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Speaker Spotlight

Q&A with
Connie Lindstrom, Senior Biofuels Analyst, Christianson PLLP

Featured in the Conference Panel:
Workforce Management

What's the biggest workforce-related challenge facing ethanol plant management today?
Probably turnover, but not because turnover rates are climbing (they're not). It's simply more critical now to have an experienced team, than it ever has been before. The market is mature, margins are fairly lean, and those organizations who aren't optimizing their production run the risk of being squeezed out. With technology becoming more standardized, the difference between a good plant and a great one can easily come down to having a team that knows how to run the plant well, batch after batch.

How should a company handle employee training--a formal training program for new production staff or more case-by-case?
It's becoming more common to formalize, or at least document, training and procedures for all employees, not just new staff and not just production workers. Not only does this help ensure a well-run plant, good training accomplishes a couple of other goals as well. First, documentation of procedures, and then documenting how those procedures are followed, is often part of new regulatory requirements for initiatives related to food safety and greenhouse gas reduction. Therefore, a formalized training program can go a long way toward preparing to meet those kinds of documentation requirements. Secondly, we've now got four generations all trying to work together in the labor force--experienced plant managers need to keep in mind that younger workers are often motivated by opportunities to learn and follow a career path. Creating training programs gives managers a way to showcase the opportunities their faciilty offers for lifelong skills advancement.

What's one thing a management team can do to ensure that it has a strong workforce in the future?
They can make sure to brand their plant as a stable, high-quality employer in their community. Many plants, especially more rural ones, aren't competing for workers against other local employers; they're competing against the lure of stable employment in urban areas. Many people may be aware that your business exists, but how many kids in your local school system know they could come home after college and manage a lab or work as an engineer? Open houses, school group tours and positive press releases are all pretty simple things a management team can do to improve the visibility of the opportunities for employment at an ethanol plant.

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