Brewing a new future for beer-making in Canada
Olds College brewmaster Duncan Britton, middle, goes over the equipment with a group of first-year students in 2013.
The Olds College brewery program is filling an urgent need for skilled labour in the brewing industry, and Canada’s brewmasters know it.
Before Olds College and Ontario’s Niagara College partnered to form the program, there was no formal brewery education in Canada, said Peter Johnston-Berresford, co-ordinator of the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program at Olds College.
The program started in 2013, and receives funding from Alberta Barley.
Before the program, workers in the Canadian brewing industry were typically trained on the job, or came into the profession after some time as home brewers, Johnston-Berresford said.
Now students who come through the program—who vary between fresh-faced 20 year olds and retirees—will have the training to start in their preferred line of work immediately after graduating.
“We give them the educational advantage,” Johnston-Berresford said. “The idea here is we give students an opportunity to accelerate their careers that much more quickly.”
There are currently 16 craft breweries and brewpubs in Alberta. Johnston-Berresford isn’t afraid Alberta’s poor economic outlook will affect the industry’s growth.
“Beer appears to be fairly recession-proof,” he said.
The need for what Olds College has been offering is clear. There are many kinds of job opportunities for the students coming out of the program, Johnston-Berresford said. “I think we all focus too much on ‘well, I need to be a brewer.’ Well that’s absolutely not the case.”
Students have been offered opportunities in sales and marketing, packaging, malting and even the distilling industry, Johnston-Berresford said. A particular edge is their training in the chemical side of brewing, he said, since that’s become very important to modern brewing.
Most of the students graduating this year already have jobs lined up, said Tony Stolz, the brewery program’s business manager. Stolz told the story of two headhunting inquiries the college had recently. The college had been worried that they wouldn’t find students who hadn’t already been spoken for.
In addition, some of the students have entrepreneurial ambitions. “A lot of them want to start up their own businesses,” Stolz said.
Johnston-Berreford said he feels the program could also contribute to rural sustainability, since it provides the training needed to support small breweries in rural locations. These breweries and brewpubs, he said, would add to the community and give people more of a reason to stay in their hometown.
“I love this whole idea of brewing as a value-added product that came straight out of something that’s been produced in your own backyard.”