NC State’s Dr. Adam Fahrenholz discusses the type of employee best adapted to the shift
Labor shortages and difficulty with employee retention have long challenged feed manufacturers. While new technologies will lessen that burden, the next generation of feed employees will need to possess different attributes than the traditional operator.
To explore what the future feed mill workforce will look like and what employees need to bring to the table, North Carolina State University‘s associate feed milling professor Adam Fahrenholz joined the Chat.
Transcription of Feed Strategy Chat with Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor – feed milling, NC State University
Jackie Roembke, editor in chief, WATT Feed Brands/Feed Strategy: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I’m your host, Jackie Roembke, editor in chief of WATT Feed Brands and Feed Strategy magazine.
This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and FeedStrategy.com. FeedStrategy.com is your source for the latest news and leading-edge analysis of the global animal feed industry.
Today, we’re joined on Zoom by Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor of feed milling at NC State University. He’s here to discuss new technologies that will shape the skillset of the feed industry’s future workforce.
Hi, Dr. Fahrenholz, how are you?
Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor – feed milling, NC State University: I’m good. Jackie, how are you?
Roembke: I’m doing well. Thank you so much. Thanks for being here again. Well, let’s get right into it. So I’m curious, since you entered the feed industry, what would you describe as — or what do you feel is — the single innovation that has made the biggest difference in the mill?
Fahrenholz: That’s a really good question. Um, I don’t know. It’d be really hard to pick one. I imagined for a lot of different facilities, it’s something different. I would say most likely, though, it’s going to be something that ties back to that idea of efficiency — trying to figure out how to make more feed either more quickly or with less input time or something like that.
A lot of that would probably tie back to our automation systems. So you know, it could be a specific piece of the automation or an additional way that the automation could be used. When we think about something like a variable frequency drive being used on screw conveyors and things like that, the idea of a variable frequency drive isn’t new, but how they’re being used and in how many places they’re being used certainly is, as we see in the new feed mills built.
So I think some of those innovations might not even necessarily be brand new things, but new applications of existing things as price points have come down and things like that. But no matter what the technology is, I would imagine, for most people, it’s tied back to something related to that efficiency piece that’s really made their life easier, or able to get more done in a certain amount of time or with less input, whatever the case may be.
Roembke: Thanks for sharing that insight. In your experience, or from today’s perspective, how do you think new technologies affect the feed mill workforce the most and why?
Fahrenholz: I think, hopefully, anyway, it makes their life a little bit easier. Again, they’re able to get more done, maybe they’re doing a little bit less manual input, or writing down keeping records, the technologies that have that stuff more automated, maybe also more complete, and not missing steps and things like that.
Hopefully, also, not just making it easier, but reducing the stress level.
I think we’re probably moving past some of the issues from a generational standpoint, where those technologies were seen as being scary to the existing workforce. Two generations now have been around it for a long enough time, or certainly any of our younger generations coming in, they’re all about the technology, this is what they’ve grown up on.
I think that has really changed a lot about how people look at it. They’re more excited about embracing technology if it can be helpful to them rather than going ‘that’s not the way we’ve always done it, I don’t care for that’ — and that’s that should be a positive to our industry as we move forward.
Join us on January 24 at the Feed Mill of the Future Conference for Dr. Adam Fahrenholz’s presentation, “Imagining, developing the feed industry’s future workforce.”
Roembke: I agree. And of these innovations, what do you think will have the greatest impact long term?
Fahrenholz: It’s hard to say right now anything other than stuff that gets tied back to food safety, and record keeping and things like that. That’s been a huge part of our lives over the last, let’s say, five to seven years with all the new regulations.
But there’s probably things that are just coming into play now, or that we’re hearing about in other industries, that we expect to come in, i.e. sensors based off of the internet of things, or IoT, that we can put a sensor anywhere we want in the facility. We hear companies talk about things like putting a sensor in a motor that senses very small changes in vibrations, and now I know that motor is going to fail long before it actually does, and I can already have the plan in place to replace it and fix it before something just stops working one day. I think those are the things that while they’re not necessarily part of what we’re doing right now, I think it’s coming.
