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Dairy Industry Worker Job Description, Career as a Dairy Industry Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school

Salary: Average—$16.60 per hour

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dairy plants turn raw milk into products like cream, butter, and homogenized milk. Dairy plants are heavily automated with equipment that processes and packages milk and milk products. The main job of a dairy industry worker is to maintain, operate, and repair the equipment. Modern plants equipped with closed-circuit televisions may need only one worker to monitor the equipment for each shift.

Milk arrives at the dairy plant in refrigerated tank trucks. The truck operators pump the milk into the plant's storage tanks. Receiving workers weigh the raw milk in the tanks and closely monitor their contents. They also operate equipment that standardizes the fat content of the milk. They then pump the milk from the storage tanks to equipment that mixes, or homogenizes, it and removes any impurities. Homogenizing the milk also prevents the cream from separating.

The milk then flows into large tanks or vats called pasteurizers. Pasteurization is one of the most important steps in modern dairy production. Production workers heat the milk quickly to 170 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any dangerous bacteria that might be in it. Then they cool it to 38 degrees Fahrenheit just as quickly so that it will not spoil. Workers who watch these vats must pay close attention This dairy industry worker is monitoring the cream separation process. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) to thermometers and special clocks because improperly heated or cooled raw milk may be unsafe to drink.

From the pasteurization vats the milk flows to machines that fill cartons and bottles. Filler operators supply this equipment with bottles or cartons. They also adjust the equipment so that they fill these containers with the right kind of milk—whole milk, low-fat milk, or cream.

Circulating workers run machines that pack the bottles or cartons of milk into wire or plastic cases. If these machines jam, circulators may have to do the work by hand. They put the cases of dairy products into a cooler, where the cases stay until trucks pick them up.

One group of dairy industry workers repairs faulty equipment. Breakdowns that delay processing are costly, because milk spoils quickly. Therefore, repairers must work fast so that production can be resumed. Workers also sterilize equipment. In modern plants sterilization of the equipment is automatic. Workers monitor the process in these plants.

Education and Training Requirements

Dairy industry workers learn through on-the-job training. There are no specific education requirements for becoming a dairy production worker. Most employers prefer to hire workers with a high school diploma. Training is available in high schools and vocational schools. Interested students should take courses in shop to understand machine operation and repair. Mechanical ability and accuracy in running and checking equipment are important qualities for dairy industry workers. Some states require workers who operate pasteurizing equipment to have a license, which can be obtained by passing a written test. Many states require a health certificate from a licensed physician.

Getting the Job

State employment offices can help with job placement. Plants also accept applications made in person. Because modern, automated plants require few production workers, chances of getting a job in dairy production work may be better at a small, less modern plant.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced and responsible dairy industry workers can become plant supervisors. They may also become field representatives for their plants. Field representatives meet with dairy farmers and arrange to buy and pay for raw milk. They also suggest ways for the farmer to improve milk quality. Production workers can become dairy quality control workers. Quality control workers tour farms to check that the dairy cattle are healthy. They also inspect the farms' equipment and procedures.

The outlook for dairy industry workers is poor. New plants use machinery that requires fewer workers. However, the industry needs workers to replace those who retire or change jobs.

Working Conditions

Dairy production plants are always cool and clean. Machines now do most of the work. Dairy production workers usually work alone, although coworkers and supervisors are often nearby in case they run into trouble with the equipment. Production workers do little heavy lifting except when the equipment breaks down. These breakdowns seldom last very long. Most dairy production workers operate switches and buttons and read dials and gauges. Workers must be alert to any problems with their machines. Nearly all dairy production workers work some nights, weekends, and holidays. They work forty to forty-two hours a week, including overtime. Many workers belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

International Ice Cream Association
1250 H St., NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005-3952
(202) 737-4332

Milk Industry Foundation
1250 H St., NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005-3952
(202) 737-4332

Earnings and Benefits

The wages for dairy industry workers vary with responsibility and experience, ranging from $24,000 to $36,000 per year. A recent study showed that the average salary for a dairy industry worker is $16.60 per hour. Benefits often include paid holidays, vacations, and health insurance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources