Melinda Farris IAOM vice president
Melinda Farris, IAOM vice-president since 2007.
Photo courtesy of IAOM.
LENEXA, KANSAS, U.S. — For 122 years, the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) has supported companies in the flour milling, cereal, grain and seed processing industry. Melinda Farris has been executive vice-president of the organization since 2007.World Grainrecently spoke with Farris at the IAOM headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas, U.S., to get her thoughts on the past, present and future of the global flour milling industry and IAOM’s role in supporting it.

WG: With such a long history, beginning in 1896, how has IAOM continued to keep its education training opportunities up to date with changing industry trends?

Farris: IAOM is a member-driven organization. The members are living the trends on a daily basis, and so they are identifying those needs that the industry has for education and training.

In my opinion, I think that a lot of the success over the years can be attributed to the close relationship between IAOM and KSU’s Grain Science and Industry Department. For many years, KSU professors sat on the IAOM Education Committee and held other leadership roles, thus working in concert with professionals in the industry to identify areas where education and training could be enhanced.

In recent years, we’ve expanded our collaboration to include working with educators from Cowley College in Arkansas City, Kansas, and at the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center (LCCTC) in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

The strength and commitment of the Education Committee members and the IAOM leadership in general has been evident over the past decade — as we completely overhauled the IAOM Correspondence Course in Flour Milling, developed the Milling Technician Certificate program online milling courses, and published a Fundamentals of Milling textbook for use.

We have rebooted the resident milling courses that IAOM has traditionally offered at Kansas State — again, this collaboration gives the instructor the opportunity to review course syllabi with industry professionals through regular review at Education Committee meetings.

Our industry partners have been critical to our success — they serve as subject matter experts in our course development and by presenting at district, regional and global conferences. More specifically, we’ve collaborated with Ocrim to bring educational opportunities to millers in a new region of the world — Cremona, Italy. This location is more convenient for some than a trip to Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.

We also work with Bühler to promote the joint Bühler-KSU executive and expert milling classes (in English and Spanish) to milling professionals at KSU University. The Correspondence Course is self-paced and is delivered through snail mail with about half of the students taking their tests online. The course is available in English, Spanish and Arabic, which allows us to reach a much wider group of millers.

Members of the Education Committee noted the need for electrical training for the industry, and so we worked with Cowley College to develop a hands-on training course targeted specifically at the milling industry. It was such a success at Cowley College that we decided to repeat it in the northeastern part of the United States at the LCCTC. 

WG: What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen both in the industry and in the organization during your years as executive director of the IAOM?

Farris: Consolidation in the U.S. milling industry would have to be one of the biggest changes that has taken place since I’ve been with IAOM. Many of the companies that existed when I first started are either no longer in business or are no longer involved in milling. It seems that this trend will expand beyond U.S. borders in the years to come. It is my hope that others see that the organization has continued to evolve and maintain its relevance for the operative millers.

IAOM has also been able to refocus its energy and efforts on the core of our mission — proficiency, fellowship and cooperation. Much of this is evidenced by the new and revised educational offerings that IAOM has. The growth in our network outside the United State is where you can see some of the more obvious changes at the association.

The growth of the Mideast & Africa region has been phenomenal over the past decade. And, the millers in the Southeast Asia and Eurasia regions decided to create their own IAOM entities within the past decade.

The Latin America region also has changed — moving its annual meeting from the annual conference and expo that is traditionally held in the United States, to a meeting organized in a country within the region. I think this move has allowed IAOM to reach its target audience of the operative millers more effectively within the region.

flour wheat
WG:What courses or training are you currently developing?

Farris: IAOM plans to incorporate committee-driven training into the education programs at district and regional meetings that address management, safety, personnel, and technical milling knowledge.

Our Education Committee is working with professors at KSU to develop a Wheat, Flour, and Dough Analysis course, which we plan to offer later this year. We’re also looking at some different options to deliver milling courses at a location in our Southeast Asia region.

