Labor shortages remain a major challenge for snack makers and wholesale bakeries. It’s a struggle to hire and retain workers, especially ones with the skill sets needed to maintain production as operations become more sophisticated. As a result, companies are considering how technology and automation can relieve staffing shortages. 

Automating manual tasks can improve retention by minimizing repetitive, physically-demanding tasks, improving safety, and making the workday more fulfilling. Automation and technologies such as easy-to-use, intuitive controls and remote diagnostics can help operators be more self-sufficient and broaden the work area each operator oversees. Reducing the need for team members cuts costs, lowers recruitment needs, and accommodates lower-skilled workers. Automation also makes actionable information more accessible to operators and mechanics, boosts accuracy and line speed, and improves the training experience via newer procedures and guidance tools such as augmented reality, which offer the potential for a higher level of engagement and shorter learning curve for new hires or personnel accepting new responsibilities. 

Recruiting is essential, but retention may be even more critical because of the time, effort, and expense involved with interviewing, hiring, and training replacements to fill staffing gaps. In fact, it typically costs 50% of their salary to replace an entry-level employee.

High retention rates also depend on identifying training gaps, continually investing in employees, and clearly communicating about in-house opportunities. It’s particularly important to discuss the paths to take to learn new skills, change roles, and advance. When needs are met, employees feel more engaged. They especially appreciate educational opportunities that 

  • Help them stay up-to-date in their field
  • Are personalized for their interests and career goals
  • Help them advance or change roles internally and move closer to achieving career goals.

Successful employee development depends on a combination of training and mentoring. Noting the best employees want to grow, learn, or advance, the Work Institute recommends establishing clear benchmarks, which correlate potential advancement with performance accomplishments. For employees who are comfortable in their current position but still want to learn new skills, determine what they enjoy and offer learning opportunities that will challenge them. This motivates employees to perform and encourages them to stay.

As the use of automation, mechatronics, robotics, and artificial intelligence expands, providing the technical training needed to support these advanced technologies is one way to build a skilled and loyal workforce and provide the growth opportunities employees crave. 

Workforce development is an integral part of the services PMMI provides for members and nonmembers. Options include the TechEd 365 course, Troubleshooting Packaging Machinery, which is available online in English and Spanish. Designed for newcomers to the industry, it also can serve as a refresher for seasoned employees. 

The PMMI Mechatronics Certification program consists of a series of tests based on industry-developed skill standards and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Manufacturing Institute’s Skills Certification System. The program seeks to narrow the skills gap by:

  • Helping employers assess workers for core skills
  • Guiding schools in developing curricula to prepare students for the manufacturing workforce
  • Providing a career pathway for students looking for rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing. 

PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network offers an array of online courses to help snack food and wholesale bakeries and their OEMs solve common operational challenges. Topics include:

  • Factory Acceptance Testing 
  • Request for Proposal
  • Total Cost of Ownership 
  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness.

Workforce solutions will be on display at PACK EXPO Las Vegas (Sept. 11–13, 2023, at the Las Vegas Convention Center). Keeping pace with this growing industry’s workforce needs, this year’s show will provide many opportunities to engage and excite the next generation of future leaders. On track to be the largest and broadest edition of this trade show since its inception, PACK EXPO Las Vegas will showcase solutions from over 2,000 suppliers. From engaging with colleagues and hearing from industry experts to witnessing materials, technologies, and machinery in action, attending PACK EXPO Las Vegas is the most effective way to explore packaging and processing solutions for every kind of product, entire production lines, and even the supply chain.

To register and learn more, visit