Coffee Education Programs: From Equivalent to Exceptional

The SCAA Education Committee and their counterparts from SCAE work together during the Strategic Leadership Summit in June 2016.

By Todd Arnette

When we created Educational Pathways, in order to develop programs that would be relevant and useful to our community, we asked ourselves, “What are the skillsets our member companies in the industry expect and require of a given position?”

Each discipline where we have a Pathway had the same basic requirement of a broad understanding of specialty coffee, and Foundations of Coffee serves that purpose. The first level of any given Pathway builds upon that knowledge and then introduces the standards, protocols, and best practices specific to that Pathway discipline. Level 1 is where people gain experience and skills. Some of the skills of a Level 1 Pathway Graduate most likely will be represented in another Pathway discipline, so we are deepening the skillset but still allowing for breadth of subject matter. The second level of each program builds upon the breadth of Foundations of Coffee and Level 1, and then focuses on a more specific skillset. Level 2 is where people begin to specialize their skillset. The skillset developed in a Pathway is then validated through either an online written exam, an in-person practical exam, or both. As your career grows and changes you will have other Pathways available to you for further learning. The end goal of the program is the broad knowledge base and skillset of a coffee professional.

The SCAE Coffee Diploma System shares a similar approach to our own. The base of the Coffee Diploma System starts with a much broader understanding of coffee in general, including both specialty coffee and commercial coffee. It is also accessible to consumers as well as industry professionals. Logically, there is less coursework required, as it is exploratory in nature. From that starting point, the individual modules advance through three levels: “foundation,” where students begin to understand the skills required, “intermediate,” where students continue to develop a required skillset, and “professional,” where students demonstrate expertise in a specific discipline.

There is a point total earned by passing both a written and practical exam per level and per module. As a student’s career grows and changes, there will be other Modules available for further learning. The end goal of the program is the broad knowledge base and skillset of a coffee professional, as well as a diploma. You cannot earn a coffee diploma without taking additional courses from other modules, or without obtaining Professional Level status in at least one Module.

What were some key takeaways?

  • Our industry values not only skills in a specific discipline, such as Cupping or Roasting, but also the ability to develop knowledge and skills across multiple disciplines. The education program should reflect that and reward the professionals who achieve it with the highest distinction.
  • Knowledge taught by a trade association and skillsets developed by an individual should be able to be demonstrated and validated via testing- they should reflect industry best practices and be easy to demonstrate.
  • Philosophically the SCAA and SCAE members of these conversations see education very similarly.
Roasters Guild Retreat attendees learn about the fundamentals of coffee brewing from SCAA Specialized Instructor Rusty Angell.
Roasters Guild Retreat attendees learn about the fundamentals of coffee brewing from SCAA Specialized Instructor Rusty Angell.

So what about a unified educational system?

The reason we gathered as one faculty was to assess the specifics of how a unified education system could evolve. I speak for my colleagues in the photo above when I say that we are all very excited to unify, and that this may not be as complicated as one might think.

After the Chairs of the individual Pathways and Modules vetting the curriculum, we were excited and encouraged to discover that:

  • In some areas Pathway Level 1 and the Foundation + Intermediate Module were equivalent.
  • In some areas Pathway Level 1 & 2 were equivalent to a Module’s Foundation + Intermediate.
  • In some areas Pathway Level 1 & 2 and the Foundation + Intermediate + Professional Module were equivalent.
  • In some areas there is no Pathway Level 2

Between now and the end of 2016, as a faculty we are working to define details of the above for each of the Pathways and Modules. It is our directive to present a clear plan for alignment of existing courses to membership by 2017. This will happen regardless of the outcome of SCAA’s unification vote since there are so many member benefits to doing so, but the development of new content, together or alone as separate organizations, remains on hold pending the result. The relevance in

the industry of the knowledge and skills our students have developed in either a Pathway or a Module is unchanged. The relevance in the industry of the knowledge and skills you will develop over the next 6, 12, 18 months will similarly be unchanged. The investment made in developing a skillset is protected, as those skills are every bit as relevant and valid yesterday as they will be tomorrow.

If a student is seeking additional knowledge and training, there is a series of marquee events like Expo, Roasters Guild Retreat, and Barista Camp that provide education in the existing Pathway system. There is a robust system of Certified Campuses around the world teaching SCAA content. There is also a great network of Authorized SCAE Trainers teaching content around the world. Some teach both. This will continue to be true and relevant today and tomorrow.

If you are seeking to migrate from a Pathway Certificate to a Coffee Diploma, there will
 be a methodology for that. If you are seeking
an equivalent credential in a Pathway from a Module, there will be a methodology for that
as well. The specifics of the methodology that we are working on now will be announced in January after we complete, test, and validate the process. We have already vetted the curriculum and are now assessing the specifics of how to gracefully move from point A to point B.

A unified education system promises
 to expand the environment for continued learning and professional development. We,
 as a faculty, will work to leverage the strengths in each system as we create a new and better offering for members. Most importantly, we are preserving the investment that our members, colleagues, and friends have made in their education.

todd_arnetteTodd Arnette is the owner of the Academy of Coffee Excellence, an SCAA Campus in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is also the SCAA Chair of Educational Pathways, Specialized Lead Instructor, Q Grader, and Q Instructor. Mr. Arnette maintains personal relationships with producers and client training relationships around the world.