The committee is always reviewing all existing offerings to make sure the content is relevant for the industry. The Mill Maintenance course is reviewed on an annual basis, as well as the Correspondence Course.

WG: How many districts does IAOM have globally and is there a region of the world that IAOM is working to expand into? Which districts have you seen the greatest growth in recently?

Farris: A couple of years ago, the IAOM governance structure was changed, creating an international committee for the four international regions outside North America. The IAOM board of directors is now comprised of representatives from the 10 districts in North America.

In 2017, the IAOM MEA Conference drew a record of 850 delegates.
The Mideast & Africa region has shown the most growth in recent years. The Leadership Council has done an excellent job of developing programming that meets the specific needs of milling professionals in that region.

In addition to the annual conference for the region, they are holding annual region forums in order to better meet the needs of the operative millers within the Maghreb, Sub Saharan and Middle Eastern areas of the broader region. The region also held its first five-day milling course in Arabic prior to the most recent annual conference and expo in Dubai (October 2017).  

That said, I do believe there is great potential for growth for IAOM in Southeast Asia and across Asia. We are looking at a variety of opportunities that would allow IAOM to expand across Asia, targeting several different groups of milling professionals. We’re currently planning the 9th Annual Southeast Asia Conference & Expo, which is scheduled to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2018, in Manila, Philippines.

WG: Do you have anything new planned for IAOM’s annual conference and expo this April in Atlanta?

Farris: The conference will see an updated schedule — the expo hall will be the focus of the conference in the morning, with the educational sessions built into the afternoons. Instead of having concurrent sessions on day two, we’re going to have two, one-hour presentations. Some of our members have said that they missed the chance to attend the same session with all of the conference goers, so we’re going to reintroduce that programming in Atlanta.

Our keynote speaker will be Dr. Karen Neil from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I think IAOM members will be interested to hear about food safety from the perspective of the CDC.

The IMEF Silent Auction will be conducted entirely online — through a bidding app. We’re really excited to see how that will work. It will allow anyone, anywhere in the world the opportunity to bid on some of the great items that our members’ companies and partners have donated.

The Allied Trades Event will be held at the Sports & Social restaurant in the Live! at the Battery entertainment district. The entertainment district is part of the new Braves Stadium complex.

wheat inspection
WG:How does FSMA impact your membership base and what are they wanting from the organization?

Farris: FSMA has a great impact on our members. Much of our scheduled programming for the annual conference and at district/regional meetings is geared toward addressing and explaining FSMA regulations and requirements.

WG: What are some of the biggest challenges flour millers are facing today and how is IAOM helping them address those challenges?

Farris: The main challenge is addressing the pending workforce shortage. The Milling Technician certificate program is in direct response to this challenge. Although the target audience for the program is a new talent pool — high school graduates and graduates of related programs/disciplines, we’ve seen a lot of milling and allied trades companies take advantage of the opportunity to enhance the skills and knowledge of their existing employees by having them gain a certificate through this program.

Food safety will continue to be a big challenge for the industry. We’ve already talked about how IAOM has been inviting speakers to present on FSMA and other food safety issues. We’re trying to address this challenge by providing additional information as well as the opportunity to share and exchange knowledge with one another.

The industry has been great about seeing food safety issues not as a competitive advantage — the same thing goes for employee safety. They all understand that if a food safety issue affects one company, it will have an impact on all of them.

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.
WG:IAOM recently implemented its Milling Technician Certificate Program. How is it progressing? Do you foresee the program filling the predicted workforce gap? 

Farris: The fourth cohort of the program started last month with six students enrolled. There were eight students enrolled in the cohort that started August 2017. The four students that started in January 2017 are currently completing their 250-hour internships in flour mills and will graduate this spring. Three graduates received their certificates in August 2017.

