Canadian college sets out to create the next generation of high-skill food-processing operators to safeguard the industry’s future growth prospects
As one of Canada’s largest manufacturing industries, food processing has long been a vital cog in the country’s economic engine—generating a healthy contribution to the country’s employment growth, exporting opportunities, and overall national economic prosperity. Employing an estimated 300,000 Canadians, about 1.7 per cent of the total workforce, the sector supplies nearly 80 per cent of all the processed foods and beverages retailing in Canada at any one time, according to industry statistics.
For all that, there is no getting around the fact that Canada’s food manufacturing industry is faced with the challenge of improving its competitiveness in the global market in a big way in coming years, which is unlikely to happen without a meaningful infusion of new human resources and talent armed with the right skillsets and technical know-how to fill the many important jobs and positions that often go begging—due to the puzzling lack of qualified candidates.
Which is exactly the labor market riddle that folks at the Kitchener, Ont.-based Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning have set out to resolve in a big way with the recent opening of the school’s Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) center—located at the school’s satellite campus in the nearby city of Cambridge.
While the fledgling new program is only in its second year of existence, it has already attracted solid backing and support from influential institutions like the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Food Processing Human Resources Council, and other organizations with a vested interest in seeing the college succeed in developing new training tools and competencies to lift the critically-important food processing sector to new heights.
“The Alliance of Food Processors was actually the industry group that conceived the idea of this program,” explains IFPT chair Luis Garcia. “Its members got involved with the concept right away and pushed the idea along to make it a reality.
“The bottom line is that we all want to make it easier for well-trained individuals to get a job in the industry,” says Garcia, describing IFPT’s intensive, two-year training program—the only one of its kind in Canada—that will turn out properly-trained food-processing technicians ready to take on and conquer the many day-to-day challenges of the fiercely competitive global food-processing industries.
Says Garcia: “Our industry acknowledges that there is a lack of skilled employees available for our workforce, which is why companies always seem to have positions available for people who have the appropriate abilities and training.
“Alas, many companies just aren’t able to find the qualified people they really need, which is really a major problem for all Canadian industries in general.
“And that is where the IFPT program is designed to help the industry out,” Garcia told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the new 260,000-square-foot LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver-certified building where the IFPT offers part-time adult education in advanced sanitation, and food-processing supervisor skill and food safety training—on top of its full-time co-op food processing technician and food processing techniques programs.
In addition, IFPT administers an apprenticeship program for aspiring food manufacturing process operators—delivered as a combination of online and in-class sessions with extensive complementary hands-on experience.
“The IFPT opened its doors to students in September of 2011 with six students,” recalls Garcia.