The New Year should be about finding extraordinarily talented people, says contributing columnist Jeff Dearduff, and keeping them engaged for an extended period of time. 

Welcome to 2011! Things have been looking up over the past 12 months, and we in the industry should be excited about the next 12 ahead. The stock exchange seems to be bouncing back, unemployment numbers are exhibiting a slight decline and Americans are showing that bread products and baked goods are still important to their family’s well being.

Except for the onslaught on our wallets from the new “healthcare” bill, our future is looking pretty good.

With that said, it’s time to examine what lies ahead. One of the biggest challenges we will continue to face in the industry for a number of years is finding extraordinarily talented people and keeping them engaged for an extended period of time.

You might feel like you have exhausted every avenue when it comes to your searches for the people that will help you keep your ship righted, but I would like to offer a few examples and ideas for recruiting from which you might extract a thing or two that will help. Going forward, it will take a little extra effort on your part to find exceptional candidates to fill your openings, so let’s get started.

Presentation is everything. Way back in the old days, you could post an ad in the local paper and say, “bakery maintenance man needed,” and the mailbox and phone lines would fill up with exuberant candidates wanting to exit their present job at the dealership, gas station or farm to come work in a bakery. They heard that the pay was always good for this type of job and the work was steady. The problem back then was that no one expanded the recruiting conversations to include the Saturdays, Sundays and holidays that they would have to work, but the money and old-time work ethic made up for that.

In order to excel in attracting today’s “bakery maintenance person,” we have to present the offer in a totally different way. Today, maintenance personnel is thought to be those who clean the pool down at the local motel or look after an apartment building. In the bakery world, our automated facilities require people with a bit more experience and expertise than ever before. Just a change in the name or “title” of the job gets things started on a different track.

By referring to our folks as “technicians,” we will exude a different level of candidate from the crowd. When you are exploring the idea of recruiting some new talent, take an extremely close look at what you name the role you are trying to fill.

The next place to tackle is the pay for the job. Yesterday’s pay will not attract today’s technician. We first must take a close look at what we are expecting from the new recruit needed for today’s challenges. Identify how this new role exceeds the requirements of the old role. Then exercise some common sense in setting a new pay scale, and finally, find a way to express to upper management that the current pay may not be competitive.

Determining the expectations for this new “technician” role may require you to become an extrovert and reach out for some help from experts who may have already dealt with this issue. Don’t try to do this in a vacuum as there is no way that you, by yourself, can come up with the perfect job description that will satisfy the needs of the position. Your execution in this area will provide for the absolute best results possible.

The next area of concern that you may want to work on to excite the next wave of employees is “quality of life.” The fastest way to have a mass exodus of employees is to treat them as if they don’t matter. People today want to be scheduled fairly and given good benefits, and they expect you to extend a courtesy that makes them feel a part of the bigger picture. They want to be included in everything, not excluded. They want to be free of stress, not exasperated. You as their manager are in complete control of how involved they can be in their job.

When it comes to improving the quality of life for your employees, there is some room for experimentation. Since this is not an exact science at this point in time and is part of the new workplace culture shift, you can try some things one day. If they don’t quite work out, you can try something else. As you are creating something to make them feel better about where they stand in the company, consider exporting some ideas from them so that they have some skin in the game.

The other part of this quality of life piece has to do with their working conditions. When they are in the workplace, they expect excellent training, tools and materials that allow them to execute their tasks with confidence. Spare no expense to make sure they have what they need. Their success on the bakery floor equals your success as a manager.

You don’t have to be extravagant in any of the areas we have discussed; you just need to be fair and deliver on your word. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute, and you will find ways to expand your thinking so that you can recruit and retain the best of the best. Looking forward to an exciting year!