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Future-Proofing Through Training

Future-proofing is a form of strategic planning designed to support the long-term well-being of an organization, or in this case, an industry, with the goal of promoting success for years
to come. Training occurs throughout life, and much of our formal training and education starts with school. An education, whether it is from a technical school or a university, is often the
launching pad for a first job or even a career.

Once in the workforce, on-the-job training is essential to the growth and success of the organization. Training is beneficial to both employers and employees, as it leads to greater or higher productivity, better morale and promotion opportunities for employees. In the long run, training improves the employee’s ability to adopt new technologies and methods that will help
the company to remain competitive in the market.

The following is a guest column from KJ Burrington, ADPI Vice President of Technical Development, published in the January 19, 2024 issue of Cheese Market News.

Many companies use training as an investment in their employees for these reasons. Using training as part of the future-proofing process provides knowledge-based information and professional development for current and future employees of the dairy industry. Many dairy companies have internal training courses to provide these benefits to employees, but the U.S. has many other training opportunities across the country to expand the knowledge base on all things dairy and help manage future challenges in the dairy industry.

Some of the most established dairy training courses, typically called short courses, have been organized by universities and available to industry participants for over 100 years. The first dairy short course was established in 1890 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since then, over 13,000 participants have been trained in many different dairy manufacturing short courses at UW-Madison. In 1987, the U.S. dairy farmers agreed to provide funding through the dairy checkoff program, managed by Dairy Management Inc., to support six dairy research centers across the country. These six regional dairy centers have over 138 experts from 20 different universities. The six centers are: Center for Dairy Research, Midwest Dairy Center, Western Dairy Center, Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center, Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center and the California Dairy Innovation Center. Each center has its own areas of expertise and list of short courses. They are a great way for new and experienced employees to learn about many different cheese varieties, cultured products, dairy ingredients, ice cream, butter, safety/quality and more.

You might think that these courses are only taught by academics that have never had any industry experience, but that is not the case. Most of these short courses use a combination of faculty and industry experts to provide instruction and a hands-on, deep dive into the manufacture of dairy products on a small scale. Not only do participants receive information on current technologies used in the dairy industry, but they will also learn about new research that each of these centers is conducting.
Exposure to new research helps companies to fuel their own innovation without having to conduct the research on their own. Long term, this research helps to keep the U.S. dairy industry stronger and more competitive.

Not only will dairy companies gain the opportunity to commercialize the research, but they can also hire the students that have conducted the research and whom have specialized training because of it. Most of the dairy manufacturing short courses are designed for industry employees from research and development, quality assurance and manufacturing roles. Undergraduate and graduate students can also attend these courses at their university (without college credit) to enhance their own knowledge base. Some of these universities also provide online short courses and certificate programs, designed especially for people who don’t have the flexibility to leave their jobs for an in-person short course. Outside of the universities and dairy centers, there are other dairy organizations that offer training for an even wider range of participants. 

One of those training courses is the Dairy Ingredients 360 course (DI360) developed and introduced by the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI) in 2017. Started as an in-person course, it covers similar topics that many of the university short courses offer but without the hands-on experience or such a deep dive scientifically. Though DI360 includes sessions on manufacturing of cheese, cultured products, butter, dairy ingredients, functional and nutritional properties, and safety/quality, it also covers pricing, markets, exports, supply chain, risk management, sustainability and more. It is a comprehensive training course taught by 25 subject matter experts that even the non-technical people from an organization can understand and learn from. As a result, the course hosts attendees from sales, marketing, procurement and finance, as well as technical people from the dairy industry. The course shifted from in-person to an online platform in 2021 and will continue as an online training course into the future. A few university students have taken it over the years, but like the university short courses, they have not received college credit for taking it.

That situation changed on Jan. 16. Through a collaboration with Kansas State University, ADPI will be offering DI360 as an online course called “Introduction to the Dairy Ingredients Industry,” a 3-credit course available to undergraduate students. Students from other universities can also enroll in the course and transfer the credits to their own university. The benefits of offering this course as part of a college curriculum are many. We are seeing many universities lose their dairy faculty and therefore they also lose the dairy courses that they teach. Even if a university has one dairy faculty, that one person can’t teach every dairy-related topic. Because freshmen can enroll in the course, it will give them valuable knowledge and perhaps lead them to a career in the dairy industry.

Offering this training course to college students is an important part of future-proofing the dairy industry through training. Continuing to invest in your own employees by giving them opportunities to take training courses will only make the dairy industry stronger in the future.

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