Today’s workforce gap might turn into an abyss if the unemployment rate continues to dip to a predicted 3.5% rate by 2020. Those levels haven’t been seen since 1968. It’s purportedly fabulous news for the economy, but it presents a huge challenge for the baking and snack industries.

“The competition in manufacturing — frankly, everywhere now — for skilled associates and employees is higher than it’s ever been,” Robb MacKie, president and c.e.o. of the American Bakers Association, told Nico Roesler, managing editor, for his October report in Baking & Snack magazine.

“We’re working toward solutions, but I would say that we went from a challenge to almost crisis-mode,” he added. “I would say in certain parts of the country, it is in crisis.”

The two major factors contributing to the widening gap include retiring baby boomers coupled with economic expansion. An estimated 2.7 million jobs are likely to be needed because of retirements, while another 700,000 positions may be created due to natural business growth. Other factors include a loss of experience and knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, a negative image of manufacturing among young people and a decline of technical education programs in public high schools.

To counter these trends, the baking industry needs to rally behind Kansas State University, one of several universities on the forefront of training and recruiting the next generation of bakers and industry experts. K.S.U. offers degrees in baking, feed or milling science and management and holds a 100% job placement rate. It’s one of the best-kept secrets that must be broadcasted loud and clear to the next generation to allow our industry to move forward in the future.