Should I take online courses to advance my food safety career?
One of the questions I’m commonly asked by Food Safety and Quality professionals is whether I think they should take continuing education courses to help their career prospects.
The answer is always yes.
That’s the easy part.
The more pertinent question is “WHAT continuing education courses should I take?”
And for me, that answer is easy as well.
Data Science and the Food Industry
If you’re a Food Safety or Quality professional, you probably spend the majority of your day working with data sets, large and small, from various disparate sources.
Throw in all the different departments, people and processes involved in sourcing ingredients, developing a product and delivering a product to consumers and well, it’s no wonder managing all that data can be a messy, convoluted inefficient process.
But in recent years, a confluence of events, intermediaries and consumer sentiment have accelerated the appetite for a more transparent, simple to understand set of data from which the food industry can work with.
The explosion of plant-based and cell-based food and beverages using novel ingredients requires creating a verification and validation process from scratch with new variables that didn’t exist before.
Consumer, industry and regulatory demand for supply chain transparency has accelerated innovation and the scaling of food traceability, cold-chain monitoring and document control solutions for the food and beverage industry.
The volume of new products being brought to the market by up-start brands are now entering the commercialization and technology transfer phase, which requires not only the transfer of product development and production in-house but also the hand-off of production data, quality and shelf-life data that may have previously sat with a partner.
That’s a lot of data.
And this is not going on with smaller companies – it’s going on at Tyson Foods, at Nestle and General Mills, and this is where there is an opportunity for a Food Safety or Quality professional to stand out.
Becoming an expert in data analytics can be a game-changer for Food Safety & Quality professionals
What if you up-skilled yourself to be an expert in data analysis or a programming language?
What if you took it upon yourself to learn scripting to be able to manipulate and consolidate large volumes of data into comprehensible dashboards for executive teams.
That’s where I would recommend Food Safety & Quality professionals spend time developing their skills, taking online courses and applying for internal projects that require these skill sets.
The point of this is NOT to become a data scientist per se or to make a complete career change.
It’s to evolve as a Food Safety and Quality professional.
The important consideration is to understand WHY you’re learning about data science.
It’s NOT to become a data scientist per se.
It’s to become an effective consumer and communicator of data in specific environments that hold high value within a food or beverage company.
That could mean taking the reins on moving sensory and consumer insights data in-house from a 3rd party.
It could mean serving as Program Manager for a brand moving its pilot plant in-house and importing the manufacturing data from the current contract manufacturer.
It could mean consolidating disparate data warehouses from a recent acquisition and setting up a new ingredient and innovation platform for your company.
See, the thing that I always try to convey to any ambitious professional who works in R&D or Food Safety or Quality is these projects HAVE to get done….by someone.
It could be someone in Marketing who takes the stretch project for themselves.
Or it could be a new hire who the company has to overpay for.
Or it could be one of your peers.
Or it could be you.
Once you’ve got a project like this under your belt, you’ve effectively moved from being perceived as an individual contributor / specialist to a high-impact problem solver.
And you’ve opened yourself up to significantly more career opportunities, laterally and upward, in the food and beverage industry as well as adjacent(broader consumer packaged goods).
So what online courses should I take?
I’ve compiled some online learning platforms and online courses you can check out.
If there’s one you’re aware of or that you’ve enrolled in and completed, I would love to hear your feedback.
We are actively reviewing a number of these programs currently with other Food Safety, Quality and R&D professionals so as time goes, we’ll be adding the feedback we’ve received from each program.
Cost, access, content and your personal preferences to course structure are the most important factors to choosing a continuing education program, so definitely review on your own.
Here they are for now, in no particular order – we do receive a small commission if you enroll in any of these programs, but it does not impact what you pay for the programs. In fact, several are free.
On the same note, we won’t recommend any programs until we’ve got a bigger data set to work off in terms of reviews as well.
If you are interested in one of the programs, reach out to me personally and I’ll give feedback based on some of the reviews we’ve received up to this point that we haven’t published.
Springboard offers their Data Science and Data Engineering bootcamp course(tuition) as well as free online resources covering
These programs include mentorship(weekly calls) and career guidance should you be earlier in your career.
There are a variety of free resources available as well which you can access through the link above – one recommendation I always have, especially with the Springboard program where tuition is expensive is to test the platform and test your commitment and interest in the course and curriculum.
LinkedIn’s online learning platform is extensive. Comprehensive guided courses are available as well as one-off videos are available.
LinkedIn’s platform is growing and is structured as subscription-based which gives you unlimited access to their courses.
LinkedIn Learning’s monthly fee falls into the “I can give up a latte at Starbucks a couple times a week” decision and makes it a easy investment if you can align the course work against a current or upcoming “stretch project” that you’re involved with at work.
Codecademy is subscription-based as well – their catalog of courses is comprehensive and has a good guide that helps you align your objectives(how am I going to apply these skills?) against the course path you should consider.
Codecademy’s pricing falls in line with LinkedIn learning and is an excellent place to start building your data analysis and data science chops.
The Data Scientist nanodegree from Udacity is a 4 month course that gives a good, comprehensive overview of Data Science, is interactive with quizzes and projects.
Udacity also offers a free “Intro to Data Science” course to give you an overview of data science, but it’s brief and more of an intro into the more in-depth paid courses.
edX is an online course provide that was founded by Harvard and MIT – their data science courses are excellent, rich in content and the Data Science Professional Certificate and the MicroMasters program are at the top of Data Science and Data Analytics courses available today.
If you are looking at a full-blown secondary education, the MicroMasters program is more suited for that; if you’re looking to upgrade your data wrangling, data analytics and get a taste of machine learning, then the certification program is excellent.
These are high-end programs, well structured and bring along the cache that a degree or even a micro degree from Harvard or MIT carries.
I can’t stress enough the importance that you continue to evolve in your career.
Complacency is your enemy and outdated skills will haunt you the farther your skill sets and mindset fall behind where the food and beverage industry is moving towards.
We’ll continue to add courses and platforms that apply to your work in food safety and quality – please let me know how you are keeping your skills fresh as well.