Feeding Job Market: MATC readies new food processing programs
Friday, October 19, 2012
Oct. 19, 2012
Jeff Engel, Reporter
The Business Journal
Milwaukee Area Technical College is planning three programs geared
toward food and beverage manufacturers that school and business leaders
believe will help alleviate the sector’s shortage of skilled workers.
The programs — a two-year food science technology associate degree to
be offered at the Oak Creek campus, a one-year food manufacturing and
processing technician diploma in Oak Creek and a one-year industrial
maintenance diploma to be offered at the Milwaukee campus — focus on
food manufacturing and processing, said Rich Busalacchi, associate dean of the MATC School of Business and School of Media and Creative Arts.
The three programs were approved by the MATC board in October and go to the Wisconsin Technical College System board in November for final approval. MATC plans to offer the programs in fall 2013, Busalacchi said.
"There was no formal training that was available (at Wisconsin
technical colleges) to specifically meet the needs of this industry,
which was kind of a revelation for many of us that this huge industry in
southeastern Wisconsin had this unmet need,” Busalacchi said.
The skills gap is one of the most pressing issues facing the
industry, regional food and beverage manufacturing executives said
during a roundtable discussion hosted by The Business Journal Oct. 11 at
The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.
"We’re looking for skilled individuals that can come to us, as well as training them from an entry level,” said Giacomo Fallucca, president and chief executive officer of Palermo Villa Inc., a Milwaukee pizza manufacturer. "It’s really hard to find qualified individuals in food manufacturing, on many levels.”
Regional food manufacturing executives have been working over the past year with MATC and FaB Milwaukee, a Milwaukee 7
group of food industry leaders, to develop the three MATC programs. A
survey found the employers would hire more than 200 graduates from the
programs, and they would also send another 200 current employees into
the programs to gain more skills, said Shelley Jurewicz, Milwaukee 7 vice president for economic development and FaB Milwaukee executive director.
"I think there’s a real appetite to have skilled labor at a higher level,” Jurewicz said during the roundtable discussion.
Vincent High School in Milwaukee, in partnership with MATC, is
rolling out an urban agriculture program with a focus on food
manufacturing and food science, Busalacchi said. MATC is also in
discussions with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to have credits from its new food manufacturing programs transfer into a four-year degree there.
Jurewicz and Busalacchi applauded the collaboration between employers and educational institutions.
"I think we’re ahead of the game as it relates to addressing this issue,” Jurewicz said.
In the meantime, some food manufacturers are struggling to fill their open positions on the shop floor and in the front office.
Wixon Inc. had 13 open positions as of Oct. 11, some listings more than a year old, said Peter Gottsacker,
president of the St. Francis seasonings and flavor systems company.
Wixon has particularly had trouble filling research and development
positions that require a master’s degree, Gottsacker said.
"It’s hard to (recruit) them to the Midwest,” Gottsacker said.
About half of Palermo Villa’s recent management-level hires have come
from outside Wisconsin, Fallucca said of the pizza maker. Some of
Palermo’s employees are currently on strike in a dispute over labor
"It’s expensive recruiting that way,” Fallucca said.
Fallucca and Gottsacker both said they’ve become more involved in the recruiting and interviewing process.
"There’s a lot more scrutiny bringing an individual on,” Fallucca
said. "We’re really becoming more picky. And we will leave positions
open if we can’t find someone.”
Fallucca said he doesn’t have any new tricks up his sleeve in attracting employees to work at Palermo Villa.
"It’s an increased diligence. And I think it’s at all levels,” he said.
president of Contract Comestibles LLC, an East Troy custom food
manufacturer, said in some cases he has chosen to hire workers and
internally train them from scratch.
"It takes two years to get a high school kid to stop wiping their
nose when they’re out on the floor,” Gehl joked. "The good ones you
have, you hold onto with a tight fist because I’m afraid (competitors
are) going to steal them. And the rest you just fill in where you can.”
That has meant getting creative with hiring, sometimes taking on
talented individuals with no industry experience, Gehl said. The
drawback is it can take two or three years for that person to hit stride
at Contract Comestibles.
"But that’s the route that I’ve chosen to go,” Gehl said. "I’d rather get a really good, talented person.”