Ashley Dougan, director, continuous improvement, Kellogg, spoke about training at the 2017 A.B.A. Technical Conference.

BATTLE CREEK, MICH. — As more boomers retire from the baking industry, baked goods and snack producers like Kellogg Co. are employing new strategies to train new employees.

At Kellogg’s Cincinnati facility, the company recognized that about a quarter of its workforce was either retiring or facing retirement, which meant the company had to recruit and onboard. 

 “We focus a lot of our onboarding on people safety, food safety and operational equipment, but one of the gaps we were seeing was in the processing area,” said Ashley Dougan, director, continuous improvement at Kellogg. “The basic knowledge was something we took for granted in the past; people had grown up understanding basic baking skills. But we’re seeing a real gap of people who don’t have that basic knowledge.”

Many of Kellogg’s newest production employees have come from related fields but don’t fully understand baking basics on a manufacturing scale.

“We needed them to understand what bad dough looks like as well as good dough, so they can recognize them in their everyday tasks,” she said.

Kellogg reached out to the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.) for training from the association’s Cookie & Cracker Academy, an offshoot from the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association, which merged with the A.B.A. earlier this year. In a customized Baking Basics course, held at Kellogg’s Cincinnati facility, Dave Van Laar, senior adviser to the president and chief executive officer: B.&C.M.A. transition and development, helped lead the course. Students included frontline employees, technicians and supervisory personnel.  

Production personnel with more experience can often recognize a “good” or “bad” dough just by simply looking at it.

“They can look across a room and know whether a dough will run properly,” Ms. Dougan said. “That’s what we need to start teaching our people.”

To teach people how to recognize various dough characteristics, the Cincinnati course taught Kellogg’s employees how to create a “bad” dough to understand how to identify the key characteristics of bad dough as well as good.

During the course, the group made test doughs by adding ingredients in different sequences to see the varied results and adding the right ingredients in the proper order.

“Even if you’re adding the same amount of ingredients, if you add them in a different order, how will that impact the final result?” Ms. Dougan observed.

During the two-day class, students also walked the plant floor and looked closely at equipment to identify the differences in specific processes, such as between forming and wire-cutting.

“We addressed things like docker pins and why they have to be where they are,” she added. 

Walking the floor as a “class” also afforded the class the opportunity to get outside of their specific areas of expertise and see not only how other parts of the line operate but also how areas up or downstream relate to their own work stations.

“We also looked at our finished product in relation to how we manufacture it and why it’s important,” Ms. Dougan explained. “It was very exciting for people to know they could walk away from the course and have that level of understanding the process.” 

While engagement from the employees remains critical for success, the commitment for training and continuous improvement must come from leadership.

“Ashley has a passion for what she’s doing and a passion for training,” Mr. Van Laar said. “This is sustainable training, not throwing information on a screen and calling it a day. It’s about sustaining the education and setting up continuous improvement.”

One additional outcome was the partnerships that developed between tenured employees and those who had been employed for six months or less.

“By the end of the training, we’ve got the seasoned employee, who does the same job on the same shift as the new person and say, ‘I’m going to look out for you; I’m going to make sure you learn the process and understand what you need to know to be successful.’”

Kellogg will refine the course based on key learnings and feedback from the inaugural group and offer it again on a monthly or quarterly basis. 

For more information on the Baking Basics course, visit