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Ontario cheesemaker shortage sparks new training program

Ontario Dairy Council says the industry will need 200 cheesemakers in the next 10 years

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Ontario’s dairy industry is taking action to address a shortage of cheesemakers in the province with a new formal training program set to launch by 2019.

The Ontario Dairy Council, which represents dairy processors in the province, drove the creation of the program as a direct response to the concerns of its members. The program should help those companies remain competitive as the Canadian market sees a significant increase in European cheese imports under the terms of the new CETA trade deal with the European Union (which took effect Wednesday).

“For many years it has been known that it is very difficult to find a cheesemaker,” said Christina Lewis, president of the Ontario Dairy Council. The ODC would often hear from cheese companies that they couldn’t find trained professionals to oversee their cheese making and would have to poach from other companies or train people from within. And, if they needed to hire someone from outside, there were no formal training standards to evaluate the candidates, said Lewis.

While the industry is meeting consumer demand now it needs more skilled cheesemakers— people who understand the science of making cheese, she said.

The human resources problem facing the industry took on even greater relevance for dairy processors because of the terms of the CETA, which will see 17,000 tons of additional imported European cheeses coming into Canada each year.

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There is no question, more European cheese will be coming into the market and taking shelf space, said Lewis. An increase in the numbers of highly trained cheesemakers will help Ontario diary processing companies remain competitive, produce high quality products and perhaps even create new cheeses.

Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence to develop a plan to solve the problem, ODC decided to conduct formal research to quantify just how big the problem was. ODC partnered with the Agricultural Adaptation Council and got funding as part of the Growing Forward 2 program to survey every cheese company in the province. The research showed over the next 10 years, the sector would need to find 200 cheesemakers.

“The research proves we need cheesemakers, that is the bottom line,” said Lewis. “The second part is, if we need cheesemakers, we need a training program.”

The next step for the ODC was to determine what that training would look like and how it would be delivered. The conclusion was a post-secondary, college-level program with flexible delivery options. One that, for example, high-school graduates could take full-time or else people already working could take as continuing education.

Two partner colleges have been identified and are getting formal approvals to introduce the programs and starting to develop the curricula. One school will deliver the training in English and the other in French. Ideally the program would launch in September 2018, but at this late stage, with details still being worked out and approvals sought, September 2019 is more likely, said Lewis.

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