Developing the right skills for the job

Ashley Pflouff in the Northern Brewer warehouse

Ashley Plouff’s warehouse job at home brew kit supplier Northern Brewer was meant to be a tide-me-over gig. Plouff had just moved to the Twin Cities from Milwaukee, where she had completed one year of college before deciding to work full-time and figure out what kind of degree was right for her.

But the job at Northern Brewer quickly led to promotions, from packing boxes to fulfillment supervisor. Soon, she realized she not only had a knack for warehouse operations, but she also really enjoyed the work.

Meanwhile the company was growing. With employees scrambling around the warehouse in search of this package of hops or that bag of barley, Plouff began conceiving ways to remedy the disorder.

In the process, Plouff realized she’d found the work she loved. “Something finally clicked,” she says.

“I started looking at degree programs. I found a lean-sustainability class through the U of M College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS). It was part of the Manufacturing Operations Management program, and as I reviewed the curriculum, I found other courses that piqued my interest.”

She applied and was accepted, and, as she puts it, “I cannonballed into it.”

With the program’s flexibility, she was able to earn her degree through evening and online courses while continuing to work during the day.

“There have been so many things in the program that I’ve applied directly to my job,” she says.

In 2016, Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) bought Northern Brewer, and after the acquisition shook out, Plouff was promoted to operations manager.

“I’d seen a lot of iterations of that warehouse, so being able to get production to a level where we were efficient enough for a company like AB InBev to take interest in us—it was the ultimate reward for me,” Plouff says.


This story is excerpted from a longer profile of Plouff which you can read at CCAPS.