Answer to urgent need for better training

by Morton Sosland
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At a recent gathering of leading European industrialists convened to gain an understanding of how people "who make things" think differently from executives in the rapidly growing service and technology industries, the message that came through with great clarity was the need for better trained workforces. Even though the executives who participated did not include anyone from flour milling, scanning a summary of these proceedings left no doubt that millers would agree with many of the views of their fellow industrialists, especially the emphasis put on the quality of people. This need for better training for the people who run the plants and make the products has been a target of millers for a long while. The problem for milling, like that expressed by these industrialists, is how companies often fail to take advantage of what is already available to attain that goal.

Millers around the world have access to a broad range of educational and training offerings. When it comes to education in milling, at the most basic level as well as at the university level, these opportunities reach several continents, and include offerings by private companies as well as public institutions. But when it comes to on-the-job training, even the most sophisticated of corporations, many of which operate in several different industries besides flour milling, seem to neglect the opportunity that is immediately at hand —the training provided to millers by the Association of Operative Millers.

While no one would disagree that the A.O.M. has its roots in the United States, where it was founded 106 years ago, the association long has reached outside of its home country to include operatives in the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Europe and other parts of the world. Faced with a diminishing membership base in the U.S., largely because of consolidation into fewer and fewer companies and larger and larger plants, the A.O.M. most recently has decided to be aggressive in pursuing foreign participation in its activities, most of which are aimed at providing training to its members. Its offering of courses and programs only in English is about to be modified by foreign language versions.

In addition to its bulletins, its correspondence courses and its collaboration aimed at answering members’ questions about milling, the A.O.M.’s role in training millers is best illustrated by its annual technical conferences and trade shows. Several thoughtful executives recently declared the A.O.M. conference as being the best place for them and their operating millers to learn in a few days’ time about the latest advances in milling systems and technologies. Alas, that view is not as widespread as it should be, as reflected in attendance at this year’s conference. Sure, U.S. millers, facing difficult times, cut back on the number of people going to the conference. Equally disappointing, though, was the lackluster attendance of millers from other countries. This may have reflected corporate travel and meeting attendance policies that cut across the entire spectrum.

The real issue becomes whether participation in the A.O.M. conference ought to be treated simply like any other convention. Cutting back seems short-sighted at a time like this, when milling capacity is being consolidated, as noted, but into plants with expanding reliance on electronics and similarly sophisticated controls. Nothing increases the need for better-trained, more aware operatives than this. Advances in milling systems introduce savings and raise productivity. But they also require trained operators.

It is high time that appreciation spreads around the world for the A.O.M. as the focal point of education on how best to run mills at peak efficiency while turning out the highest quality product. This is a goal that every miller has firmly in mind. Capturing the ability of the association to serve that end will come through participation in its training programs of every sort, as well as a commitment to participate in future conferences.

Morton I. Sosland