Friday, July 13, 2018

Facing the Talent Shortage Head-On with Apprenticeships

By: Elliot Forsyth

Having skilled, competent employees is key to an organization’s success. This is no longer easy for manufacturers to come by, however, as a massive talent shortage has emerged in the industry in recent years, leaving many jobs unfilled and tasks undone. It is expected that this talent gap will result in millions of positions remaining vacant in the years to come, a number that will only continue to grow if nothing is done to counteract this trend.

To provide solutions, we must first understand the roots of the problem. Many issues and challenges have combined to create the perfect storm for manufacturing jobs, including:
  1. Silver Tsunami. The large number of baby boomers retiring each year, also referred to as the “silver tsunami,” has been anticipated for years, yet it is still a main contributing factor to the talent shortage. These experienced workers continue to leave the workforce at an increasing rate, taking their skills with them and leaving behind vacancies that cannot be filled easily. Decades of experience in manufacturing cannot be taught to new workers overnight, making it nearly impossible to sufficiently fill the voids these workers leave behind.
  2. Industry 4.0. As new and interconnected technologies, commonly known as Industry 4.0, continue to grow in the manufacturing world, more and more manufacturers are having difficulty keeping up with the latest trends. In addition to trying to understand the vast amount of innovations currently on the market, manufacturers face the added challenge of finding talent with the skills and education necessary to operate such technologies. Industry 4.0 calls for a new kind of worker, with more advanced and more specific skills than previously needed for a career in manufacturing, adding to the gap in talent needed and talent available.
  3. Education and training. The issue of insufficient training and education has contributed largely to the skills gap facing manufacturers. From lack of interest in STEM career paths to lack of awareness about career opportunities available to lack of proper training for those interested in pursuing a manufacturing career, it can be difficult to prepare the students of today for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow. 
At this point you may be asking yourself, “How can we close the skills gap?” I recently published a blog offering one answer to this problem: education reform. There I explained how Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), are working to gather insights and recommend changes or additions to college courses to better target the skills gap and prepare workers for current manufacturing job requirements.

Another solution is apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are one of the most effective, proven ways to directly train and retain workers while shrinking the talent shortage. As most processes in manufacturing involve detailed protocols and a deep understanding of equipment, it is crucial that all workers have comprehensive training in order to be successful. Placing students directly on the factory floor with experienced employees providing guidance can eliminate challenges associated with poor training. Implementing on-the-job training for students not only provides them with valuable hands-on learning experiences, but connects manufacturers with future workers.

Additionally, apprenticeships provide manufacturers with a way to invest in the future of their company and their employees, giving them a solid foundation and room to grow within their organization. Investing time and effort in training and developing staff through apprenticeships can boost your company’s desirability, helping workers to envision future growth and career opportunities in your company. This can support employee retention efforts, as well as attract outside workers seeking to grow their skills. Ultimately your organization can become a company of choice that is recognized for its commitment to developing the next generation of manufacturers.

Want to start your own apprenticeship program? Come to a free info session hosted by Automation Alley and The Center to learn more about how to implement a registered apprenticeship program in your facility. Held from 9:30 am to 11:30 am on Tuesday, July 24 in Plymouth, speakers at this event will answer the following questions:
  • What is a registered apprenticeship program?
  • Why should my company consider implementing this training model?
  • What resources are available to get started?
Methods such as apprenticeships and education reform are two proven ways to combat the talent shortage. Although it will take years of combined efforts from the government, schools and manufacturers to successfully address this skills gap, steps such as these can go a long way in raising the next generation of manufacturers.

Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, June 22, 2018

What Does a Food Safety Plan Really Consist Of?

By: John Spillson

In 2011 President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law, bringing about the most sweeping changes the food safety industry has seen in 70 years. This introduced the Food Safety Plan (FSP), which is the primary document that guides your Preventive Controls Food Safety System. While the ‘why’ of the FSMA has been publicized quite extensively, not as much has been explained about the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘when.’

