According to Sarah Turner, the president of Boston’s North Bennet Street School (NBSS), America’s first trade school, U.S. government data shows that there will be 68 percent more job openings in trade-related jobs in the next five years than there are people trained to fill them. Working for a trade association that represents industrial equipment manufacturers, I’m shocked at that number but not at all surprised.
With approximately 10,000 baby boomers hitting 65 every day, companies of all shapes and sizes are trying to replace this generation of employees while somehow also trying to maintain their institutional knowledge. In the case of technical jobs, that’s not so easy given the priority that our society has placed on university learning (compared to technical education) over the past 40 years. One concrete example of that comes from the U.S. Department of Education which reported an increase of only 0.98% increase in budget appropriations for Career, Technical and Adult Education from 2008 through 2020. Now, while that might have something to do with the general decline in manufacturing jobs in the USA, it certainly does nothing to help the 565,000 manufacturing businesses that depend on this next generation of employees.
That is where the Food Processing Suppliers Association and its members have stepped up to not just provide jobs, but “careers” within our industry. In coordination with education partner Lincoln Tech, FPSA launched the Food Industry Technician (FIT) Program in an effort to deliver more qualified technicians to the food and beverage industry. Since successfully completing its pilot program, FIT has already graduated two classes of technicians, all of which were hired immediately by food manufacturers or equipment suppliers to the industry. The third class of students is expected to graduate this December.
The FIT Program continues to grow in popularity, both for students and for their potential employers. Students learn very quickly that employment in the food and beverage industry is more stable than most industries. Not only that, you might say that it’s a seller’s market out there with students selling their services. Given the high demand for good technical workers, companies are offering salaries that many four-year college graduates would be happy to have.
As for the employers, they benefit from the FIT program thanks to reduced time and cost in finding trained and certified technicians. In fact, we’ve even had manufacturers say that they would hire an entire graduating class if they could! But we’re not stopping there.
Currently, the FIT Program operates in Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus with students engaging in hands-on learning with a variety of food processing and packaging equipment donated by FPSA member companies. FIT plans to expand to other campuses in the future with the goal of increasing the number of graduating students to better meet the needs of food manufacturers and equipment suppliers. That will take more equipment, more students and more interested employers, none of which represents a serious impediment in resolving this huge need in our industry.
Even during this time of a historic pandemic, FIT is managing to work with and train this next generation of technicians. After all, the consumer keeps eating and the baby-boomers keep retiring. Someone has to keep our production lines running!
For more information on the FIT Program, contact David Seckman at [email protected].