Closing the gap: How can businesses tackle bakery industry skills shortage?

Study offers strategies for recruiting and retaining staff. Pic: © iStock/ Maria Kazanova

More than three-quarters of US bakery businesses say there is a serious shortage of engineering and maintenance staff, according to a new study that also found demand for production and R&D workers is expected to soar in the next 10 years.

The American Bakers Association (ABA) and the American Society of Baking (ASB) have unveiled a major study that looks at the current state of commercial bakery manufacturer employment and recommends action to minimize the industry’s workforce skills gap.

Our approach was to better understand the gap, its drivers, current solutions, and future industry implications,” said Rich Scalise, the CEO of Hearthside Food Solutions who commissioned the study in partnership ASB when he was chairman of the ABA.

With this information in hand, leaders can evaluate and benchmark strategies based on proven best practices,” he added.

Surveys with US commercial baking industry

Entitled ‘The Workforce Gap in U.S. Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges and Solutions’, the report has taken almost two years to produce and includes data from surveys conducted with businesses that represent 73% of the US commercial baking industry.

Sixty percent of respondents reported an increase in skilled positions over the past five years, with 58% saying use of automation had increased.

People working on the floor are a challenge to find,” one production manager told researchers.

Years ago, production wasn’t automated. You needed people who understood what all the baking processes were. Now, the profession has changed. You don’t need the person with industry-specific knowledge. Now, you need people who are skilled at working with this type of equipment.”

High-skilled, flexible workforce

Having a high-skilled, flexible workforce was flagged up as an important future business concern by 63% of respondents.

If something doesn’t work properly, the operator needs to troubleshoot before calling maintenance," said one VP of human resources at a commercial bakery manufacturer. “We’re losing the operators who know by feel, touch and observation that things look and feel right.”

When asked about current recurring skills shortages, the biggest issue flagged up by respondents was a lack of hourly-paid skilled production maintenance and engineering staff, with 78% of bakery businesses saying they had a ‘high’ or ‘severe’ shortage.

The next-highest shortage was salaried skilled production maintenance and engineering staff (59% said they had a high or severe shortage), followed by hourly-paid machine operators (40%).

Around a fifth of businesses also said they had a recurring shortage of production management staff and scientists/R&D staff.

Shortages expected to increase

Companies expect shortages to rise in almost all roles in the next 10 years – particularly in the case of machine operators (61% of respondents predicted a high or severe shortage by 2025), unskilled production (37%) and scientists/R&D staff (38%).

Businesses were also asked to flag up the skills lacking in staff when they are hired or promoted, with the three biggest deficiencies found to be: baking-industry specific technical skills, leadership skills, and problem solving/decision making skills.

There is a lack of education beyond high school in the talent pool,” the president of a commercial bakery manufacturer told researchers. “The gap is not necessarily in reading, writing and arithmetic. The real problem is that there isn’t enough education in critical thinking and decision-making skills and the ability to problem solve.”

Case studios

The report also offers case studies giving examples of ways firms attract and retain staff, highlighting activity by businesses including Kroger, King’s Hawaiian and Aryzta.

The case study approach documents already successful outcomes that can be benchmarked, modeled and compared, providing a roadmap for companies seeking to close the divide between available and needed industry talent,” added Scalise.

The American Society of Baking said it was already developing programs to address the current and future workforce gap. Activity includes revamping its scholarship program to target students in areas such as food science and engineering/manufacturing, as well as bakery science programs. 

 “We are doing everything we can to help students and upwardly mobile employees gain the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career in the baking industry,” said ASB chairman Mario Somoza.

To download the study visit or

Attracting and retaining skilled staff

The American Bakers Association (ABA) and the American Society of Baking (ASB) study on bakery workforce gaps offers a wide range of potential strategies for employers including:

Attracting Talent

  • Implement industry-wide efforts to increase awareness of bakery manufacturing as a desired career
  • Implement company-level strategies to increase awareness of employment opportunities and benefits

Finding Talent

  • Tap diverse talent pools such as women, veterans and Millennials
  • Implement formal employee referral programs
  • Leverage technology for recruitment such as social media, online job boards, online application and resume process
  • Create partnerships with local and state organizations and educational institutions to access potential job candidates

Develop the Talent Pool

  • Partner with educational institutions on developing programs to train candidates who are competent in manufacturing skills
  • Offer internships/apprenticeships through high schools, community/ technical colleges and four-year colleges

Retaining Talent

  • Implement improvements in workplace environment and culture
  • Implement employee recognition programs
  • Foster collaboration and teamwork to create a sense of cohesion
  • Offer performance-based pay
  • Hire more full-time production staff to reduce employee burnout
  • Offer flexible schedules/staffing

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Comments (1)

Bob Haydon - 29 Jul 2016 | 08:41

unsocial unbalanced life cycles

I have been in the bakery industry for some 45 years and it comes as no surprise to learn of these essential skill shortages. My observation is that the youth of today do not want long hours or shift work or weekend work as this is classed as unsocial working. This was apparent 25 years ago and yet as always the baking industry always lags behind to introduce change. Plant bakeries need to come up with what the youth of today want and offer them that to attract the right caliber of people. 1) Social hours of work and working environment. 2) Progressive on the job training. Which could lead to advancement. 3) A graded pay structure the more you learn the more you earn. 4) Today's technologies would allow all the above to happen so make the move the future of the baking industry is at stake.

29-Jul-2016 at 20:41 GMT

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