IAOM utilizes milling education to fill future workforce gap

by Holly Demaree
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IAOM milling tech program take home lab
The at home lab exercises simulate mill experiences, concepts and activities, machinery functions and product quality, using readily available products and items found around the home.
Photo courtesy of IAOM.
 
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. —With baby boomers reaching retirement age, flour milling companies across the United States will be scrambling to fill vacancies. The International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) and Cowley College have created one solution to fill the future workforce gap in the milling industry with its new Milling Technician Certificate Program.

The online college-accredited vocational program is faster and cheaper compared to other programs, and open to people with no milling experience.

With two semesters of coursework and an internship at a flour mill, the one-year program prepares students for positions as trained technicians working in a flour mill. It was introduced to the industry in August 2016.

Tom Sargent director of professional development for IAOM
Tom Sargent, director of professional development. 

“To the best of our knowledge, it is the only one-year college program certificate in the world that’s college degree granting,” said Tom Sargent, director of professional development. “There are some excellent training programs out there worldwide, no question about that. But this program is that niche between no training at all and a bachelor’s degree.”

During the IAOM Conference and Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., Stephen Doyle, vice-president of King Milling Co. and president of IAOM, said the theme for his presidency is, “Education is the key.” He stressed the importance of the development and training of a new generation of millers to replace the anticipated 50% of the workforce that will retire within the next decade.

In the next 10 to 15 years the “baby boomer” generation will create a workforce gap with retirement. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and are now driving growth at the older ages of the population. By 2029, when all of the baby boomers will be 65 years and over, more than 20% of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65.

IAOM partnered with Cowley College, an Area Vocational Technical School, which is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and by the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), to create the program.  

 
The certificate program is a combination of mechatronics and milling courses that include basic math needed for the mill environment, as well as an overview of equipment, electronics and electricity and pneumatic fundamentals. Throughout the courses students are introduced to the milling process, wheat characteristics, the industry and various requirements of the gradual reduction process in making wheat flour. Quality assessments are an integral part of the studies. To wrap-up the program, students complete a 250-hour paid internship at a commercial flour mill to test the skills and knowledge they learned through the online courses.

Standard college enrollment requirements apply to those wishing to enter the program. High school seniors may enter the program as long as they have reached age 18 by the time the internship commences.

Eligibility requirements for the internship include:
  • Earn a high school diploma or GED prior to the internship;
  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of internship;
  • Satisfy all employment requirements at selected internship site.

At the completion of the program graduates have the potential for full-time employment in a recession-proof field with an estimated starting salary of $45,000, according to the IAOM.

Sargent said one of biggest challenges the program overcame is helping potential employees understand that a vocational skill can be taught or learned in an online learning environment. Specific hands-on activities have been created that the students can participant in at home.

He noted the lab exercises simulate mill experiences, concepts and activities, machinery functions and product quality, using readily available products and items found around the home.

The program is geared toward those who have no milling experience or industry knowledge. But the program’s current students are ones who have been involved in the industry for a few years.

Melinda Farris executive VP of IAOM
Melinda Farris, executive vice-president of IAOM.

“Our current students are people who are in the industry and want to enhance their skills and knowledge,” said Melinda Farris, executive vice-president of the IAOM. “The idea is to expand our talent pool by marketing to high school seniors about the broad career opportunities the milling industry has to offer.”

IAOM sees the program as a possible stepping stone to potential students who may not want to commit to a four-year college.

 “The students we have now started as sweepers or packers and have spent numerous years in the mills and have continued to work their way up but eventually they get to a point where they are unable to advance without that formalized education that milling companies need,” Sargent said.

Jeff McClelland, a current student fulfilling his internship requirements with Ardent Mills, has worked in the flour milling industry with a high school diploma. The milling certificate program was his first college experience.

“The reason I chose to enroll in the course was for future considerations,” McClelland said.  “I wanted to refine my knowledge of the mill and how it operates as well as learn the grain handling side. But ultimately, the decision came down to furthering my career in the milling industry.”

 

Grain Craft flour mill in Blackfoot Idaho
According to the 2017 Grain & Milling Annual, Grain Craft is currently the only wheat flour mill in Idaho, U.S., with a total capacity of 16,500 cwts. 
Photo courtesy of Grain Craft.
 
Clinton Inskeep has worked for the past 11 years for Grain Craft in Blackfoot, Idaho, U.S.

“In that time, I have worked as a railcar cleaner and loader, in the warehouse packaging and loading, in the mill as a milling assistant and in maintenance for the last seven years,” he said. “This program has given me the opportunity to challenge myself and learn some great skills and gain more industry knowledge.”

This fall the program will have its first graduates, and by 2018 a total of eight students are expected to graduate.

Tuition for the program may be covered by the state of Kansas through the Career and Technical Education Act. For qualifying students who participate in the certificate program, the state of Kansas will cover tuition. Qualified juniors and seniors in public, private and homeschool high schools are encouraged to gain the training needed to enter a profession and earn an industry-recognized credential.

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