Bakers Must Engage Next Generation of Customers, Talent
B&CMA President Dave Van Laar and I have been on a whirlwind #StrongerTogetherTour to introduce each other’s members and discuss the benefits of the ABA-B&CMA merger. Our teams put together a fun and engaging social media tour. The core, however, is the substantive discussions about what is front of mind for bakers and suppliers.
Without exception, the topic consistently raised is attracting and developing skilled talent in the industry. Regardless of company size, products produced, or geography of the future of the industry, talent is the first thing both bakers and suppliers want to talk about. As the ABA-ASB Workforce Skills Gap study showed, we are facing a significant challenge that will only grow if we do not act as an industry.
Last year, ABA stood up one small but important part of the solution by offering management and leadership training for the industry’s front line supervisors. Many retention issues can be avoided by having strong leaders on the plant floor. The wildly successful Front Line Leadership Program has now trained 70 of the industry’s supervisors, and participating companies are already reporting improvements. We will be announcing our next three sessions very shortly.
The addition of the B&CMA cookie and cracker training programs will also go a long way toward improving the retention of our industry’s skilled workforce. Having well trained operators on the plant floor will increase efficiency, reduce costs and show current employees that the industry is invested in their development.
These efforts will help, but the industry still needs to attract bright young talent to remain vibrant. In our numerous plant tours as part of the #StrongerTogetherTour, we have met some of these incredible people. Full of enthusiasm with a sense of purpose, the industry will be well served into the future. We must do more though.
On our plant tours, it occurred to me that when I started at ABA 20-plus years ago, every company would run tours for school, Scouts and church groups. In fact, my first member visit was to Mrs. Bairds in Houston, Texas which was running tours every hour. It was a brilliant way to introduce baking to young people and start a lifelong relationship with future customers.
Unfortunately, the industry has gotten away from bringing school age kids into facilities. I fully recognize the liability and food safety risks involved in hosting this audience. Not all facilities are conducive to plant tours. However, I strongly urge the industry to seriously look at reopening plants to young students. Not only will you demystify the baking process and potentially develop strong loyalty with the next generation of customers – you may also excite a young person to consider baking as a noble and purpose-filled career. To me, the reward will far outweigh the risks.