Needing a new generation of millers to replace the baby boomers who will be retiring over the next 10 to 15 years, leaders of the U.S. milling industry are stepping out of their comfort zones with a variety of initiatives designed to reach potential employees of all ages, but particularly high school students.
For decades, the milling science program at Kansas State University’s Department of Grain Science and Industry has churned out hundreds of capable graduates. It’s never been a question of the quality of graduates, but the quantity, which is particularly worrisome considering that over the next 10 years an estimated 50% of the milling workforce in the United States is expected to retire.
Historically, the majority of students entering the K-State program have come from rural communities in Kansas. Many have become acquainted with the milling science program by word of mouth from family or friends who are or have been in the program. sThat has changed in the last several years as K-State is spending more time and money actively recruiting prospective milling science students.
Representatives of K-State, as well as the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM), have started attending career fairs for high school students. The university also has invited high school students to attend its Grain Science and Industry Day.
Fran Churchill, NAMA Instructor of Milling at K-State, said the efforts are starting to pay dividends as the program is beginning to attract more students from urban areas, particularly the Kansas City metro region.
Another goal is to eventually bring in students from all regions of the United States who can get their degree at K-State and perhaps return to work in mills in their home regions. The attempt to diversify the student population is not just focused on geography, but also gender, as there is a concerted effort to recruit more female students to the program, which has been historically male-dominated.
The IAOM also deserves credit for thinking outside the box with the development of the Cowley College Milling Certification Program, which is open to individuals with no milling experience and prepares them to be trained technicians with two semesters of online coursework and an internship at a flour mill. The program, which was launched a year ago, is expected to have eight graduates by 2018.
Yes, the flour milling industry has a great story to tell. A milling career includes many benefits, both tangible and intangible. In an era when many college students are struggling to find employment upon graduation, graduates from the milling science program, because of the supply and demand issue, receive multiple job offers and essentially 100% placement.
The starting salary typically is in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $60,000, with signing bonuses and moving expenses also commonly provided. A more intangible benefit to working in the industry is that you leave work every day knowing you have produced a product that provides nourishment for billions of people worldwide.
The industry should be commended for recruiting more aggressively and if all three of the primary players in this effort — K-State, IAOM and U.S. milling companies — continue to work together, a new wave of intelligent, driven and talented individuals will, in greater numbers than before, capably fill the shoes of those who are nearing retirement.