A Unique Resource for the Ontario Food and Beverage Industry

Ontario now has a food processing training facility like no other in Canada.  The IFPT, located on Conestoga College’s new Cambridge campus, boasts an 8,000 sq. ft. pilot plant. It is the only centre dedicated solely to the development of a skilled work force tailored to the needs of the food manufacturing sector. This state of the art facility, equipped through a $2.3 million FedDev grant and matching funds from Conestoga College, has three complete lines for beverage (UHT), bakery and fresh vegetable processing.  Built in 2009 in partnership with the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors (AOFP), the Institute is named for Craig Richardson, former AOFP president, who championed the IFPT from idea generation to completion. In the Fall of 2011 the Institute received its first students.

The Institute’s programs are flexible, comprehensive and hands-on with both on-line and in-class instruction.  The programs have been designed to satisfy the needs of a demanding manufacturing environment and the schedules of trainees and employers.  Programs offered include Advanced Sanitation Practices, Food Processing Supervisor, and Food Processing Technician (Co-op).   Also offered is an apprenticeship program for Process Operator-Food Manufacturing overseen by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.  Graduates from the Institute programs are not only valuable assets to their employers, but have the training to proceed forward with a crossover into electronics and robotics. Additionally, the Institute has courses in Food Safety and periodic courses such as the upcoming May/June six week course in Food Processing Operations for university Food Science students.

The Institute’s practical approach appeals both to current workers wanting to upgrade/retrain and companies who wish to upgrade their workers’ skills, in order to be on the forefront of technology and innovation. With regard to the latter the IFPT is available to customize courses for individual companies or groups.  The IFPT is also actively marketing its program at the high school level to attract entry level students.  In the future the IFPT may consider additional activities to augment its growth and become more valuable to the food processing community. These include becoming a food incubator and undertaking research projects with industry.

The IFPT has arrived at a pivotal time for the food processing industry and for the Province of Ontario. There is a documented skills shortage in food manufacturing which could only worsen. The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Canada. In Ontario the food and beverage industry has 127,000 employees and contributes $35 billion in sales value annually to Ontario’s economy (Economic Impact Analysis: Ontario Food and Beverage Processing Sector, September, 2012; Alliance of Ontario Food Processors).  It is the province’s leading employer in the manufacturing sector.  Furthermore, Ontario food manufacturers process over 65% of what is grown and produced by the agricultural sector.  The food processing industry is instrumental to the economic health of the Province.

At a time when the food processing industry is buffeted by increased competition from tech-savvy foreign exporters, attacks from a sometimes strident and biased media, less than complimentary comments from some customers, increased costs to keep pace with constantly shifting regulations and a potential opening of our markets due to future trade agreements, Ontario has a strong competitive advantage with the Institute of Food Processing Technology.  We have a state-of- the-art, customized, flexible and highly interactive resource to upgrade our work force and foster technological innovation in order to remain cost-effective and competitive.

In the author’s experience the Institute is not well known through-out the industry. Hopefully we can help remedy that to the benefit of both the Industry and the IFPT.