Jobs in Agri-food: stable, high tech, recession-proof

Are you looking for a job in an industry that is stable, taps into your computer abilities and is virtually recession-proof?

Canada is well-known internationally as a great primary food producing nation but few, even in our own country, realize how much the manufacturing sector contributes by taking those raw materials from the farm to the consumer’s dinner table. In Ontario alone, food processing contributes about $34 billion a year to the economy, the largest manufacturing sector in the country!

All very well, you say. What has that to do with me? Depending on where you are standing, it could strike you in a number of different ways.

On page 23 of the August issue of Agri Digest Online (see link above), we tell you about this great opportunity in the agri-food industry — one where, astonishingly, there are not enough skilled workers to fill available positions!!!

A huge lack of skilled employees exists in the operational portion of the food processing industry. Far from the stereotypical mind-numbingly repetitive concept of a line worker, today’s industry is extremely sophisticated. Most state-of-the-art food processing equipment is currently being brought from Europe and, astonishingly, companies aren’t able to find people in Canada who can run them.

Recognizing how serious the issue had become, the Association of Food Processors in Ontario began the process to develop a collaborative Centre of Excellence supported financially and conceptually by AFP and all levels of government.

Their timing was perfect. Conestoga College in Cambridge, Ontario, was in the planning stages to build a new College of Engineering, and the new Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) quickly found its new home within it.

The school’s mandate is to provide training for skilled workers, mostly equipment operators and maintenance staff rather than management. These students share electrical, robotic, welding and mechanical shops with the Conestoga School of Engineering. The program involves a clear understanding of complex machinery and the computer systems that run them, as well as the science of food safety and the economics of time efficiency. The training also teaches students how to work as a team, how each impacts the other and the effectiveness of the entire line.

At present, a pilot project is in effect involving three complete production lines, from receiving the raw materials to packaging the finished product. The main program is co-operative, meaning there are great job opportunities on graduation. The four year degree program begins with sixteen consecutive months (two semesters) of in-school training, then one semester on the job with a co-operating processor, and a fourth and final semester back at the school.

Oddly, food processing is not a well-known industry and so enrollment is less than one would expect. It is very clean and very high tech – perfect for young people with a high degree of computer skills, holding the door open to a host of specialized, well-paying and steady jobs.

If this is a field that interests you or someone you know, check out the Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) website at http://ifpt.ca.

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