Challenges of Growing a Sustainable Workforce in the Food Industry

Posted by Melinda Mack on Feb 9, 2015 12:37:02 PM

We are pleased to introduce our first guest blogger, Melinda Mack of the New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals (NYATEP). NYATEP is a resource and partner for businesses of all kinds based in New York and the surrounding area. Please read on to learn about some of the impactful work that NYATEP is doing specifically with the food industry in New York.

When you hear “New York” it is hard not to think of the five boroughs and bright lights. However, many are surprised to hear that nearly a quarter of New York’s land area is devoted to agriculture (nearly 36,000 farms). This translates to a booming sector, bringing in nearly $6 billion in agricultural production. As a result in this production growth from large industries like dairy, to smaller, emerging industries like “craft” beverages, overall employment in the sector has grown. Training_Tips

Back in April, the New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals (NYATEP), Harvest New York, and Cornell University’s cooperative extension brought together more than 70 professionals representing employers in various food processing industries, educational and training, Workforce Investment Boards, and state representatives from the Western New York region to discuss the workforce development needs and to get a handle on the changing dynamics of the sector. The reason we convened the event was to get all the right people in a room and to open an industry-wide discussion on what these employers need to be successful. In these discussions, we learned a few critical things:

  • The Agricultural Sector and food processing industries in New York State have recently experienced rapid growth and anticipate continued growth; especially due to the focus from the State in investing in the sector.
  • The skills needed for employment in the food processing industries are changing. Gone are the days when just a high school diploma is needed. Many of the production sites are highly technical and require on-the-job experience.
  • Employers continue to struggle to fill positions and retain workers. Due to the changing work requirements and aging workforce, employers are hard-strapped to find the right workers for their businesses.
  • Employers, Education & Training providers and Workforce Investment Boards need to collaborate to increase industry awareness among the local community. Nearly everyone in attendance shared that there is an incorrect perception of the manufacturing community that we all need to work together to change. Manufacturing includes good paying, local jobs, in clean and highly professional environments.

When it comes to hiring, employers shared the significant investments currently made at their organizations to recruit, screen and hire for specialized or highly skilled positions. Several employers shared their continued challenges to recruit for technical positions like maintenance mechanics and the growing need to recruit outside of New York for “professional” job vacancies. This sparked the interest of the AFL-CIO’s Workforce Development Institute to invest in NYATEP and Cornell to pilot an apprenticeship model to bring together a few interested employers and educational partners such as Finger Lakes Community College and Cornell University to develop and implement a rigorous curriculum.

Apprenticeships are workplace-based, intensive training programs that typically include a combination of supervised technical, on-the-job training and classroom instruction at a postsecondary institution. And apprentices earn while they learn, typically at a reduced wage until they have completed the program. Models vary, as do the requirements, but the trademark of an apprenticeship program is that an employer can be certain that if a worker has gone through the program, they have the skills they need to do the work. Employers also have the benefit of customizing training to meet their specific need and often see a cost savings from worker retention. Workers have the unique benefit of having a delineated career pathway that often include credentials, demarcated employer investment, and a wage increase in the near future (all important factors in retention).

We’re hoping this small pilot can demonstrate how the food processing industry in New York can use and benefit from apprenticeship models. We plan to share more about what we’ve learned, and the progress of the pilot in the early summer, so stay tuned. If you would like to learn more about or get involved in the project visit To learn more about apprenticeship models visit:

Melinda Mack is the Executive Director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP), also known as the State’s workforce development association. To learn more about NYATEP, its members, and their efforts related to workforce in New York visit

The challenges of hiring experienced personnel and retaining highly functioning employees are not limited to manufacturing plants. In her blog, Melinda highlights the importance of employee training, which is important in food laboratories as well as food plants. The financial and resource costs of hiring and training can quickly become a burden in high turnover environments. It is critical to partner with vendors and other companies that can support new hire onboarding and new method adoption to help employees quickly become proficient and (more importantly) confident in new testing methods. To learn more about the importance of training and applications to pathogen testing, read our blog on Training and Applications Support.

Click here to learn more about how innovation and automation can impact hiring and employee retention.

Ask for Atlas Brochure download

Topics: Food Safety Technology