Automation can help baking companies eliminate jobs that are challenging and move employees into more fulfilling roles, but businesses are going a step further to show employees how they can turn “just a job” into a career. For Unique Snacks, a family-owned company that has more than 100 years of history, employee retention has required a robust investment in its human resources department and codifying career pathing programs that were once more organic. 

“Having a family culture has always been who we are, but as we’ve grown and the industry and workforce has changed, it’s become more difficult,” explained Justin Spannuth, chief operating officer, Unique Snacks, Reading, Pa. “When we had 17 employees, we knew everyone, and everyone felt like family. We have to be more purposeful, and we need a dedicated plan now to ensure everyone still feels that way and has a path to grow.”

To do that, Unique Snacks implemented several programs for employees to see themselves progress within the company. Operators who show up consistently and do their jobs are rewarded with a 25¢ per hour raise every three months until they reach the wage ceiling for that position in the company’s Quarter by Quarter program. At that point, employees are encouraged to train to move up to a new position, and Quarter by Quarter starts again. Employees also create plans for their growth for the first 90 days, year and two years based on their starting position. This allows employees to see where they can go within the company in the next two years. 

“These programs allow employees to see their future besides an hourly wage, their insurance and investments,” Mr. Spannuth said. “If they stay with us, they can see their growth. And if we can keep them for two years because they were able to see the finish line, they become part of the family, and they’re less likely to leave.”

The Good Bread Co., Taylor, Mich., has also implemented a very transparent approach to career pathing. A career ladder shows employees what training and experience is needed to reach certain positions. The ladder even includes the compensation they can expect in those roles. 

“Instead of in the past employees asking for raises because they were working hard, we’re depoliticizing compensation and basing it off the value they add to the operation,” saidSpiro Assimacopoulos, president and chief executive officer of The Good Bread Co. “It’s transparent to the point that it’s on the wall in the break room. It’s not a secret how you build your career here. If you can run one line, two lines or three, there’s a different compensation rate because that’s a lot of value you’re bringing to the company.”

While the career ladder has only just been implemented this year, Mr. Assimacopoulos said they’ve already received positive feedback. 

“There is always going to be a group of employees who are ambitious and hard-working, and a lot of them had no idea the different opportunities that were available to them,” he said. “We have a number of them now who are actively pursuing learning new machines to work toward line lead and supervisor positions.”

Much of career pathing and retention boils down to communication. As Mr. Assimacopoulos pointed out, some people simply aren’t aware of what’s available to them in the baking industry.

Ms. Almonte noted that International Delights is constantly keeping communication lines open to identify those individuals who want to grow and help them understand how to accomplish that goal. 

“It’s about having a close relationship with your employees and open communication of expectations,” she said.

At International Delights, Clifton, NJ, employees discuss their careers on an annual basis with human resources, and supervisors follow up weekly. The company has a robust training program in place. Employees start as production helpers learning about all aspects of the operation’s process. Line leaders are accountable for quality and manage production teams. From there, leaders can train to become department or shift supervisors. 

“We are a company that believes in growth from within,” explained Josefina Almonte, human resources manager, International Delights. 

Even employees who don’t want to remain in production can find a place in sanitation, maintenance or R&D, but this requires open communication. 

“We’ve been able to identify employees who have a keen sense of quality, so we’ve invested in their training, and they became one of our SQF practitioners,” Ms. Almonte explained. “Having that close relationship and open communication has helped us understand who wants to grow and who sees this as just a job.”

Ultimately, communication and employee investment are the foundations of strong employee retention. 

“Hear your employees; have a method in which they can provide feedback and know it’s being heard,” Mr. Spannuth concluded. “Keep investing in your people, and don’t let that fall by the wayside. 

“As long as you’re growing, it helps employees feel proud to be a part of something that’s growing,” he said.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Workforce, click here.