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On Sunday, my eye caught an article in the Washington Post titled, “Thanksgiving dinner will cost more this year. Here’s how to save money.” On the one hand I read this as a consumer who has already shelled out more than enough this season for Thursday’s meal, but on the other, my interest had more to do with my role as a food industry professional.

The piece opened up with the following sentence, “This year, some unwelcome holiday guests — supply-chain jams, worker shortages, climate change and inflation — are making groceries more expensive.” And while I agree with ALL OF THIS, the part that really calls out to me is worker shortages. With the Administration telling us that our current supply chain and inflation worries are temporary, worker shortages are a much bigger deal, especially in the food industry.

As I have written previously, retirement of the baby boomers has had a tremendously negative impact on this industry. According to a recent Forbes article, nearly 30 million boomers retired in Q3 of last year, and perhaps even more importantly, a recent survey showed that over 75% of the respondents said they are planning to retire early.

Our population demographics told us years ago that this was coming, but COVID clearly exacerbated it. But that’s not my point.

At the recent PROCESS EXPO, I had the pleasure of meeting with many colleagues face to face and one of the big topics I found us discussing over and over again was the issue of workforce shortages and the need to recruit talent from the younger generation. This goes for all types of jobs along the supply chain, not just graduating food science majors. From truckers to sales, engineering to accounting, the food and beverage industry needs it all.

One area in particular that FPSA has focused on is that of technicians needed to work on the equipment that all these production lines depend on. By building the FIT Certification Program, FPSA seeks to address this by recruiting and educating promising young people for this three-month training program that prepares them for a career at food processing companies or at equipment manufacturers that supply this equipment to the industry. The response from industry towards this program has been overwhelmingly positive, with graduating students typically receiving multiple offers of employment.

Recognizing that graduating four classes per year still fails to meet the demand for this valuable position, FIT Inc is now looking at how to expand the program on the Indianapolis campus of Lincoln Tech. Plans are now underway to expand the training center with the goal of adding up to two additional classes which would then total twelve graduating classes of qualified technicians per year.

FIT leadership understands that even that expansion is not enough to catch up to the retirement of older workers. But it’s a start. Already, FIT looks ahead to other campuses where it might replicate this type of success. Honestly, it’s just a matter of time. There is high demand among the students who are drawn by the higher salaries they see their former fellow students are earning, and high demand to contract these students from the potential employers. It makes all the sense in the world to continue building this program to address this critical need of qualified technicians. FIT will be there to do that.

Now, if only someone else could just get more truckers to deliver those turkeys to the grocery store, we’ll be just fine. Happy Thanksgiving.

Andy Drennan, FPSA SVP