Smart Food & Beverage Manufacturers are Looking at the Skills Gap Now

F&B Companies Need to Address the Skills Shortage

Consumer tastes change fast (one day it’s low salt, the next it’s no GMOs). Food and Beverage companies are doing everything they can to keep pace with that demand.

So when I read Food Engineering’s “State of Food Manufacturing” 2016 survey about the challenges facing food and beverage manufacturers, I was not surprised that the no. 1 trend changing manufacturing operations was automation.

But I was surprised that the no. 2 trend, lack of a skilled workforce, beat all the others, including food safety/regulations.

Skills Gap Predicted … and Realized

When the Manufacturing Institute first published the Skills Gap Report in 2001, the study identified a problem: the mismatch between the skills current workers had, and the skills manufacturers would need.    

And the problem is getting bigger. The report, updated in 2015, states that in the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled. The skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.

This is particularly concerning – although not surprising – when you consider the pace of change.

What Will Your Plant Look Like in 20 Years?

Think about how your home has changed in just the last decade, with technology that allows you to control entertainment, lighting and thermostats from a smartphone.

Now apply that same level of ‘smart’ – or even more sophisticated innovation – to food and beverage manufacturing. Industrial operations will more radically change in the next five years than they have in the last 20, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is a catalyst in this shift. Right now, we have opportunities beyond what was imagined at the time of the first skills report.

We’re getting smarter, but the convergence of existing systems and the adoption of new technologies that enable this transformation are also placing new burdens on workforces.

How Land O’ Lakes Made Training Vital to Success

Few skills and training programs in technical schools or colleges are able to keep up with the latest automation innovations in networking technology, data analytics and industrial security.

That means great companies are forced to compete for great people – and there just aren’t enough knowledgeable employees to meet the need.

One company that found a solution was Land O’Lakes, a farm-to-fork company that develops, supports and produces everything from seeds to the products we find on our dinner tables.

Land O’Lakes has hundreds of maintenance technicians. But based on his math, Mark Hanley, asset reliability manager at Land O’Lakes, predicts that the demand for skilled industrial machine mechanics will increase 18% by 2024. He’ll need more skilled people; but he doesn’t know where he’ll find them.

So instead of relying on outside programs to produce results, Mark and his company created a standard training program across Land O’Lakes facilities that integrated processes from maintenance and operations. They built it from the ground up, identifying existing and needed skills, and the gap in-between, to determine the curriculum.  

The plants, Mark told me, are benefiting from the training program with quantitative and qualitative results, with improvements in everything from an increase in first pass quality, safety, productivity and output, to improved morale and retention.

Applying the Learning

This is one case, in one company.

And while Land O’Lakes relied on our Global Workforce Solutions and Food and Beverage specialists to help create the training, there are many options to build a skilled workforce.

Are you located close a technical or trade school that will consider a curriculum that addresses your challenges? Can you bring several locations and functions together at once for focused training? Do you have internal resources that can handle new training for a new workforce?

These are the questions and scenarios to consider now.

Contact me about your specific challenges around workforce availability and closing the skills gap.

Mary Burgoon
Posted August 7, 2017 By Mary Burgoon, Market Development Manager, CPG Industry, Rockwell Automation
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