NEW HAVEN, CONN. — The workforce gap in bakery manufacturing is a challenge affecting bakeries across the country. And it’s a puzzle the leadership at Something Sweet, located in New Haven, is still learning how to piece together.
Something Sweet’s leadership reflects the breadth and depth that many commercial bakeries will soon find themselves missing. The breadth: chief executive officer Greg Menke is a veteran of the baking industry with three decades of experience in almost every aspect of the process, including supply chain management, continuous improvement, corporate engineering and co-manufacturing. And the depth: Tom Kores, a board member, was the mechanical engineer who designed Something Sweet’s facility in the late 1980s as a Lender’s Bagels plant; he’s also a graduate of AIB International.
But these two represent a rarity in the industry. And as technology advances for equipment design, the type of workers the industry will need is changing. When the original owner of Something Sweet acquired the plant in New Haven, an important consideration was if the line he purchased was going to run properly and efficiently.
“But the bigger issue now is getting people who can keep it running,” Mr. Kores said. “And today, the level of sophistication and the computerization of much of these machines make the challenge even bigger.”
For example, Mr. Menke noted that with increased automation, workers tend to rely more on the machine and less on their instinct. But that doesn’t mean the equipment isn’t important.
“It’s a piece of equipment, but you have to understand it,” he said. “You’ve got to know what affects it. That’s the kind of experienced skillset we need.”
On the human side of the resources, Mr. Menke emphasized that communication and buy-in are critical.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the plant floor working with the management team and hourly employees,” he said.
The bakery holds start-up meetings before each shift and discusses issues such as food safety and GMPs.
As Something Sweet works hard to keep up with growth, Mr. Menke can clearly see the gap of industry experience widening.
“All the bakers have been doing this for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “We wonder: Where are the ones who have been doing it for 10 years? You don’t see those workers. It’s hard to find people with the depth of knowledge and that formal training.”
Vlad Guryanov, plant manager, studied at AIB International in Manhattan, Kas., for a number of months before coming to Something Sweet, and the company sees the benefit in that training.
“That experience has helped him — and us — become better bakers,” Mr. Menke said.