Conestoga College: New Institute of Food Processing Technology Offering Important Training and Education Opportunities
The Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) opened in the fall of 2011 as part of a $125 million expansion at Conestoga College in Cambridge, Ontario.
The program is the first of its kind in Canada and is designed to equip students for jobs in the food industry, including line operators, material handlers, machine operators, maintenance assistants, cleaning and sanitation lead hands, supervisors and other positions. Two courses in the program are about food safety—one is a 30-hour course covering the basics, and the other is an 87-hour course that provides students with video materials and interactive exercises that are focused on practical situations encountered in real life food processing facilities. Registration for all IFPT courses is open not only to students, but also to food industry employees and anyone with an interest in food safety and food processing.
GFSR had a chance to catch up with IFPT’s Communications Officer, Susan McLachlan, who explained the Institute’s programs, some of its projects, and its plans for the future.
Q: What types of programs does the IFPT offer?
A: We have a variety of programs from the post-secondary level to some continuous learning opportunities for industry. At the post-secondary level, we offer a one-year food processing techniques certificate and a two-year food processing technician co-op diploma program. Meanwhile, for industry we have a part-time advanced food sanitation program, a food supervisor program, and a variety of food safety courses available.
Q: Would you say it’s mostly younger people, such as high school students, enrolling in your programs?
A: This year, we have students coming directly from high school, as well as some people looking to develop a second career. These include people who have been laid off or had challenges in their previous jobs and are coming to us for retraining. We also have a number of new Canadians and those with credentials from outside of Canada, so it really makes for a diverse and dynamic group of students.
Q: Are your industry programs geared towards radical modernization, or more toward keeping up-to-date with food safety standards and practices?
A: We have a program advisory committee and we work with them to make sure we’re offering the programs that industry requires. For example, with the food processing supervisor program, a lot of workers in the industry are promoted to the level of supervisor, but some of them don’t have formal supervisory training or leadership skills. Our programs provide this type of training. The same sort of thing can be said for our sanitation courses as well.
Q: What is IFPT’s pilot plant and why is it in place?
A: We have a state-of-the-art pilot plant facility measuring 8000-square-feet. It features three fully operational processing lines: liquid bottling, vegetable processing, and a bakery line. These provide students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience right from feeding in the raw ingredients to packaging the finished goods.
Q: Are there are other facilities like this in Canada?
A: We have the only training facility in the country that can provide students with direct production floor experience. We’ve received a lot of interest not only from within Canada, but also from other countries in regard to what we’re doing and the facility we operate.
Q: What is IFPT’s Innovation Project and what are its goals?
A: The Innovation Project has been focused on doing research, connecting with employers, and doing comparative studies with Ontario’s food processing system and the Food Valley network in the Netherlands. We’re looking at some of the issues around innovation in the food processing industry and some potential solutions for industry to work together. Our objective is to help increase innovation in the food industry.
Q: On November 29th, IFPT will be hosting a workshop for the Innovation Project. What will it focus on?
A: The workshop will be a great opportunity for industry and academics to get together to look at the studies I mentioned earlier and what we’ve been doing in general. We are pleased to have speakers joining us from the Netherlands to talk about the successful Food Valley initiative they’re involved in. The event is fully booked and we’re planning to get information out for everyone after the event is over.
Q: How did your partnership with Alliance of Ontario Food Processors come about?
A: The AOFP was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the IFPT. In the early to mid-2000s, it conducted a lot of research and found that there was a huge skills gap in the industry. For instance, it found there were a lot of machine operators being asked to solve analytical problems and perform general maintenance without really having the necessary formal training for either. They also found that there were a lot of supervisors doing a good job with their existing skill set, but who were still missing some of the softer supervisory skills. The Alliance partnered with Conestoga College and received government support to create the Institute of Food Processing Technology.
Q: What do you envision for IFPT in the future?
A: I’m excited for the success I know is coming. We are promoting training in an industry that many people still don’t know exists. People eat and drink everyday without thinking about where their food comes from and the many jobs associated with how it’s prepared, processed, and packaged. As food demands continue to increase, and as food safety continues to grow in importance, we will be well positioned in the future to serve an industry that people will be eager to learn about and seek employment in.
For more information about the IFPT, please visit their website at ifpt.ca
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