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Key Takeaways from Food Logistics Forum

By Holly Mockus   |   

The American Frozen Foods Institute (AFFI) Logistics Forum provided an opportunity to bring together many different stakeholders that are affected not only by the FSMA Sanitary Transport Rule, but also by the same headwinds that are affecting the entire food industry.  Attendees also had a chance to meet Alison Bodor, the new AFFI President and CEO at the event. The forum shared a wealth of useful information, from legislative topics to case studies, panel discussions, sector summaries by subject matter experts, as well as providing opportunities for networking. To say the least, this conference was value packed.

I was struck by how the challenges and opportunities for both manufacturing and logistics in the food industry overlap. We all share multi-generational workforces, the need to develop supervisors and managers, workforce shortages, capturing institutional knowledge from those preparing to retire, and the increasing pressures of regulation.

 

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Photo by: Alchemy Systems

 

How can companies attract the future generation of food logistics workers?

Logistics Forum attendees heard from Kern High School’s Regional Occupational Center (ROC) administrator, Brian Miller, who presented a model that has been working for their students. In partnership with the food industry, Kern High School now offers certificate programs for students in agriculture mechanics, machine repair and operation, animal care and handling, food science, and now logistics, to name a few. All are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions.

Consider the following model:

  • Develop a learning plan and set of competencies in partnership with each school.
  • Students attend 3-hour-per-day programs, including lessons outlined in the learning plan.
  • Students attend an additional one- and two-hour program, including hands on opportunities with participating food companies.
  • Develop and offer a career track for incoming student workers.
  • Report on successes and revise approach as needed.
  • Participate in any on-campus recruiting events offered. 

The ROC program trains and places 2,000 students in vocational occupations each year, including job placement for hard to fill positions in the food industry. It’s a great way to solve for recruiting challenges we all face.

 

How should companies cultivate and retain talent?

Training was a thread that ran through many of the presentations. Whether it’s a frontline food handler, truck driver, or fork lift driver, ‘sit and get’ just doesn’t meet the need anymore.  It’s all about providing the knowledge, the use of passive tools like digital signage and posters for reinforcement, and then driving home the expectations through observation and coaching – both positive and corrective.

 

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The model consists of the following steps:

  • Breaking down a specific process into a sequence of small steps
  • Train and onboard employees covering all process steps
  • Observe, measure, and document baseline level of employee knowledge following training
  • Reinforce training with huddle talks, digital signage, posters, and other avenues of always-on communication
  • Empower supervisors to observe individual employees; positive reinforcement is effective, and any corrective actions should be non-punitive in order to encourage and build up workers’ skills sets
  • Recognize exemplary performance
  • Repeat the process on a sustained basis
  • Observe and validate improvements, and revise or augment your programs accordingly

These kinds of programs usher new employees toward success, and encourage existing employees to stay. Rewards and recognition help motivate employees to continue to develop and grow. Companies may also entertain potential mentorship programs to help capture the expertise of employees getting ready to leave the workforce. 

 

How can companies align truck drivers and transportation employees with food safety objectives?

Truck drivers shoulder a big responsibility for ensuring the cold chain is strong. Their responsibilities have expanded beyond driving safely and following all transportation regulations. Today drivers play a critical role in ensuring that temperature sensitive products get from point A to point B safely, at the proper temperature, under sanitary conditions, and on time.

Drivers must understand all food safety principles applicable to the cold chain. Laura McMillan, VP of Training at Instructional Technologies Inc. (ITI) suggests, “Following lessons, a hands-on session with drivers to review equipment and temperature control requirements will reinforce food safety concepts.”

Bottom line—don’t leave drivers in the cold. Provide them with the knowledge and procedures needed to do their jobs well. Be sure they know how to maintain proper cold chain controls for sensitive, temperature controlled products.

  

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Final Thoughts: 

These are just a few of the takeaways attendees benefitted from at this year’s Food Logistics Forum. I’d like to offer kudos to the AFFI team and my fellow presenters for putting together such a great program.

The venue was idyllic, offering breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains in Sunriver, Oregon. Another benefit—all presentations and panel discussions were held back to back so there was no need to pick and choose or scurry from room to room.

From end to end, this event offered an unforgettable experience in networking and learning. I’m looking forward to the next one, and I hope to meet you there!

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About the Author

With over 30 years of experience in the food industry at companies like ConAgra, Kellogg, and Sara Lee, Holly has recently joined the Alchemy Systems team where she currently helps the firm to create world class workforce development solutions for large, complex operations within the food industry.

Holly has held positions in food safety, quality assurance, sanitation, and plant regulatory affairs. She has authored several chapters related to the importance of record keeping and documentation in the food industry. She was honored to become the 2013 recipient of the Safe Quality Food Institute's Outstanding Achievement Award, and is passionate about the importance of training in the food industry including the cultivation of successful safety cultures.

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