A new multi-phase study gauges the current state of commercial bakery manufacturer employment, amplifies best practices among employers and recommends plans to minimize the workforce skills gap in the baking industry. The American Bakers Association and the American Society of Baking on July 28 released “The Workforce Gap in U.S. Commercial Baking: Trends, Challenges and Solutions” that they commissioned Cypress Research Associates, L.L.C., Kansas City, to do.

“Our approach was to better understand the gap, its drivers, current solutions and future industry applications,” said Rich Scalise, president and chief executive officer of Hearthside Food Solutions and immediate past chairman of the Washington-based A.B.A. “With this information in hand, leaders can evaluate and benchmark strategies based on proven best practices.”

The study was commissioned not only to better understand the size and implications of the workforce gap but also to find out how the industry may address and narrow the gap.

“The case study approach documents already successful outcomes that can be benchmarked, modeled and compared, providing a road map for companies seeking to close the divide between available and needed industry talent,” Mr. Scalise said.

Cypress Research Associates collected data from bakers, manufacturers and other companies throughout the country. Original survey data came from an aggregate of 73% of the commercial baking industry in the United States.

The study found 81% expressing ever-increasing concerns about labor costs and another 58% expressing the same concerns about increased use of automation. Sixty per cent reported an increase in skilled positions over the past five years.

The workforce gap among U.S. commercial bakers was largest among hourly, skilled production: maintenance/engineering (78% high or severe shortage); hourly, skilled production: machine operators (40%); and salaried engineering/maintenance (59%).

By 2025, survey respondents anticipate shortages among engineering and maintenance positions, both hourly and salaried, to remain high to severe. Companies anticipate a significant rise in shortages among hourly machine operators, unskilled production positions, and salaried scientist and research and development positions.

To reduce the workforce gap, the study gave recommendations on recruitment, training and retention.

The study found 95% of executives indicated making bakery manufacturing appealing is a “moderate” or “significant” recruitment-related challenge.

To find talent, the study recommended companies tap diverse talent pools such as women, veterans and millennials. Companies should implement formal employee referral programs, and they should leverage technology such as social media, on-line job boards and on-line applications.

Creating partnerships with local and state organizations and educational institutions also may be a way to access potential job candidates. Companies may offer internships/apprenticeships through high schools, community/technical colleges and four-year colleges. The study found 46% of companies offer internships/apprenticeships in such ways.

Salaries and benefits may recruit talent. More than 60% of bakery manufacturers indicated they would pay more to tackle the skills shortage among hourly, skilled production employees.

For training, the study recommended identifying employees and job candidates with high potential and providing training in leadership and other key skills. Companies may provide training in hourly, skilled positions in baking industry-specific technical skills, leadership skills and problem solving.

To retain talent, companies may improve work place environment and culture, implement employee recognition programs, foster collaboration and teamwork, offer performance-based pay, hire more full-time production staff to reduce employee burnout, and offer flexible schedules/staffing.

“The American Society of Baking is already hard at work developing programs to address the current and future workforce gap in our industry,” said Mario Somoza, chairman of the A.S.B. “We are revamping our scholarship program to target students pursuing education in areas such as food science and engineering/manufacturing, as well as our traditional support of bakery science programs.

“A.S.B. has developed a careers section on our web site that lists universities, culinary institutes and certification programs where potential employees can gain the skills and knowledge needed for a career in the baking industry. The site also profiles companies and successful individuals to increase awareness of bakery manufacturing as a desired career. We are doing everything we can to help students and upwardly mobile employees gain the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career in the baking industry.”

For more on the study visit www.americanbakers.org/workforce_gap or www.asbe.org/resources/workforce-gap-study