August 10, 2016

The interview - Shawn Thiele

Shawn Thiele was a graduate of the Milling Science and Management program with the Grain Science and Industry department at Kansas State University (KSU). After graduating from KSU, he spent the first eight years of his career working for Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His time with Quaker Oats was spent managing the operations and process improvement projects for the world’s largest oat mill, as well as a white and yellow corn mill, oat flour operations, and instant grit operations. In 2012, he moved back to Manhattan, Kansas to take the Milling Operations Manager role with the Department of Grain Science and Industry. He spent four years at KSU managing the Hal Ross flourmill and milling labs, teaching advanced undergraduate milling classes and labs, assisting with research activities utilising the school milling equipment, and teaching flour milling short courses at the IGP Institute. His past experience with both industry and the university has helped to transition him into his current role as the flour milling and grain processing curriculum manager.

You have been with KSU for a number of years, and worked in the industry for a long time before that. During your time, have there been many major changes in the industry and the way training is done?
The industry continues to see changes and is faced with new challenges every year. I feel some of the biggest changes are around consumer awareness of food safety and quality resulting in more rigorous food regulations, company consolidation, staying updated with new technology but still profitable, and a large retiring workforce in the next 10 years. Just as the industry is changing, training also needs to adapt to best resemble the policies and practices that industry is required to meet increasing quality and safety issues both with food and employees.

You have said you “hope to strengthen and expand the IGP Institute’s milling and processing courses through new and innovative teaching materials to provoke learning for participants and vest interest from the industry to energise the consumption of US grains worldwide.” What sort of new teaching materials or methods do you aim to use? And how do you envisage increasing industry interest?
Continuous updating of teaching materials to stay current with the changing industry is required in order to be successful as an educational provider. This is done by not only delivering accurate information, but creating a course and material that is exciting and interactive among participants. Eye catching lecture material and more hands on training in the school mill and labs is critical to information retention and keeping the interest of the students. Student engagement through classroom and lab discussion and questions is also key to creating a productive and fun learning environment. I believe the success of a training course is directly related to the impact it provides for the industry. Companies invest ample amounts of money to send employees to the IGP Institute for training with the expectation of seeing a positive return on their investment. Effective training enables participants to practice what they have learned and showcase their newly acquired skills and knowledge at their place of work. Employees performing at a higher level drive positive results within a company. Investing in professional development has shown to be very valuable for organisations through increased motivation and improvements in productivity.

According to the IGP website, last year the Institute conducted 61 courses for nearly 1500 participants from 51 countries and you expect this to increase in the future. Which regions do these students tend to come from? Why do you think that is and what could be done to attract students from other areas?
Individuals come from all over the world and those particular regions change depending on the economic climate. We would like to attract participants from other countries, especially developing markets, but marketing to those individuals poses a challenge.

According to statistics, fewer young people are studying at agricultural schools. The IGP Institute’s own increase in students notwithstanding, globally, might there be a similar drop off in the numbers of milling students? If so, how can this be remedied?
Currently every industry is suffering from an increasing workforce age and impact of retirement for baby boomers now and in the next decade. The grain and milling industry is no exception and will likely see a vast loss of experienced people that will have to be replaced by the younger generations. This is, and will continue to create an immense need for continued education to help fill the gap of lost knowledge and experience from the retiring workforce.

Why do you think it is that the Institute is so highly regarded and attracts so many students?
An organisation is only as good as the people that drive it and the IGP Institute and the department of Grain Science and Industry at KSU has a talented and motivated team to lead courses and train participants. The IGP Institute offers courses in areas of flour milling and grain processing, grain marketing and risk management, feed manufacturing and grain management, HACCP and food safety, extrusion processing, and pet food manufacturing which reach out to a large audience across the world. Not only does the IGP Institute offer on-campus trainings, but also faculty led customised on-location workshops and distance education courses. These trainings are led by highly skilled KSU faculty with industry experience and industry professionals who are energetic and motivated about the opportunity to serve, train, and interact with participants to improve the industry and market preference.

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