ABA recently shared with the industry its proposed strategic plan. Over the year-long process, one element clearly jumped out as critically important to the success of the industry and that was the overwhelming concern for the cost of government overreach at all levels of government. This is significantly compressing the operating margins of bakers as well as their customers. This compression limits capital for facilities, innovation and retaining the highly skilled talent of the industry. In 2016, the Cato Institute pegged the cost of new and soon-to-be implemented federal regulations more than $1.2 T, or 6% of GDP for the year. That is a huge drag on bakers and the rest of the economy.
Since the 2016 election, ABA has successfully worked hard to eliminate or scale back the most onerous regulatory proposals. Working with willing allies in the Administration, Congress and the manufacturing sector, numerous DOL, OSHA, EPA and DOT regulations have been stopped before being finalized or outright repealed. These actions coupled with a massive tax relief packaged aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing, including the largest sector of manufacturing – the food industry, have helped to take the pressure off bakers.
While ABA has seen significant improvement in the regulatory environment, a lot more work needs to be done. Ironically, it is the FDA where most of the work yet remains. ABA has had a long history of a close working relationship with FDA across administrations of both parties, so it is surprising that FDA, in an Administration that favors regulatory relief, has been so intransigent on issues such as fiber, added sugars, nutritional facts labeling and trans-fat. For two years ABA has sought clarity and simplicity from FDA on these critically important issues for bakers. Even armed with the best science and common sense, ABA and its allies have not impressed upon FDA officials the need to adjust course. ABA will be laser focused on the myriad federal labeling proposals over the next year and half to try to mitigate unnecessary duplication and compliance costs.
Despite the regulatory relief efforts of the past two years, bakers and their customers still face a challenging marketplace environment that continues to compress operating margins. This means all important workforce development funds are being squeezed at a time when high levels of employee turnover continue to be a very real problem for ABA members. If the reasons for ABA and B&CMA to merge were true a year ago, they are doubly compelling today.
The workforce turnover is especially challenging on the production floor. New employees come with little or no food experience and must quickly be taught the fundamentals. GMP and Food Safety training programs are available but training in the basics of baking needs to be stronger. Recognizing this need through member involvement the ABA is enhancing the Entry Level Training (ELT) with an emphasis on engaging, hands-on learning. ABA will soon offer an ELT “Train the Trainer” module to allow bakers to conduct ELT internally on their own schedule.
The Hands-on ELT training not only teaches the effects of variations seen on the production floor but allows students to experiment with these changes and observe the changes in the final product. This gives a better understanding when troubleshooting production problems. Training plant trainers will allow bakeries to expand their reach and train on their own schedules. These efforts have been successful for new employees and more seasoned bakers.
In every training session held to date, there is one baker to whom all other employees look for answers. Unfortunately, many of those experienced bakers are nearing retirement age. ABA members are recognizing the challenge for the future. Fortunately, the path those seasoned employees took is still available through the ABA’s Cookie & Cracker Academy Manufacturing Course. Each of those bakers credit the two-year Cookie & Cracker Manufacturing Course as the foundation for their successful career. The ABA’s Cookie & Cracker Manufacturing Course is the training tool that will bring less experienced employees to a level of filling those position in time. Investing in the higher-level training returns significant value in more efficient operations but in lower turnover.
Numerous studies show that companies that invest in the long-term development of their key employees experience far greater engagement and less turnover. Investing in those trainees instills the pride and confidence that they are essential to a well-established industry with potential for individual growth.
ABA President & CEO
Dave Van Laar
Senior Advisor to the President & CEO: B&CMA Transition & Development