Competence Key in 21st Food Processing

March 14th, 2013

News Coverage:

Competence Key in 21st Food Processing

March 14, 2013 By Jeanne Turner

In December 2012, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released national average results from the 2011 administration of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

Students from East Asian countries, along with a few European countries, outperformed students around the world in mathematics, science and reading at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels, with U.S. students—by the numbers—lagging behind.

A  debate ensued over interpreting these numbers.  The Economic Policy Institute suggested the figures should be adjusted to reflect the socioeconomic disparity of U.S. students, while others pointed out U.S. students might not score as well in math, but they are confident about their skills and value math more than their foreign counterparts (TIMMS also ranked student confidence in addition to competence). I am confused about the confidence versus competency score. Should it be a consolation that if a student believes two plus two equals five, we can die happy realizing that although the answer is wrong, the student is confident in their math ability? Lets get one of them to explain the math behind today's low-key celebration of Pi Day.

A refreshing approach is one adopted by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, formed in 2006 without the hindrance of political party affiliation, to build a ‘product’ to allow companies to be successful in this geographic area. One element of this product designed to attract and keep businesses in the northeastern Indiana geographical sector is a talented work force trained to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

As part of a $20-million dollar grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the alliance determined to set up educational learning centers to build and offer a highly skilled workforce. This involves community or technical college programs to retrain the adult workforce in needed skills and a look at the educational system as a whole from K-12.

The region now hosts six New Tech high schools, the largest concentration of such schools outside of New York, which feature integrated subjects and a teaching style focused on a project-based learning format emphasizing STEM—science, technology, engineering and math. The goal is to increase students’ achievements in these topics through an environment similar to a contemporary workplace. Although this area offers school-of-choice selection, parents must put the child’s name into a lottery system to gain a spot at one of the six New Tech schools.

John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Partnership said presently, the area consists of a work force of which 30% possess a two-year, four-year or advanced degree. The partnership’s goal is to move that figure to 60% by 2018.

As part of this mix, the area offers programs to teach certified skills in welding or electronics for example—skills required in a manufacturing environment.

Sampson said another challenge beyond education is convincing parents and children that manufacturing is a viable job opportunity. “There is an image there not reflective of the true environment of today’s manufacturing facilities and opportunities," Sampson said.

At each facility visited during a processing tour in the Fort Wayne area, plant managers and private owners noted the skills required in these facilities are much more technical than in decades past. The rewards are higher as well as evidenced by a highly tenured workforce in most factories visited and a statement by Mike Hughes, plant manager at Kraft in Kendallville, Ind. He says with two years of training at a vocational school a student can find a job that pays $60,000 to $70,000 a year with benefits.

Anyone who still thinks two plus two equals five had better brush up on their math skills to create confidence during a job interview at one of these northeast Indiana firms. And although food processing comprises just 6.6% of the manufacturing sector in northeast Indiana, perhaps the New Tech high school system will inspire a future food technologist or two.