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Food technician training gains traction

Food technician training gains traction
FIT program addresses training for food processing and packaging technicians.

Technicians are in-demand throughout industry and nowhere is that need so critical is in food processing and packaging markets. A new training program that seeks to address that shortage is gaining traction.

During Process Expo last September, the Food Processing Education Consortium (FPEC) announced the creation of the Food Industry Technicians Development Program, or FIT. It was billed as the first national certification program for service technicians in all segments of the packaging, processing and food and beverage manufacturing industry.

The industry’s need seems ideally suited to available workers who could fill these jobs if properly trained. According to FPEC, there are 3.5 million unfilled middle-skill jobs that do not require a 4-year degree and make up the largest part of the labor market in the country.

The announcement was made to a large contingent of industry reporters (including myself) and others.

It seemed time for an update on the program and so we reached out to David Seckman, president/CEO, Food Processing Suppliers Assn., who provided us with the following responses.

What kind of traction are you seeing with FIT since the unveiling last fall?

Seckman: The traction we are seeing is tremendous. Since announcing the FIT Program, we have received numerous inquiries from food processors and equipment manufacturers alike, confirming the profound need for qualified technical personnel in this industry. Considering the fact that this program is still in its initial stages, we expect this interest to continue growing significantly as students advance towards their degrees.

What’s happened with the program since then?

Seckman: We have since secured the location of the first ITT campus that will offer the FIT Program curriculum in Orland Park, IL (a suburb of Chicago). We have finalized the curriculum and classes with the first set of students to graduate in September. In the meantime, we are focusing on promoting the program to current and prospective students of ITT.

In addition, the FIT Program has received excellent support from industry with many companies donating the necessary equipment to ITT for hands on use by the students, as well as the valuable time needed to develop such an important curriculum. This support comes from highly respected companies such as Tyson Foods, West Liberty Foods, Johnsonville, Smithfield, Handtmann, Multivac, Mettler-Toledo, JBY, Provisur Technologies, Weber Inc., Salm Partners, Alfa Laval, Stober Drives, Greaney & Associates and Dave's Killer Bread. In short, we have created a solid foundation to build this program for the long haul to address one of the industry's most pressing needs.

What kind of feedback and participation have you seen? 

Seckman: On Friday, March 11th Chairman of the Food Processing Educational Consortium (FPEC) Scott Scriven, provided an update on the FIT Program at the Food Processing Suppliers Association Annual Conference. This update was received enthusiastically by all attendees including brand owners and suppliers. Clearly, the program is on the right track and now our focus is on getting students into the pipeline. When you consider the relative stability of the food industry and the fact that expected salaries for these graduates will be well above average, we don't expect that will be a problem.

How would you grade the progress to this point?

Seckman: We would grade the progress so far as an A+. The FIT Program is a huge undertaking that has been developed to address one of the biggest issues in our industry among both suppliers and their customers. The work of the past 18 months has been successful in developing a program that will provide lasting benefits for the students, brand owners and suppliers.

Anything else to mention?

Seckman: More than anything, the FIT Program has demonstrated a great integration between OEMs and processors to address this critical issue in which we both have serious needs. We are excited to see such strong cooperation and optimistic that this will provide the successful outcomes that we all expect.

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