Kirk O'Donnell addressed the workforce gap at BakingTech 2017.

A common refrain throughout the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech conference was concern about the workforce gap that exists in commercial baking. Not only did the conference include a keynote by Marjorie Hellmer of Cypress Research Associates who conducted the study on the labor shortage but BakingTech also featured several technical sessions on filling that gap. One of which was Kirk O’Donnell’s session “Building Wisdom.”

Baking is an industry built on dough, dough that often is a living organism that changes throughout the production process and requires experience and knowledge to turn out the consistent end product consumers expect. As more baking professionals retire, the industry finds those veterans are taking their hard-won knowledge and experience with them, leaving more than just a labor gap on the production floor but a substantial know-how gap as well. Mr. O’Donnell aimed to equip the industry to pass down that knowledge to the next generation before it’s too late.

Mr. O’Donnell outlined several strategies to capturing that baking wisdom including understanding barriers to learning, considering company culture and investing in knowledge management.

Barriers to learning often stem from a lack of relationships within an organization. No one knows who has the knowledge so they can’t be asked. Input is not sought or offered. And then there is the Dunning/Kruger effect. “Unskilled persons overestimate themselves, and skilled persons underestimate themselves,” Mr. O’Donnell said. These barriers can be overcome through training and building relationships through mentorships. All of these tie into a healthy company culture.

Company cultures are fluid in the baking industry as they often are transformed with acquisitions and leadership changes. But healthy company cultures can lead to healthy business results. The passing on of passion and knowledge is a hallmark of a healthy company culture. Strong up and down communication throughout the company and a strong sense of direction and purpose shared by all facilitates a healthy company culture.

When breaking down one of the barriers to learning, it’s important to identify who has the knowledge and experience as well as other resources they may use as well. Once those people and tools are identified, companies can use incentives, mentorships, work shadowing and communities of practice to facilitate knowledge management.

“We over-rely on on-the-job training and lack accountability,” Mr. O’Donnell explained. “I want a list of deliverables that can show have your employees improved and learned. Build in follow-up loops and refresher training. Don’t just check off a box, and say ‘You’re trained.’ Invest in continuous learning.”