BY GREG STAMPER
Conestoga College is home to a wide variety of unique programs. From bartending to cabinetmaking and everything in between, the choices are endless. However, one program stands out as the most intriguing, yet not very well known – food processing.
Conestoga’s Craig Richardson Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT), which is located inside the recently built Cambridge campus, was created in 2009 in partnership with the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors (AOFP). The IFPT opened in September 2011 with small classrooms, mechanical shops, laboratory settings and a pilot plant featuring different real-world processing lines, designed to help students by providing first-hand experiences.
The food processing industry is the second largest manufacturing sector in the province, employing over 110,000 workers. However, despite the large employment numbers, recent studies conducted by the AOFP identified significant shortages in the skilled trades area of the industry such as electronic instrument techniques, industrial electricians and process operators.
The IFPT was created in direct response to these studies, as an up-to-date training facility capable of providing students with unique skills that employers of the food processing industry are continuously seeking.
“Our students graduate with very strong mechanical skills in terms of their millwright skills, they take a welding course, a couple of electrical courses and we match those trades-oriented skill sets with the food processing and food safety knowledge that is so vital in industry,” said Mihaela Simion, program manager of the IFPT.
Conestoga is one of only two schools in Ontario in which food processing programs are offered, a strange statistic considering how vast the industry is. However, because it is one of the only places offering such programs, it helps to promote the importance of the IFPT throughout the province.
The food that is processed inside the pilot plant follows all of the food safety practices and consists of real ingredients that are either purchased or donated to the school such as flour, sugar and yeast in the bakery line, and potatoes and carrots in the vegetable line.
The food that is processed during a class is never sold for profit and, in most cases, is produced in such a small amount that students of the IFPT and the rest of the college get to enjoy it free of charge.
The IFPT has also been known to donate product manufactured by students to college events, something that Simion views as a win-win for everybody.
“It (donating) helps spread the word about how interesting and fun classes are in the food processing technician program.”
Two programs in the IFPT are offered at a post-secondary level, the food processing technician program and food processing techniques program, while the other programs are designed as professional development opportunities for individuals already working in the industry.
For more information go to www.ifpt.ca or attend the Conestoga open house on Nov. 30 from 1 to 3 p.m.