New OSU online course series gives dairy foods manufacturing employees a leg up in their careers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For the first time in its more than 100-year history, Oregon State University’s dairy program – one of the largest in the United States – is sharing to online learners the skills employees need to gain to be successful in the dairy industry.

The Professional and Continuing Education unit in OSU’s Division of Extension and Engagement now offers three options in Dairy Foods Manufacturing – an essentials certificate, an advanced certificate and a micro certificate.

“Investing in employee training is a commitment to their professional growth and contributes to retention,” said Sheri Cole, Extension dairy specialist and director of OSU’s Sustainable Food Manufacturing program in Food Science and Technology. “Having engaged, well-trained employees who feel successful and want to work in the dairy industry is critical. Developing and delivering impactful work force training is a priority for OSU, which has one of the largest educational dairy manufacturing programs in the U.S.”

Oregon’s dairy industry includes 228 dairy farm families and 31 processors that provide more than $1 billion in economic impacts annually, according to the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council. Dairy manufacturing is experiencing a serious labor shortage, said Cole, who is leading the new online program with support from industry leaders.

Historically, OSU’s dairy workforce training focused exclusively on in-person delivery. Often this meant that people couldn’t participate because being away from the job was a business and personal challenge, Cole said.

“We wanted the whole program design to work for them,” she said. “The user experience is as important as the content.”

The online certificates have been in development since 2018. Cole collaborated with the OSU Arbuthnot Dairy Center Advisory board, which includes members from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, Oregon Cheese Guild, Oregon Dairy Farmers Association and Oregon and Washington dairy foods manufacturers.

Financial support came from the Pacific Coast Coalition, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Dairy Business Innovation Initiative collaboration of university-based dairy manufacturing programs in Oregon, California and Washington. Technical experts Zeynep Atamer, who has a courtesy appointment with OSU Food Science and Technology, and consultant Marc Bates worked with Cole to develop the 23 modules that are used for the certificates.

The essentials certificate provides in-depth exploration of core technical topics for people who have limited or no experience or are early in their careers in dairy manufacturing. The advanced certificate builds on the essentials certificate and includes modules on specialized topics like dry dairy ingredient manufacturing or specialty cheese manufacturing and is meant for those already in the industry who want to deepen their technical knowledge to enhance their careers.

“Our intention with the training content and delivery is to continuously improve it based on client feedback,” Cole said. “We tested the modules before they were launched and will add new modules as the program evolves.”

OSU plans to add modules in food quality and safety, as well as a Spanish-language version of the dairy foods manufacturing modules in 2024.

The knowledge gained from the dairy certificate tracks and modules will help learners with the essentials of:

  • Operations.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Quality.
  • Supply chain.
  • Technical and scientific understanding.
  • Regulations and safety.

The first module that serves as an introduction to the U.S. dairy industry is free. The rest of the modules are $50 for Oregon, Washington and California residents, and $75 for individuals who live outside of those states.

The costs for the essential and advanced certificate courses range from $600-$1,100. The costs of the modules were purposely kept reasonable, “to be accessible to all, including small, artisan makers where price can be a barrier,” Cole said.

“There are a lot of jobs out there for food manufacturing in general and dairy manufacturing specifically,” Cole said. “The technical roles in manufacturing, quality and supply chain are essential to make safe, high-quality and consistent products. It’s important to attract great employees and make sure they want to stay and investing in the right training is key to making that happen.”

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