide competent, certified individuals to fill these important positions in our business. Technicians who receive the FIT certification will have incredible job opportunities in the US food manufacturing industry that include high-end salaries and benefits.”
“At ITT, we help students prepare for entry-level positions through an associate’s degree program, which takes about two years to complete,” adds Catalano. “To make sure our courses are aligned with companies’ needs, we work with industry experts who help develop the curriculum and training. We’ve been working with the association and subject matter experts to build that framework.”
Food processors are getting involved in this program, because many of them are feeling the pinch in finding qualified technical people. Often, when four or five processors are located in the same region, they’re competing for dwindling talent. “I had the opportunity to participate with colleagues and industry leaders to work on the evolving FIT process,” says Gerald Lessard, West Liberty Foods vice president and COO. “We all knew there was a need, but quite frankly, we didn’t know how much of a need there was for trained maintenance technicians within the food industry.”
Attracting qualified people to food industry jobs is hard enough, especially since technicians may find more glamorous jobs in other technical industries, explains Lessard. The advanced technology found on equipment in the food industry makes the need even greater. “What we’ve put together not only gives graduates a job, but a career,” adds Lessard. “It’s not just the technical skills; it’s the marriage of technical skills with [applied] skills.”
When asked what possibilities exist for furthering a technician’s education beyond the associate’s degree and advancing to higher-level engineering jobs, Scriven says not much thought has yet been given to that, as getting the program underway with graduates in two years was the first priority. However, he does say, that if life-changing events caused a technician to decide to leave a food manufacturing environment, the goal would be to keep the technician within the industry by helping locate him or her at a supplier company.
In addition, FPEC and ITT have developed and approved a route for technicians who are already employed to become industry certified. “Candidates who meet certain work experience criteria, but have not yet completed the FIT academic requirements, will be able to continue working while enrolled in specified classes that will lead to their successful completion of the coursework and obtaining the FIT certification,” says Scriven.
While FPEC has 14 food processors and equipment and automation suppliers on its board of trustees, the organization is looking for more participants. For more information about how food equipment manufacturers, processing and packaging companies, and individuals can become part of the FIT program, contact David Seckman, CEO/president of the Food Processing Suppliers Association at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the FIT website at www.foodindustrytechnician.com.