Displaced workers find new food manufacturing careers

June 1, 2012

From wausaudailyherald.com: “MSTC food manufacturing science certificate program opens opportunities for displaced workers” — After more than 30 years in the retail industry, Tom Halseth lost his job as manager of the Stevens Point J.C. Penney when the store closed in May 2010.

The 60-year-old Plover resident, faced with the prospect of starting a new career, soon enrolled in Mid-State Technical College’s food manufacturing science certificate program and now is working as a quality assurance technician at Mariani Packing Co. in Wisconsin Rapids.

“After losing my job, I was willing to do almost anything,” Halseth said.

Halseth was one of the first 18 people to complete the food manufacturing science certificate program last year at Mid-State Technical College as part of south Wood County’s Workforce Central initiative, which helps local dislocated workers gain the skills employers need by creating specialized training courses.

The 23-week, 20-credit program provides participants with 472 hours of instruction in three areas — computer skills, Manufacturing Skill Standards Certification and food science — through a curriculum a group of local businesses helped create to suit their need for skilled workers, said Jennifer Riggenbach, who coordinates the Workforce Central initiative through the Wisconsin Rapids-based Incourage Community Foundation.

Credits students earned in the program also could count toward a laboratory science technician degree.

“It was scary at first because I hadn’t been in school for so long,” Halseth said. “It was very encouraging and made us feel good about what we were doing. … We knew that there were businesses and people in the community helping us out, too.”

For food manufacturers, such as Mariani Packing Co., the certification program means less of a need for on-the-job training, said Jeff Pozorski, human resources manager for the Wisconsin Rapids cranberry processor, which has hired half a dozen people who earned the certificate.

“The biggest thing is they’ve been able to come in and hit the ground running,” Pozorski said. “It eliminates some of the learning curve.”

For Halseth, the certificate allowed him to return to the career path he originally chose.

“I was going to go into food science to begin with,” said Halseth, who previously earned a degree in microbiology but upon graduation from college was convinced by his part-time employer to stay in the retail industry.

“It was fun to see how things changed in 30 years,” he said.

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