For workforce development in commercial baking, technology and empowerment are key factors, specifically in terms of learning about the industry and understanding how to properly execute job tasks. BEMA’s Baking Industry Forum (BIF) addressed these during a panel discussion at the American Society of Baking (ASB)’s BakingTECH conference in Chicago.

At Lallemand, the company focuses on technology as a means toward empowerment.

“We classify our operators as business owners,” said panelist Audrey St. Onge, president and chief executive officer of Lallemand ’s North American Bakers Yeast Business. “They make so many more decisions on a second-to-second basis than most of us do sitting around a conference table.”

Ms. St. Onge said technology allows operators to learn and develop on their timelines and in ways they are comfortable.

“Short videos with a 2-minute timeframe work well,” she said.

These can be delivered through platforms that “track and trend” the users with information such as number of site visits and time spent watching a video.

Johnstown, Colo.-based Canyon Bakehouse, a division of Flowers Foods, uses a variety of interactive training methods across departments, including maintenance, sanitation, safety and food safety. Additionally, the company recently added workers to its training staff to have a full-time trainer on each shift.

For leadership development, Canyon relies on a number of external resources ranging from community colleges to the Creative Center for Leadership to BEMA’s Insights program.

“We also have our own internal baking science program,” said Jeremiah Tighlman, vice president of operations at Canyon Bakehouse. “We put that together on our own. We’re gluten-free, and there aren’t a lot of people teaching about it, so we have our own home-grown technical training. We spent a lot of time on it and relied a lot on our trainers, and we sent them through BEMA’s Train the Trainer courses.”

Minneapolis-based General Mills’ Karl Thorson, food safety and sanitation manager, noted that empowering employees often begins with technology such as Wi-Fi-connected iPads.

“There’s a lot we can do with simple technology and a fairly small investment,” he said.

Even with all the options for training tools, there are still deterrents, including limited time and resources for developing front-line bakery employees.

“You’ve got to get creative,” Mr. Thorson said. “With short, bite-sized bits, you can get to them during a shift change or whenever they have availability.”

The panel discussed the fact that the low unemployment rate makes it too easy for dissatisfied workers to find a new job.

“Workers used to stay with one organization for a long period of time, and that allowed management to really develop and teach them,” said Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales, Rademaker. “And now, you have a shorter period of time — attention span, if you will — to reach them and keep them engaged for the long term.”

BEMA addresses workforce challenges and ideation for training and development through programs such as BIF and Train the Trainer. At BakingTECH 2020, BEMA incorporated a Retensa Retention track into the conference’s programming in lieu of BEMA Summit, which was previously co-located with BakingTECH. For more information on BEMA education and training, click here