During the International Baking Industry Exposition, training was the subject of much discussion. Typically, those talks centered on the universal shortage of skilled personnel in production, maintenance and even supervision. When viewed from 10,000 feet, some interesting questions arise: What is a skilled worker? When wasn’t there a shortage? And why is the issue never-ending?

The baking industry, owing to the labor-intensive manufacturing processes, has always had to deal with a shortage of skilled labor and the need to train and develop the workforce. Compounding this issue is this evolution in technology, which has changed the skills required to work in this industry.

So, what is a skilled worker? Certainly, most would agree it is a person who has the knowledge and ability needed to perform a job. But how does one develop that experience? Today, and likely just as in the past, it will be developed on the job. After that happens, the next steps become clearer and the tasks more identifiable.

The first step is crafting or reviewing the job description for the position or positions in question. Identifying the tasks an individual will need to demonstrate competency is essential. Once the tasks are identified, each one then needs to be broken down into the skills needed to perform them. The skills are the personnel knowledge, expertise and dexterity people need to be independent, efficient and safe at their jobs.

With a clear understanding, a company can determine which skills an applicant will be required to demonstrate and which ones management is willing to develop. Since different positions require many of the same skills required, it is not unreasonable to take on skills development or enhancement. There are some very good online training programs available for math, computers, operation, troubleshooting, maintenance and others. This also may broaden the pool of acceptable applicants.

With the requirements assessed, the company must decide how an individual will be trained. Job-specific training should include an orientation to the plant and a review of work and safety rules and practices. Whether an operator, mechanic, sanitor, supervisor or someone with bakery experience, the employee should become qualified in the safe operation of equipment and processes he or she will be operating and/or maintaining. The options here are rather limited: using the equipment manufacturer’s trainer, on the job with experienced workers or self-guidance through training aids.

Having defined the development program and the equipment- and process-specific training, an orientation program can be developed for each position. A defined program has multiple advantages: The cost basis for each hire can be quantified, the value of employee retention understood, the training program easily implemented, and trainers can be identified. A defined program is also a great selling tool for prospective candidates. When interviewing, providing the candidate with the skills needed and competencies expected enables them to assess their fit for the position.

The investment in training and education also enables the existing workforce to be a pool for growth into higher skilled positions. Employees know what is required and what skills they would need to be considered for advancement. It presents an opportunity for the employee and the company.

Jim Kline is a contributing editor for Baking & Snack and founder of The EnSol Group. Connect with Mr. Kline at jkline@theensolgroup.com.