In an employees’ market, a slew of manufacturing job openings are going unfilled — and that comes as no surprise to the American Bakers Association (ABA)’s Human Resources Committee, who saw the writing on the wall a number of years back. “We realized when we were in the middle of the recession and there was an open workforce, that we were still having challenges attracting talent,” said Robb MacKie, ABA president and CEO. “The thinking was that when the economy turns around, it’s really going to be a problem.”
To that end, ABA’s Human Resources Committee, in conjunction with the American Society of Baking (ASB), commissioned Cypress Research Associates to conduct a year-long comprehensive study to collect data from bakers, suppliers and broad manufacturing about the challenges and solutions for attracting, training and retaining skilled, hourly production workers.
During the study, titled “The Workforce Gap in US Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges & Solutions,” the research bore out what the task force had predicted: While the most serious gap is among hourly skilled production positions, the biggest pain point currently lies with maintenance and engineering positions. And it’s an area that Marjorie Hellmer, president of the research firm, described as “simmering” — the shortages might not get worse, but there’s certainly no sign that they will get better over the next 10 years.
It’s a problem that, if it continues to go unaddressed, will become a serious issue, as exemplified by the current amount of turnover for these positions and the lack of programs currently in place to tackle it. “When you start looking at solutions, you see that there aren’t enough programs in place to help bakers address these challenges,” Ms. Hellmer warned. “There are deficiencies going unaddressed, and that’s contributing to the loss of employees and companies not being able to attract them.”
Through secondary research, in-depth interviews with manufacturing executives and the quantitative baking industry survey, Cypress was able to identify some of the trends, challenges and solutions for the workforce gap.
“We have to look at solutions through a different lens and understand the power of new ways to attract and retain new employees,” Ms. Hellmer suggested.
While finding and holding onto talent are obviously important, baking companies must also be willing to tap into diverse talent pools like women, minorities and veterans. Ms. Hellmer suggested recruitment efforts also include social media, web-based application technologies, partnerships with state and local organizations and educational institutions, and internal employee referral incentive programs.
Bridging the gap in the workforce will be critical to keep the industry moving forward. But it has potential for positive side effects, too. “We see branding the industry as a place people want to work and build a career as another great opportunity for the industry to come together and make it stronger overall,” Ms. Hellmer said.
To gain more insight and discuss solutions, ABA will host a workshop Oct. 7 in Las Vegas, the day before IBIE opens its doors. “This is not about rehashing what we’ve already been talking about,” said Cory Martin, director, government relations, ABA. “This is a conference dedicated entirely to solutions for filling the gap.” Companies who participated in certain aspects of the study will be on-hand to answer questions and share ideas.
“The good news is that there are a lot of great programs already, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Mr. Martin said.