I think all this data collection that we’re doing will help us run these facilities. And every year, we’re getting closer and closer to this lights-out automation idea where, yeah, the place just kind of runs itself and we’re diverting people off into doing regulatory and quality and safety things because the feed can more or less kind of take care of itself.
I think we’re heading there. And for some facilities, the next time they build something new, we’ll be even closer and for others, it’ll be a long time coming. But I think a lot of that will be a part of the future as we move forward.
Roembke: How should be producers be working to identify and also prepare for tomorrow’s labor needs in this in this context?
Fahrenholz: The prepare for part, I think, is like any other, it’s probably the same conversation that anybody in human resources has anywhere in the world right now is, what are my future employees going to care the most about? And how do I make this a place they want to come work? What are the things that are advantageous about our business? What can I sell about our business, the intrinsic things that are good about it? Hey, we’re helping feed the world and all that other kind of stuff. And then always the basic, you know, what are the benefits, but also any flexibilities we can offer, those normal HR things always prepare for that, as well as knowing that we’re going to have incoming workforce that wants to talk about sustainability and accountability and all those things.
So that’s just from the HR standpoint, right? From the the actual manufacturing of feed standpoint, in the actual identification side. One of the things that we know and I remember hearing this all the time growing up, or starting in the industry, I guess I should say, this idea of like, well, we really like the kids that, you know, have a rural background have, you know, worked with their hands grew up on the farm, whatever. And there’s not as much of that anymore. Just kind of in a general sense as we move towards urbanization.
And so this idea of, you’re going to have to identify people that you can train to do certain things, versus ‘Oh, I’m just going to go get that person.’ And as long as I can teach them how to make feed, they already know how to fix this, they already know how to work with that. … There’s going to be a lot of having to hire people very different than what the person doing the hiring was when they came into the industry, right? The people they’re looking at are not going to be what they were when they started. And that’ll be something that we all have to learn as we go, I think.
Roembke: As an educator, how would you describe those core attributes that you think would you make the best next gen of feed mill operators or management?
Fahrenholz: I want somebody that’s willing to learn. That’s going to be willing to come in and say, ‘I don’t know how to do that, but teach me and I’m definitely wanting to learn,’ right?
So that inquisitive nature, asking questions, someone’s going to come into an interview and ask questions back, right, that clearly has kind of a thirst for knowledge, that’s going to be a big one.
We hear it all the time from our potential employees, the ability to think critically. So when we’re talking about, again, assessing employees, whether it be interviews for an open position, or looking at the potential to promote from within, I want to think about things, whether it be interview questions or scenarios, whatnot, that I’m testing their ability to think critically on a situation if this happens, then what will I do next? And how will that impact the next three things down the road?
Instead of, OK, this happened, I can fix this. OK, now, I’ve got to go ask you what to do next. I want to know that I can have somebody that can think on their feet a little bit. And then if I can marry that with some of the base knowledge of them having about agriculture, equipment, business practices and certainly if any of those are specifically tied to feed manufacturing from the few programs that are currently doing that, but even if it’s the ones even in some places that aren’t because there’s a really large need for employees, and we’re not going to fill them all from the few programs that are doing it from an academic sense.
It’s trying to figure out where we can marry those skills together. But I think in a lot of cases, it’s that it’s someone that’s willing to learn and someone that that can think and can critically think and put pieces together. And then we train them about the feed industry.
Roembke: For a deep dive on some of the things we talked about today — and if you’ll be at IPPE 2023 in Atlanta — consider joining us at the Feed Mill of the Future Conference on January 24. Here, Dr. Fahrenholz will present his talk, “Imagining, developing the feed industry’s future workforce.” For more information, visit www.feedmillofthefuture.com.
Thanks, Dr. Fahrenholz, and thank to you for tuning in.
= Event At-A-Glance =
2023 Feed Mill of the Future Conference
How efficiency, innovation and sustainability
will shape the feed industry of tomorrow
Co-located with IPPE 2023 | Atlanta, GA, USA
January 24, 2023 | 8 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | Room B203
Fee: $95 early bird | $125 after Jan. 6, 2023
View the full agenda here: www.feedmillofthefuture.com
How to register: To attend the Feed Mill of the Future Conference, attendees must first register
to attend IPPE. Register today for the lowest ticket price, go to www.ippexpo.org, and visit the “Education Programs” for details.