Bakery workers
Baking companies must address the current shortage of skilled hourly and salaried production personnel.

PHOENIX — Baking companies need to take a proactive approach to address the current shortage of skilled hourly and salaried production personnel, or the status quo will only progressively deteriorate over the next decade.

That’s one of the key preliminary findings from “The Workforce Gap in U.S. Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges and Solutions” released during the American Bakers Association’s (A.B.A.) annual convention, held March 20-23 in Phoenix.

Commissioned by the A.B.A. and the American Society of Baking (A.S.B.), the report includes a recently completed survey of the two groups’ members who together work for companies that comprise 73% of total annual sales within the baking industry.

Conducted by Kansas City-based Cypress Research Associates, the survey highlighted the dramatic extent of the ongoing skills shortage today and asked respondents in human resources and management to predict how it will change by 2025.

Concerning hourly workers, 78% of those polled indicated a current “high” or “severe” shortage of skilled maintenance and engineering personnel along with 40% of machine operators. Currently, only 18% mentioned unskilled production workers as an issue.

About salaried workers, 59% of the surveyed managers noted a high or severe shortage in the engineering/maintenance department along with just 22% noting the same level of concern about production management and 21% citing scientists or staff for the R.&D. or product development departments.

Fast forward to 2025, and, once again, 78% of respondents — the same as today — predicted a high or severe shortage of hourly maintenance and engineering personnel. However, the gap among machine operators is expected to reach 61%, or 21 percentage points over today, while the shortage of unskilled production workers notched 37%, or an increase of 19 points.

The trend continued among salaried workers with 62% of those surveyed listing a skilled-worker shortage issue with engineering and maintenance, a 3 point increase in 2025 over the present situation. However, 38% foresaw a significant shortage in scientists, R.&D. and product development personnel — a 17 point rise — while the dearth of skilled production management reached 32%, or a jump of 10 points from the current status.

“The reason why the maintenance/engineering percentage didn’t change is that it’s already here,” said Don Thriffiley, principal, KAT Management Group, during a panel discussion at the A.B.A. convention. “The operator position is continuing to evolve.”

Laurie Graves, director, people systems, The Bama Cos., and chair of A.B.A.’s Human Resources Committee, noted the survey clearly indicates the industry needs a proactive call for action.

“To me what this (study) says is, ‘This is our do-nothing plan,’” Ms. Graves told A.B.A. attendees. “This is what it looks like if we keep on doing what we’re doing. The idea that this (situation) is set in stone is really what I want to challenge you and the part that I want you to think about. We could change this conversation. We can come back and do this survey five years from now, and we can see a much more optimistic outlook because we could all put things in place in our businesses and understand how we actually can all influence how people see our companies, how people see our skill set and how they can build careers.”

In addition to outlining the workforce gap, the panel discussion gave some top-line solutions.

“The rubber meets the road in three bucket areas — from the time companies are trying to attract new talent and recruiting those candidates, to skills training and to retention challenges and programs to address challenges,” noted Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research.

In the coming months, the initiative will release three reports that include the statistical findings from the industry survey, a report of branded case studies and a best practice guide to attracting and retaining talent. The reports are expected to be available this summer to the industry.

Additionally, further findings will be presented at an A.B.A.-sponsored education session during the 2016 International Baking Industry Exposition, scheduled for Oct. 8-11 in Las Vegas.

Moreover, the A.B.A. announced the launch of a training program, “Leadership Development for Front Line Professionals.” Overall, the Cypress Research’s recent survey showed 83% of the baking industry struggles with undertrained front line supervision.

Produced in cooperation with Hearthside University, an initiative of Hearthside Food Solutions of Downers Grove, Ill., and scheduled for June 1-2, the new training program is designed to equip front line supervisors with leadership principles, tools and techniques to improve quality, safety and productivity throughout an organization, according to Robb MacKie, A.B.A.’s president and c.e.o.

“Helping front line leaders better communicate with those they supervise is critical to retention efforts as well as developing the next generation of leaders,” Mr. MacKie noted.