The American Bakers Association (ABA) and the American Society of Baking (ASB) released their joint study on workforce recruitment for commercial baking, highlighting growing labor shortage concerns within the industry and emerging strategies to combat them.

Cypress Research, which conducted the study, surveyed 70 companies from ABA and ASB, focusing on hourly skilled and unskilled production and transportation. The data was compared to the ABA and ASB’s workforce skills gap study from 2016.

“The baking industry has been dedicated to introducing Americans across the country to rewarding baking manufacturing careers,” says Robb Mackie, president and chief executive officer of the ABA. “Our industry’s most important ingredient is our workforce, and this study gives baking employers new insights to grow this community of 800,000 essential employees.”

Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research, says the study’s findings show that the nationwide labor shortage has hit bakeries especially hard.

“Far fewer people are drawn to manufacturing in the first place,” Hellmer says. “Environmental factors of bakery manufacturing pose additional recruitment challenges, and yet there are opportunities to address the challenges by offering benefits including flexible schedules, consecutive days off, etc.”

At least 53% of companies surveyed in skilled production, unskilled production and transportation reported either a “high or severe shortage” in 2021. And many predict these shortages will continue in the coming years. Half of bakeries expect high driver shortages to continue into 2027, while 58% predict the same for maintenance/engineering jobs.

Overall, the ABA/ASB study found that the top five recruitment challenges for baking employers, including finding and developing talent, providing adequate salary/benefits and making manufacturing appealing to qualified candidates, have not changed in the last five years. Current study trends show that finding and developing talent was cited as a “moderate or significant challenge” for 96% of bakeries for skilled and unskilled production positions, while both adequate salary/benefits and making manufacturing appealing was cited as a “moderate to significant” challenge by 88% to 90% of bakers. Up to two-thirds of baking employers anticipate these challenges to continue over the next five years. 

To combat this, many bakeries have begun implementing new recruitment strategies. For example, company-specific career fairs (virtual or in-person) have grown significantly in popularity, with 69% of companies now using them for hourly skilled positions compared to 28% in 2016. Bakery employers’ use of formal employee referral programs, social media recruitment efforts on sites like LinkedIn, and allowing online application and resume submissions have also increased significantly since 2016.

Bakeries are taking steps to make their workforce more diverse as well. This year 96% of baking employers reported a focus on recruiting women, a 22% increase from 2016. And the share of baking companies with some or considerable focus on recruiting second-chance workers has increased 40% since 2016.

Baking companies are also redefining the qualifications needed for skilled production employees. Seventy-seven percent of employers have redefined qualifying criteria to include candidates who may lack some required skills but demonstrate the potential to acquire them on the job, a strategy only 59% were utilizing in 2016.

While baking employers are implementing many new strategies to combat labor shortages, Ms. Hellmer said they’ll need to do even more going forward. For example, while most baking employers offer competitive benefits and starting salaries for hourly skilled and unskilled production positions, only about half offer consecutive days off, and only about a third offer flexible schedules.

Hellmer recommends bakery employers explore benefits like this as they seek new strategies for employee retention.

“While concepts like workplace flexibility can be challenging when applying them to the production floor, I expect that [bakery employer] strategies are going to get bolder in order to keep talent in commercial baking,” Hellmer says. “Conversations around cross-training teams, developing pilot programs to test alternative ways of working and gathering input from employees and managers in the pilot to encourage buy-in and to create effective and sustainable programs, are all critical steps to attracting and retaining new generations of bakery team members.”