Joel Hoffa, IAOM past president, has been the lead instructor for all of the milling courses offered through the certificate program. He brings decades of experience in the milling industry to the position and shares his knowledge and expertise with the students. In the position he works with Tom Sargent, IAOM director of professional development, to continuously improve the courses and enhance the overall learning experience.

The program was designed with the goal to attract a new talent pool to the industry that would help to fill the predicted workforce gap. While we’re excited and optimistic with the interest that has been demonstrated in the program, we know that we have to have several different approaches to fill the gap.

We are working with KSU to identify ways in which we can recruit more students to the milling science program. I participated on a taskforce with Kent van Amberg from the American Society of Baking through the KSU GSI Advisory Council to identify new ideas on how to recruit students to the grain science & industry department.

As a result of that work, IAOM, ASB and KSU GSI professors participated in the Kansas Counseling Camp in Manhattan, Kansas, in June. Approximately 300 counselors from Kansas school districts attended the two-day meeting. At a table top expo booth, the representatives shared information about career opportunities in the milling industry, along with education and training options at KSU and Cowley College.

Attendance at that camp has resulted in several invitations to present at Kansas high schools on the opportunities in milling.

Members of the IAOM Employee Relations Committee are also reaching out to their local high school counselors to share information about the great career opportunities there are in milling. The committee is working to fine tune a marketing kit that any IAOM member and/or miller can use during visits to high schools and ag centers. The kit includes information about milling in general, as well as all of the education and training opportunities available.

The ER Committee was also instrumental in developing the website, which was also designed to share information about opportunities in the industry more broadly.

IAOM education
Participants in the IAOM–KSU Introduction to Flour Milling course weigh flour in a lab exercise in the Shellenberger Baking Lab. Photos courtesy of IAOM.
WG: IAOM has partnered with KSU, Bühler, Ocrim in the past.  What are some of the benefits of the partnerships and are you exploring any additional partnerships in the future?

Farris: Earlier I talked about how very important these partnerships have been to IAOM. IAOM is a member-driven organization that has a staff of four people. In order for us to continue to punch above our weight, it is imperative for us to seek out relationships and collaborations that will be mutually beneficial. 

We’re currently working with BEMA to find ways to bring their exceptional leadership training to IAOM members around the world. BEMA presented at our annual global conference last year in New Orleans, and at our recent Latin America Region Conference & Expo in Panama City, Panama.

We’re working with GEAPS and KSU on developing a milling component to be used in their very well-respected distance education program.

We are having discussions with partners on how to bring training programs and more IAOM content to millers in Asia. We have potential partners in Eastern Europe who we’re discussing opportunities to reboot our programs and activities in that region as well.

IAOM is also actively engaged with members of the Food Fortification Initiative’s executive management team and core group. There have been plenty of instances over the past decade where IAOM has benefited from and contributed to collaborative efforts with partners in this group. For instance, our colleagues at Emory University and CDC helped to make the initial contacts that led us to securing Dr. Karen Neil as the keynote speaker for this year’s conference.

WG: Can you tell us more about and what the association hopes to achieve with it?

Farris: This is an effort for IAOM to help the industry share its amazing story. The site’s tagline is: Great Jobs | Great People | Great Industry | Great Opportunities. We’re trying to use this as one more way to get the message out to the public at large that there is something special about this industry.

Most people go to the store and buy a bag of flour or a cake mix, but give no thought to the original source. I know I never did. We know that there are some wonderful people in the plants, working diligently to make sure that we have access to a quality, healthy and safe product.

One thing that we want people to learn from the site is that there are REAL people behind those staple products. And, that there are a lot of different options and opportunities for someone to be part of the industry.

Of course, the goal, as we discussed earlier, is to help bridge the workforce gap that is coming. However, we also wanted to share some of the great stories of the people in the industry. That’s why we have the video testimonials and the blog posts.

If we can somehow make the people the story, then we might be able to attract more good people into the industry.