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Building the On-Ramp: Vocational Programs for Brewers

Based on insights from those who’ve done it successfully, we look at how small breweries can set up training programs that both widen and deepen craft beer’s talent pool.

Courtney Iseman Mar 4, 2024 - 17 min read

Building the On-Ramp: Vocational Programs for Brewers Primary Image

Natalie Thurman, the sixth vocational brewer at Trace in Pittsburgh. Photo: Julie Kahlbaugh/Courtesy Trace Brewing.

The learning path often follows a familiar route: get into craft beer, get into homebrewing, help out friends at local breweries, then land gigs in those breweries. It’s a track that has produced some brilliant, creative brewers. It’s also a track that’s limited in scope.

For one thing, learning and advancing based on personal connections perpetuates a homogenous industry. On this track, there’s also an educational ceiling—how can self-trained brewers keep up with evolving technology and learn more advanced methods?

Today, there are a growing number of alternatives in the form of educational and vocational programs with hands-on training components. Developed by an assortment of organizations—breweries themselves, local partnerships, technical schools, universities—there are many more courses and internships available, and in more places, than there were even a decade ago.

Done well, these programs can eliminate barriers of entry to brewing jobs while building bridges to evolving knowledge. They can also help breweries find more well-informed and passionate people with more diverse backgrounds and perspectives. That’s a recipe for better beer, stronger brewing businesses, and—ultimately—a wider customer base.

Based on insights from industry veterans who’ve organized them, here’s a look at how small breweries can develop vocational programs that work for them, for their graduates, and for the industry.

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