"...there are endless career paths in the coffee industry, stay involved with the community, try to do what you are most passionate about, and stay up to date and educated with the community."
The Coffee Skills Program of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has successfully harnessed the skills and knowledge of industry experts, engaged passionate trainers, and developed the next generation of professionals. It is a virtuous and self-supporting cycle, where members educate members. We caught up with Yannis Apostolopoulos, the Executive Director of the SCA, who described how this cycle of knowledge and skills sharing creates a network effect that benefits the whole coffee community. We also learned a little more about plans for expanding the program for more stakeholders and the importance of research.
Education has been a virtuous cycle for the SCA coffee community. Industry experts have supported with the development of the curriculums, Accredited SCA Trainers (AST) deliver the courses which develop the skills and knowledge of the broader community. Eventually, the student becomes the teacher, either formally as an AST, or informally through their work or media outlets. The community grows and becomes more professional.
The CSP standardises curriculum, which ensures that within each of the disciplines - Barista skills, brewing, sensory, green coffee, roasting, introduction to coffee - the student is gaining formal knowledge and skills that define the roles in which they work. This structure gives integrity to the position and formalises the professional status. The integrity of the SCA education programs has helped people recognise, for example, that being a barista is a profession and that there is progression from beginner to expert across each of the subject areas.
When asked for advice for coffee professionals on how to develop their careers, Yannis says "...there are endless career paths in the coffee industry, stay involved with the community, try to do what you are most passionate about, and stay up to date and educated with the community." This last sentiment is particularly relevant, given the thirst for knowledge demonstrated through the evolution of coffee education over the last 15 years. The SCA has led this development with the most extensive global program covering Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the USA, with a new focus on Central and South America and Africa in the coming months.
The format for the SCA's education program started in its legacy organisation, the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) in 2011 as the Coffee Diploma System. From its conception, volunteers from the industry shared their knowledge to develop the curriculum. The range of courses expanded from barista skills, to brewing to roasting, sensory, and green coffee. Curriculum's were continuously developed by the volunteers as new information became available based on developments in technology, adopting new practices in the respective fields and as trends dictated.
Education at the SCA has been dynamic, both influencing the work of 10's of thousands of coffee professionals, as well as being influenced by them. It is now possible to progress from complete novice in foundation courses to professional level. This is also a recognition of the complexity of roles within coffee industry. Each of the subject areas is a specialism, with professional levels accrediting the expertise of the skillset and knowledge of the learner. Furthermore, Yannis highlights that education in the SCA is expanding to ensure there is education for all the stakeholders in the coffee value chain. This includes producers and coffee technicians.
Continuing the theme of volunteers supporting the development of courses, the new Coffee Technicians Guild has developed the technical courses curriculum, ensuring the relevance and inclusion of best practice in equipment engineering. Guilds at the SCA are supporting education in this manner and include the Barista Guild, the Roasters Guild, and the Producers Guild. However, Yannis also highlights that there is another critical path for developing knowledge for the Specialty Coffee community, and this path speaks to the integrity, quality, and complexity of specialisms in coffee today. The SCA has been instrumental in supporting coffee research. Setting up the Coffee Science Foundation to channel funds into specific coffee research. The SCA is shifting the quality of education from experiential to empirical, adding further integrity to the Program.
The last 15 years have seen the SCA coffee education programs go from strength to strength. The coffee community has evolved through the program and the quality of the education continues to improve as a result. The shift towards empirical research will challenge the curriculum and trainers, resulting in more rigorous courses and the net benefits this brings to the community. Adding new education programs for Producers and Technicians is broadening the scope of education and the support of the SCA to all stakeholders in the value chain. Yannis finished by saying that all education, whether formal or informal, helps us stay true to our values. This highlights the critical importance of education during these times.
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