A job in the bakery may be less attractive to the average person today. For disadvantaged individuals such as the formerly incarcerated, immigrants and refugees, however, it can be the opportunity they desperately need. 

“Many of our employees have experienced significant barriers to employment, including housing insecurity, incarceration, substance use disorders and other systemic challenges,” explained Karen Calderon, director of human resources, Rubicon Bakers. “We provide employment so that they can turn their lives around.”

The bakery operates a second-chance hiring program with area non-profit Rubicon Programs, which offers training and employment opportunities to those facing barriers to employment. If they complete the program, Rubicon Bakers offers them full-time positions at the company. Calderon said hiring these individuals is important not only to boost its workforce but also because bakery has a social responsibility to contribute to the well-being of its community. 

“By providing job opportunities to vulnerable populations we can help address inequality and promote social inclusion,” she said. “At the same time, we are providing individuals with financial stability, independence and a sense of purpose. Employers can empower individuals to improve their economic circumstances and build better futures for themselves and their families.”

While the competition for labor in the San Francisco Bay Area is competitive, Pounds said Rubicon’s second-chance program has resulted in strong retention rates for the bakery. Furthermore, many of these employees have been promoted to higher level positions in the company. 

New Horizons Baking Co., Norwalk, Ohio, has found similar success through its partnership with Jewish Family Services, a local non-profit serving populations such as African and Muslim refugees. Thanks to the support from these communities, the company’s New Horizons Food Solutions dry ingredient facility has enjoyed a high staffing rate since 2022, said Trina Bediako, chief executive officer, New Horizons Baking Co. 

“Jobs do not remain open, and we know referrals can keep us staffed,” she said. “The biggest issue now is that we do not have enough open roles or shifts.”

Some bakeries may be hesitant to hire from these groups, especially the formerly incarcerated. However, bakery leaders emphasized that these people often become some of the most valuable employees at their bakeries.

“One of the biggest challenges is overcoming misconceptions and stereotypes around areas of discipline, reliability and performance for people with criminal backgrounds,” observed Deb Chipperfield, senior vice president, human resources, supply chain and operations, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “However, in our experience, the performance of employees with criminal backgrounds is often at the same level or higher than their teammates, and in many cases, these individuals are promoted at a faster rate.”

Flowers Foods’ flagship Dave’s Killer Bread facility in Milwaukie, Ore., is one of the leading advocates for second-chance employment in the industry, with nearly 40% of team members hired through the bakery’s initiatives. 

“These team members demonstrate dedication, motivation and loyalty when they come to the bakery; they are passionate about the opportunity to learn and grow,” Chipperfield said. “They have an incredibly strong work ethic, and they’re eager to start over and prove themselves.”

Bakeries that refuse to hire these individuals are turning away a significant portion of the labor force at a time when potential candidates are increasingly scarce, said Barbara Aker, corporate director of More Than A Bakery, Versailles, Ky. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 29.5% of US adults   have a criminal record, a number far higher than many realize, she said.

“If you’re just closing your doors to that, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity,” she said.

Aker speaks to many people with a criminal background through the Jobs for Life program, discussing their journeys and holding roundtables and mock interviews.  

“A lot of it is mostly they were young, made some mistakes, got involved in drugs, and then started getting a criminal background, and then they can’t get jobs,” she said. “And then they’re trapped. There’s no way to provide. There’s no way to succeed.”

More Than A Bakery provides that opportunity to succeed via employment at its facility, and additionally works to hire from the town’s Congolese population. Aker said the former has done particularly well at integrating into the bakery. 

“That population has really been successful in either fitting into our culture and getting promoted,” she said. “And just the loyalty — they don't miss work. They're really here.”

These marginalized groups deeply appreciate getting the opportunity that others have denied them, Paterakis said, which helps build a strong sense of loyalty to the bakery that contributes to greater performance and retention. H&S Bakery partners with second-chance groups that help place refugees, and it’s also working with autistic groups to see where they can align their skill sets.

“We find their willingness to work and their grateful attitude very desirable in our industry,” said Bill Paterakis, chief executive of H&S Bakery, Baltimore. “Bottom line, we are looking for people who want opportunity to work and are willing to give them a place to stay for long term employment.”

Paterakis additionally called on Congress to pass legislation that allows more immigrants to join the workforce. 

“The US does not have near enough manufacturing workers to fill the jobs today, let alone the jobs to be created by building in America policies,” he said. “While a path to citizenship is the goal, and intermediate step that is a win-win is to give them a path to employment authorization instead of creating a tax burden.”

This article is an excerpt from the June 2024 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Workforceclick here.