Treating baking as a career

by Dan Malovany
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Oak State cookie production line
Oak State heavily invested to precisely align cookies as they head to the wrappers.

Automation can be a beautiful thing, especially when it’s working perfectly. During a recent visit to Oak State Products, Baking & Snack editors saw thousands of cookies heading toward the packaging systems on one of the bakery’s four production lines — one that produces more than a million products a day — and couldn’t help noticing that the employees were simply standing around.

Byron Goulding, president of the Wenona, Ill.-based company, laughed at the observation.

“Look at those cookies flying around,” he noted. “And all these people are doing nothing. That means everything’s working. I love to see people doing nothing.”

Seeing people “do nothing,” however, takes a lot of work, a bunch of skill and hefty attention to details. Over the years, Oak State heavily invested to precisely align cookies as they head to the wrappers.

“We spent a lot of money on making sure we know exactly where these cookies are positioned all along the way,” he said.

But Oak State also knows the value of investing in its people. With the average employee tenure at around nine years, Oak State focuses strongly on staff development and retention to serve its customers better.

“We put a heavy emphasis on internal training, so we do a lot of promoting from within,” Mr. Goulding said. “We invest in upward mobility training.”

As finding and keeping good employees become increasingly difficult, more companies like Oak State are treating baking as a career — not just as a job — even if that means that they’re just making sure everything is running perfectly when everything goes according to plan.
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