by Stacy Dunn
As one of the largest industries in Canada, food and beverage manufacturers employ over 280,000 people, according to the labour market research published by the industry’s non-profit workforce development organization, Food Processing Skills Canada (FPSC).
However, in recent years the industry has experienced a shortage of skilled workers. To address workforce challenges, especially significant in the Atlantic provinces, FPSC created the Skills Training Atlantic Canada (STAC) program in March 2019 to provide training for three groups of staff in the food and beverage processing industry: new hires and seasonal workers, frontline workers, and supervisors.
This program is addressing recruitment and retention challenges in the region by using comprehensive online training at no cost to the employer.
“FPSC’s focus has always been on developing programs and content for upskilling workers for employers,” says Deborah McGowan, Project Manager, STAC.
“We created the Learning and Recognition Framework, which tests the competencies and prior learning of food and beverage processing workers, and we chose Atlantic Canada to pilot the project.”
About 91 percent of food and beverage processing businesses employ fewer than 100 people, Deborah says. Small to medium-sized companies may find it challenging to access ready-to-go training the way a larger company can. STAC is bridging this gap.
It uses a blended learning approach with regular check-ins, goal-driven content, coaching, and self-directed technical and social online learning.
Technical learning includes food safety, quality assurance, and sanitation, while social learning builds skills in adaptability, active listening, empathy, and resilience.
Courses take an average of 120 days to complete. Workers and supervisors earn microcredentials through badges and certificates. Supervisors get unique leadership training as well.
Chromebooks are given to employees who need them. “We found the Chromebooks were key to facilitating the project. It removed a barrier to accessing technology.”
Social emotional learning to help cope with stress
All employees and supervisors get the latest training in social emotional learning. “Since COVID-19 hit, this learning has been valuable in helping them learn to cope with change and stress.
“Employers often promote successful frontline workers to supervisory positions. While these workers may be skilled in their job, they may not be trained in leadership. Social emotional learning has helped supervisors gain those leadership skills.”
Deborah says a recent evaluation of workers who completed this learning found they had a better sense of self and felt more valued, with improvements in personal confidence and self-empowerment.
“We are seeing improved gains on the production floor, and workers are hitting targets and discussing the implementation of changes in the workplace.”
Benefits to employers and employees
“FPSC reinforces training that the employer has provided to staff in the past,” Deborah says. “Our training tools eliminate that intimidation factor that may come with learning new technology, and workers gain more knowledge about the industry. They are talking and listening to co-workers and supervisors more and recognizing opportunities to expand.”
Participants can access the learning system for a full year once the project is done. They can continue to take courses at their own pace.
Acadian Supreme is one of five PEI companies to participate in the STAC program. Eleven staff members were involved – six were in the Frontline Workers’ program and five in the Supervisors’ program.
Operations Manager Lynn Rayner says the employees involved really enjoyed it, especially the soft skills training known as ACAHKOS (means ‘star’ in the Cree language, as in guiding star or expression of oneself).
“Training like this helps our employees to feel more empowered and more confident in the jobs that they do. It also makes our employees realize that they are capable of advancing in their careers with Acadian when opportunities arise.”
Lynn says once the project is completed, the company will continue to use the knowledge gained during the STAC program.
“Moving forward, we will hold in-house training for our staff to continue what STAC has started. The more training that is provided to employees, the more they will strive to upskill.
“If the STAC Program continues, we will definitely continue to support it, and I recommend that other food and beverage companies join in.”
To learn more about Skills Training Atlantic Canada, visit www.stac-fpsc.com.
Skills Training Atlantic Canada is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.