The Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) is overhauling its educational offerings to create more of an on-demand, bite-sized approach and less of a rigorous higher academic one.

“Much of our content was built off what someone might expect to see in a college course,” said Steve Records, executive director of GEAPS. “I think we all recognize we live in an on-demand world. The idea of having to wait for a course only when we offer it was a little bit of a bygone era and more of a nod to how colleges work versus how industries work.

“We are really looking at becoming more user friendly, delivering content that is more readily available and on-demand. Specifically, affordable and timely so that you can get a course that’s only an hour for maybe $100 versus 10 hours for $1,000.”

To cut education costs and increase opportunities for its members, GEAPS recently discontinued its partnership with Kansas State University.

Introduced in 2005, the GEAPS/K-State Distance Education Program has provided education and training opportunities for grain industry professionals. The partnership provided an educational resource for those interested in progressing professionally and introduced KSU students to the grain storage industry.

Steve Records, executive director of GEAPS. Photo courtesy of GEAPS.

“I think a lot of the things that helped create a successful program with Kansas State from 2005 to 2014 later became more of an anchor for what the industry did not want,” Records said. “The content being delivered through Kansas State was not user friendly. The expenses that we were incurring to partner with a university like Kansas State created a scenario where our courses became unaffordable for many of the people within the industry.”

With the ending of the partnership, GEAPS decided to create more opportunities and build content for more than just one group of people.

“A large contingent of our membership have questioned why we were really only partnering with one university,” Records said. “We are approaching our new strategy with our education to bring all of the subject matter experts from all of the universities, not just from here in the states but from around the world to bear for our network.”

Records described how reaching out for new collaborations could help create more applicable courses. He described how GEAPS is working to create content for the entire worldwide grain industry, not just those the association can reach nearby.

“For example, in Kansas there is not going to be a big need for rice training but in other parts of the world rice is critical,” Records said. “How do we find the right people for that?  It is not something that Kansas State would have been able to help with. We are now able to go and seek out the rice experts to help build content that can deliver value to a whole new set and group of people.

“We are now looking at how we can do it differently. Looking at partnering with more organizations and people that are willing to help our mission. We will be able to deliver a wider array of content through a licensing agreement or some other facet but also be able to do it at a more affordable cost because we are not paying the fees that we were paying with an anchor university.”

Even though the KSU partnership ended, GEAPS is still offering the same education that was previously available to members.

“We have built our own learning management system internally and brought all of our courses over,” Records said. “They will all be moved to on demand and so all the same courses that you could have gotten through the GEAPS/Kansas State partnership you can now get at just GEAPS.”

GEAPS recently teamed up the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) to help members expand their educational opportunities. AFIA training content is now available for GEAPS members and vice versa.

“We are also looking into having conversations with other organizations that have content that is applicable for our members and industry so that we are not reinventing the wheel of content that already exists,” Records said. “That is one of the key facets that we are looking at building, to expand the training we have and bring our expertise to the network of people that we have.”

GEAPS is reaching beyond technical educational opportunities for its members while also building courses for grain industry professionals who are at different tenures within the industry.

“We have historically been focused on the technical aspects of the industry,” Records said. “That will still be the bread and butter of what we focus on, but we are looking at how we can deliver more value to the individual aspects of our members’ careers.”

Through new partnerships, GEAPS now offers a collaboration of courses that are affiliated with business learning such as finance and human resources.

These partnerships with organizations outside the grain industry give GEAPS members the opportunity to gain professional business training such as marketing, project management, international trade and other topics. There are also a number of certifications available including Project Management Professional (PMP), Lean Six Sigma Green, Yellow, and Black Belt Certification, and Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP) and more.

The GEAPS professional business training allows members to gain a foundation of skills in the business and management side of the business which will help a technical or operations person be more prepared and qualified for advancement.

While GEAPS is looking outside the industry for some training, it is still focused on technical hands-on training.

GEAPS realizes that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, hands-on learning was difficult, particularly for people who would have to travel for the learning experience.

“The challenge with hands on is the infrastructure that is needed,” Records said. “The hands-on program that we have had and are looking at conducting really has to be anchored in a spot. We are trying to understand how we can take hands-on training and make it mobile or in multiple places. When there is equipment involved it becomes very difficult, but we have also learned that people from Saskatchewan are rarely going to travel down to Kansas for a hands-on training course. So how do we deliver value to our members in Canada or others the same way that we can deliver value to a facility near where we would have a course in Kansas or Iowa?”

GEAPS is also looking to customize hands-on learning.

“Previously, the only training you could get in person from GEAPS was by going to one of our sites or go to a class at Kansas State University,” Records said. “We are now pulling together content curriculum speakers that are willing and able to travel to locations and facilities to train people for customized content. It meets the needs of the company in a far better manner than before.”

As GEAPS moves forward with its education program, the association plans to focus on creating training for all aspects and professionals of the grain industry.

“We have learned over the past decade at GEAPS that we can invest a lot of time and energy into a great idea and it still may not hit the mark for what the industry needs,” Records said. “We are trying to be more nimble and agile as an organization, to deliver training that is more consumable and affordable as opposed to creating this large program that may be applicable to only a small few. The biggest trend that we are trying to attack is to create valuable materials that are more broadly consumable rather than viable materials that are only consumable by a few.”

More information about the GEAPS’ education program can be found on the association’s website.