During the next five years, one of the greatest challenges for bakers will involve finding and keeping qualified maintenance workers and engineers who can keep today’s 24/7 operations up and running. For vendors, they must add skilled trainers and service technicians who provide customer service to the baking industry.

Those are the top-line observations from two parallel surveys conducted this year by BEMA and the American Bakers Association and under the guidance of the Baking Industry Forum (BIF), a group of volunteers from the baking and allied industry who work together to solve some of the industry’s most stubborn problems. To replace skilled workers, BIF’s research showed most companies still turn to Internet job sites and newspapers. However, many businesses are failing to tap into a potential goldmine — namely, hiring veterans who recently finished their tours of duty. In fact, fewer than 15% of those surveyed ever used a hire-a-vet program. It’s a shame, given that only 15% of the industry’s workforce is under 35 years old, while unemployment for veterans and their spouses under 35 hovers around 30%.

Many returning veterans have the technical skills to work in bakeries. It’s safe to assume that, with a little training, a person who learned how to rebuild a fighter jet engine will be able to solve a problem with a mixer. In fact, companies can solve two problems at once by hiring those who served our nation and bringing new, young talented workers into the aging baking industry.