As long as I’ve been in the baking industry, the lack of skilled workers has been an issue. Yet, in most bakeries, I have seen interested, engaged workers throughout the organization. Somewhere there seems to be a disconnect: We have a shortage of skilled workers and a large resource pool, but we struggle to fill the gap. Why aren’t many workers advancing into skilled positions and line management? What are the impediments to this process?

On the management side, they may be concerned that people will leave for better paying positions in other industries once their skills are enhanced. There isn’t science or data that support this belief, but the perception is real.

Something prevents workers from stepping up to say, “I want to advance in the company.” The No. 1 reason seems to be the perception that they are just filling a job; they as individuals are not cared about, and all that matters to the employer is getting the products out. Other reasons are a lack of opportunity, poor relationships with supervisors and limited time and money to pursue professional development.

Economics is likely the biggest influencer on implementing internal development programs vs. hiring needed talent. When considering the economics of training and development programs, consider the cost of hiring, financial impact of having a vacancy and the onboarding costs of a new hire.

Successful companies have made sustained cultural and financial commitments to their development programs. Regularly updated workforce assessments provide the groundwork for needs’ forecasts and personnel selection. Depending on the required skills and experience, development may begin a year or more in advance of the need for filling skilled hourly positions as well as positions in line management.

If you believe that job skills can be taught, then first define the personal characteristics required for each job. For a machine operator, look for candidates who possess attention to detail, willingness to follow standard procedures, teamwork and the ability to interface with machine controls and diagnose problems. A maintenance worker requires mechanical aptitude, the ability to perform physical work and a sense of urgency. Supervisors need to demonstrate leadership traits, self-assurance, empathy, a calm demeanor and respectfulness.

Of course, there is more to implementing a development process than one day declaring its existence. Establishing and carrying out individual programs and providing enriching training for hourly and salaried workers takes effort and structure.

A key step in implementation involves teaching supervisors and managers how to truly lead a team and account for the skills and performance of their team members. It forges a positive relationship and provides a connection between the company and the employee. And, perhaps most importantly, workers see a future career with the business.

What are the tangible benefits to the program? Improved operational performance results from enhanced skills and reduced employee turnover. Depth in the skilled workforce minimizes the cost and impact of skilled worker replacement. It fosters an adaptive workforce that adjusts to change and responds to external competitive pressures. For many companies, it will also provide knowledgeable multi-lingual leaders.

The bottom line? When total costs are considered, optimizing your organization through the development of your in-house talent will provide a positive return on your investment.