University Brewing Programs – How Does the Industry Benefit?
KPU and SFU brewing grads are highly sought in BC’s booming craft beer industry
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) are both offering brewing operations programs to students, and while both programs offer different credentials, coursework, and hands-on training, each school is working to produce the new generation of leaders in the brewing industry.
From home brewers, to mid-career professionals; from people currently employed in the brewing industry to those who want to find a place to start, the ideal candidates for these programs are as varied as the beer styles they learn about. So what kind of person takes a brewing program at university? Well, naturally someone who is passionate about the brewing industry and wants to ensure they’ve got the credentials to prove it.
Following the craft beer boom in British Columbia, both KPU and SFU noted that as the industry in BC was growing, so too was a desire within the industry to professionalize. Such training would help ensure that new employees from these professional programs would be more familiar with equipment, understand good practices, and have a greater breadth of knowledge about brewing more generally.
Both programs are fairly new and offer something a little bit different to prospective students. SFU, for example, is often targeting mid-career professionals who want to up their knowledge and understanding of the industry. The Craft Beer and Brewing Essentials Certificate is a non-credit program mostly done for a students’ own benefit, but completion of all the courses results in a certificate that is recognized within the industry. Participants in the program are treated to a significant amount of knowledge and opportunities to learn. With courses including business fundamentals, ingredients and fermentation, quality assessment, and brewing sciences, the program offers a range of courses to challenge students and get them better prepared for various roles within in the industry.
Contrast the SFU program with the Brewing and Brewery Operations diploma offered at KPU. After completion of the program at Kwantlen, graduates receive a full diploma that certifies students have completed over 1,700 hours of class time, including chemistry and microbiology, quality testing, tasting and off flavours, hands-on equipment training, and of course, brewing. By the time the two year program is completed, students will each have brewed 18 batches of beer out of the Langley campus’ brewhouse, and will have produced their final batch entirely on their own, from design to drink. Graduates of the program will be fluent in every aspect of the brewing process, from cleaning and bottling, to marketing and sales.
But what is the value of these programs from an industry perspective?
At SFU, they see their program contributing to an upward spiral within the local economy. Larry White, Director of Career and Professional Programs, sees the university having a role to play in helping to raise the bar across the industry. What’s more, it’s not just the brewing industry that benefits from this increase in trained workers. Other industries that feed into the brewing industry also benefit, particularly those that have been producing high-quality products that brewers want. Perhaps more-so, it helps grow more of these parallel industries as trained brewers and brewery staff demand better locally-produced products, everything from steel fabrication and hose fittings, to hops and yeast cultures.
Nick Fengler, Head Brewer at Ravens Brewing has been involved with the KPU program from its inception and continues his involvement through the program’s advisory committee. From his perspective, one of the key benefits the program offers is producing graduates that are dedicated to the craft of brewing and are prepared for different aspects of the job in any situation. For a startup brewery, he says, the time to train staff from scratch is difficult to afford, especially if you don’t have a way of measuring their commitment level to your business or the industry as a whole. Having someone walk through the door that already has a base of knowledge that can be built upon is a boon to any business owner. Add to this the obvious dedication of someone who is willing to spend one or two years in a brewing program while doing well in their courses and the outcome is a potential employee that can be relied upon from the moment they’re hired.
Further, there seems to be a general consensus within the industry that the next five or 10 years will bring a generational shift where the ‘old guard’ of brewers and Brewmasters either leave or move away from central roles for something different, whether management, ownership, consulting with other breweries, or even retirement. Without trained and qualified people ready to take their place, there’s going to be a huge void that needs to be filled from somewhere. Better that those positions are taken up by people who have sufficient training in all aspects of the industry than someone who just happens to be hanging around and may lack the commitment to stay in the position for an extended period of time. Many people within the industry have experienced what happens at breweries when they lose a leading brewer and have no one to replace him/her. Typically both the product and the business suffer until the position is filled with someone that is both knowledgeable and committed.
For Tim Brown, brewing instructor at KPU, the program’s popularity is helped by the current wave of craft beer enthusiasm in Canada and around the world. Contrary to some cynics, Brown firmly believes that we are in for another wave of growth in craft beer coming within the next two or three years and the industry needs to be prepared for that demand with more, and better trained people in key positions.
With craft beer sales currently accounting for around 20% of the market in BC, it is conceivable that there’s still room to grow and pull additional market share away from the macro brands. Tim believes that increasing the craft market share towards 30% is definitely achievable within the next five years or so, provided there are enough qualified people on the scene to ensure good practices and great brews.
Paul Pyne agrees. Paul is part of the sales team at Bomber Brewing and teaches the Business Fundamentals course at SFU. He notes that the multinational brands that dominate the beer market are clearly paying attention to this growth since they have shifted their marketing efforts to defend against the craft beer industry. For Paul this shows that craft beer and its growing popularity is something to be taken seriously, and the only way the craft industry can continue to grow – let alone achieve the growth that Tim Brown believes is feasible – is by educating people both within and outside of the industry.
The programs at SFU and KPU are certainly a great step towards increased knowledge and education around brewing and craft beer. Both universities are seeking to provide the training to develop leaders within the industry, and they leverage existing expertise in BC to help design their programs and achieve this goal. Advisory committees consisting of brewers, members of the Craft Brewers Guild, industry leaders, and BC brewing pioneers such as Frank Appleton are at the core of curriculum and course development for both schools as they grow their programs. What is more, responding to the needs of the industry is key in maintaining relevance in this ever-changing market.
The growth of craft beer in BC and beyond has produced a demand for more and better education within the brewing industry. While this does make it difficult for someone who is not professionally trained to enter the industry, there are still avenues for anyone to get involved if they have the passion and dedication to the craft. Ultimately, the goal of the programs at KPU and SFU is to raise the bar across the brewing industry, and the quality of and demand for graduates from both schools attests to the value of the programs. It is clear that those within the brewing industry see this training as valuable. Clearer still is that education around beer and brewing – for professionals as well as the general public – will be key to the continued growth of craft beer in BC and across Canada.