Solving the workforce skills gap

 
A recent job posting for a prominent retail bakery seeking a pastry sous chef listed 10 qualifications ranging from extensive management duties to daily production of desserts including viennoiserie, pastries and ice creams. 
 
The requirements to apply? Four years’ experience working in a restaurant with pastry focus, culinary school attendance, experience with laminated dough, cakes, ice cream, chocolate and sugar work, and knowledge of how to work with a dough sheeter and depositor – just to name a few.
 
The one question, though, is how many job seekers are there in America with such a unique set of skills.
 
As job requirements become more specialized and workers are needed to perform a wider range of duties, the workforce skills gaps at bakeries and pastry shops across the country are reaching a critical juncture.
 
Retail store owners and managers are left asking: Do I hire for specific skills or do I hire based on attitude and potential? How do I afford to invest in training my staff when they might not be around for long? How do I manage, develop talent and still do all the necessary production work that needs to be taken care of every day?
 
All are relevant and important questions, and the starting point begins with taking a deep breath and recognizing that you don’t have all the answers. You need assistance, and there are many resources out there where you can reach out for help.
 
From culinary schools to bakery trade associations, numerous organizations and individuals are working hard on a daily basis to alleviate the pressure of this key issue that is challenging the future of the bakery and pastry industry.
 

Investing in Your Employees

 
For one, Michael Eggebrecht, president and chief executive officer of Artisan Baking Resources, praises groups like the Bread Bakers Guild of America, which recently announced the launch of the first phase of its new artisan baker certification program: Certified Bread Baker. The goal of the program is to establish and measure the core skills of an artisan baker.
 
“I’m very excited to see this bread baker certification program from the Guild,” he says. “It’s important to invest in existing employees and help people feel like they have a career.”
 
Benefits of certification include demonstrating knowledge and skill to staff, peers, managers and the public, as well as showing commitment to the highest levels of professionalism and care. Further, certification opens career options for professionals, elevates self-esteem and pride in one’s work, and improves credibility with employers and the general public. For more information, visit www.bbga.org.
 
Further, the Retail Bakers of America offers a comprehensive certification program that raises professional standards and verifies the knowledge, skills and abilities that professional bakers bring to the marketplace. Certification also increases job opportunities and income for certified bakers and decorators.   
 
According to the association, RBA certification greatly benefits four types of retail bakers: 
Students graduating from a baking or culinary programs, but have limited work experience
Bakery staff with little or no technical training, but much on-the-job training
Bakery staff specializing in decorating or bread baking
Retail bakers with four or more years of experience.   
 
RBA provides professionals of the retail baking industry the opportunity to earn up to four certifications:   
 
Certified Journey Baker (CJB)  
A baker at this level assists in the preparation and production of pies, cookies, cakes, breads, rolls, desserts or other baked goods for a commercial bakery. Duties may include stocking ingredients, preparing and cleaning equipment; measuring ingredients, mixing, scaling, forming, proofing, oven tending, and product finishing. He/she must demonstrate a basic knowledge about the principles of sanitation.   
 
Certified Baker (CB)  
A Certified Baker prepares and produces baked goods while assisting with general commercial bakery operations. He/she has considerable responsibility and autonomy and participates in a broad range of both complex and routine work activities, including supervision of other staff and allocation of resources. He/she must demonstrate a basic knowledge of bakery sanitation, management, retail sales/merchandising and staff training.   
 
Certified Decorator (CD) 
A decorator at this level and for this designation prepares and finishes sweet baked goods for a commercial bakery. Duties include preparing icings, decorating a variety of cakes using various techniques, seasonal displays and specialty designs, and working with customers. He/she demonstrates a basic knowledge about sanitation.   
 
Certified Master Baker (CMB)  
A baker at this level and for this designation participates in a broad range of complex, technical or professional work activities, performed in a wide variety of contexts with a substantial degree of personal responsibility and autonomy. Responsibility for the work of others and allocation of resources is present. He/she must have the technical and administrative skills necessary to operate and manage the production area of a full-line independent or in-store commercial bakery. He/she must produce high quality bakery foods, and demonstrate a basic knowledge about the principles of sanitation, management, retail sales/merchandising and training.   
 

Seeking Solutions

 
The American Bakers Association’s (ABA) Human Resources Committee, in conjunction with the American Society of Baking (ASB), commissioned Cypress Research Associates to conduct a year-long comprehensive study to collect data from bakers, suppliers and broad manufacturing about the challenges and solutions for attracting, training and retaining skilled, hourly production workers.
 
During the year-long study, titled “The Workforce Gap in US Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges & Solutions,” the research shed valuable light on what some had expected. While the most serious gap is among hourly skilled production positions, the biggest challenge currently lies with maintenance and engineering positions.
 
Further, training-related challenges are contributing to the skills shortage. Of those bakery executives surveyed, 87 percent indicated that a lack of formal skills/job training programs for new and existing employees is contributing to the skills shortage. Slightly more than a quarter consider it a “significant challenge.”
 
Eggebrecht of Artisan Baking Resources points out that it’s a big job to run a plant. “It’s not just bakery skills. It is computer skills, management, and equipment. Baking is only a small portion of it.”