As bakeries grapple with workforce issues, executives ask themselves how they can improve the situation in their own facilities. It’s not just about getting quality people in the door but keeping them.

When bakers gather, the question will inevitably come up. Take the BEMA Convention 2021. In a panel about supply chain problems, the discussion turned to workforce.

“If you think about our industry, it’s tough,” said Brad Alexander, chief operating officer of Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “Our bakeries are hot. We’re expecting people to work on weekends; we’re expecting them to work on holidays. What we’ve got to do is think through how we can make sure the workforce of the future is going to want to work for us.”

Of course, there’s no silver bullet. The issues are myriad, which call for a multi-pronged approach to solving them. But promoting a culture that values workers and creates an environment where they know they are an important part of the team is a great place to start.

“We want to build stickiness in a culture so that we can weather the next storm that comes at us,” said Kerry Goyette, behavioral science expert, founder and president of Aperio Consulting Group, who works with companies to improve their cultures. “We want to make sure we create cultures where people want to stay. The pandemic was challenging, but we want workers to feel like we couldn’t have done this without the people that we work with. When they feel that, then you know you have a really good culture.”

Bakeries have been feeling the pinch of a labor shortage for a while, and it’s hurting the industry.

The inability to find people and keep them is shifting the dynamic of the industry, noted Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of American Bakers Association, during the supply chain discussion at BEMA.

“I talk to bakers every day, and there are bakers turning away new business or expanded business either because they can’t find employees to add a shift or a partial shift or — and I think this is smart — they’re not willing to overstress their current employee base by having more overtime or an added shift,” he said. “In 26 years, I’ve never heard of a baker turning away business ever.”

Bakers understand that finding good quality workers and supporting them through training and other means is critical for success.

“We have a lot of aspirations and things we want to do to elevate this business,” said Trina Bediako, chief executive officer of New Horizons Baking Co., Norwalk, Ohio. “But if our people aren’t solidified — if they don’t have the training and the resources at their disposal, if we’re not giving them the support that they need — we can’t reach our goals. These dreams mean nothing. And we see that from top to bottom.”

This article is an excerpt from the September 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Staffing Considerations, click here.