To answer these questions, we must first start with ‘what’ it is in order to understand ‘who’ should be involved and ‘how’ to comply, as well as ‘why’ you’d want to. Previous food safety standards were mostly reactionary, while the new movement puts its focus on prevention through risk-based analysis. The focus of the new FSP lies in the prevention of hazards throughout the process. The FDA is granted more authority to offer guidance and assess fines and fees, as well as order recalls (which had previously been left to individual companies). Food processors also are now tasked with incurring more inspections, increasing record keeping and monitoring supply chains.

The crux of the FSP can be summed up in two words: preventive controls. Preventive controls are specific to a facility and product, taking into consideration the severity of a hazard as well as its likeliness of occurring. The process of preventive controls begins with understanding the food safety pyramid (not to be confused with the food group pyramid). As seen in the figure below, the foundation of every FSP should be well-written and effective Prerequisite Programs (PRPs), current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). Quite often preventive controls will exist in these foundational programs.
HACCP and HARPC plans, the next level on the pyramid, rely on solid PRPs, cGMPs and SSOPs in order to be effective. Only after these robust standards are in place can you consider a Global Food Safety Initiative-recognized scheme such as SQF, BRC or FSSC 22000. Having a solid understanding of the four categories where hazards may lie – physical, chemical, biological and radiological – helps develop the game plan for preventing these hazards from occurring.

The three big takeaways here are to identify, prevent and document. Identify the potential hazards or risks by considering their severity as well as likeliness to occur. Prevent and/or control the identified hazards through a proven or documented successful means. And finally, document, document, document. There must be a record of how an identified risk is controlled. If it’s not written down it didn’t happen. Recall plans also are an integral part of an FSP. Names, numbers and contact information must be readily available in order to contact the Reportable Food Registry, regulatory officials, impacted customers and even the public. It is best for food processors to think of themselves as food safety companies that happen to produce food.

Now that we know what it is and how to comply, we should explore who must be involved, and when they need to be compliant. New to the food safety acronym world are QI and PCQI.  QI, or Qualified Individual, is the name given to the person in the facility who performs a task. It doesn’t matter what the task is, as long as the person doing it has been adequately trained in performing that particular part of the process.

Second, and the true manager of the FSP, is the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual, or PCQI. The PCQI holds the most important role in the FSP: to develop, write and maintain the FSP. They must verify and validate the preventive controls as well as establish corrections or corrective actions when there has been a deviation from the FSP. This individual also needs to reevaluate the FSP every three years (or after any recall or significant change in a process). In order to become the company’s PCQI, an individual must either have adequate knowledge or job experience to develop and apply a food safety system, or complete a PCQI certification course.

In terms of who this applies to and when you must comply: Unless your company is so small and have been given an exemption, you’ll need to have an FSP, complete with a recall plan in order to sell your packaged food in a retail setting. Food processors with sales above $1M and more than 500 employees were required to comply by September of 2016, while small processors with fewer than 500 employees had to comply by September of 2017. Very small processors, those with sales below $1M, must comply by September of 2018.

FSMA brought forth many challenges and new ways of thinking for food processors, bringing benefits as well for safely producing food products. The old days of being reactionary now have been replaced with progressive, forward-thinking methodologies that aim to eliminate or control known hazards.

At The Center, we often work on-site with food processors to improve their efficiencies and make lasting changes. Additionally, we offer a one-day Fundamentals of Food Processing course that touches on FSMA/PCQI requirements and responsibilities, as well as the only recommended course to certify PCQIs. To learn more about these courses, or to register for an upcoming class, contact or call 888.414.6682.

John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John works to develop and expand the food program at The Center. His experience operating his own business has given him knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. John comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, following both parents and grandparents in operating their own family food businesses. Prior to joining The Center, John owned and operated his own food processing company for more than 20 years. He loves helping food processors almost as much as he loves food itself.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at