Filling The Talent Pool
By Jeff Dearduff
As this column continues to dive into the changes affecting the career of the bakery maintenance manager, I now want to talk about a critical and direct influence on the manager’s ability to successfully execute his job: the hourly mechanics and specialists who work for him.
Ideally, employees should have four traits:
• aptitude — knowledge and capacity to learn
• attitude — level-headed and open-minded
• fortitude — strength to encounter adversity
• energy — the capacity to be extremely active
Now, take a look around. Is your maintenance crew made up of people who excel in all four categories?
It’s doubtful. You might be lucky and have a couple individuals in the crew that are just full of talent, able to get along with everyone on either side of the proverbial brick wall and full of the energy and desire needed to learn and get the job done. In reality, you probably have a larger percent that get high marks in one or maybe two of the four categories, but they then drop off severely in the remaining areas. Unfortunately, in some cases, you may even have some people who miss the mark in all areas.
Not having the proper traits to become good workers can create challenges for the bakery maintenance manager and cost many hours in lost time, rework and conflict resolution. To someone outside of the department, these unproductive hours makes the maintenance manager appear unable to handle his responsibilities.
In reality, however, it’s not a lack of leadership. Rather, you have to ask yourself: “How much training have we provided today’s bakery maintenance manager in the area of personnel management?”
In many ways, the maintenance department is like any other team. You can have a head coach who knows the game plan inside and out, but may not be able to manage the provided talent and critical situations for any number of reasons. If the “team” is unsuccessful, the owners or general managers don’t fire the players. They fire the head coach.
Likewise, in a bakery, management may perceive that the maintenance manager is failing in his duties, when in reality, his staff doesn’t have the right attitude, aptitude, energy or talent.
So, how do we fix this problem? The first step is the ability to recognize your staff’s shortcomings and their lack of training. Additionally, we have to reevaluate our recruiting methods, our job descriptions and our timeframes for development. With that said, the future is only going to get tougher for us, unless we discover some creative solutions.
Let’s start by getting creative in the areas of recruiting, training and quality of life. When recruiting, do you have a method for recruitment truly spelled out? Are the criteria for the person you’re looking for documented and constantly reviewed? When you are in a pinch, do you search for the right person, or do you gamble on someone simply to fill an open slot?
Face it. The days of hiring “warm bodies” to fully staff a maintenance department are over because the demand for skills is so high. In the end, the team only suffers when its members are not fully capable.
Training is an issue that will never leave our plate. “People development,” as some people call it, needs to be documented and constantly reviewed. Maybe you have several levels of development plans because some people can go further than others. Whatever the case, bakeries can’t expect to partner a “greenie” with a long-timer who knows the ropes because the long-timer often doesn’t exist anymore Instead, bakery maintenance managers need to lean on their resources and industry professionals to help design development programs that can bring it all together.
In the maintenance department, “quality of life” has been a major issue for decades. For so many years, down days in the bakery production area came on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, and that’s when maintenance work needs to get done. If you have 150 people in production and 12 in maintenance, it’s easier for the company to give the 150 their Saturday off than to give it to a dozen mechanics.
Creative scheduling is the only way to solve this issue. Rotating weekends, larger crews and schedule flexibility are the tools you have to work with to make the quality of life issues fall under the radar.
A happy workforce is obviously more effective. How do you make a happy workforce? Nobody has the silver bullet on this one. It comes down to how creative you can get in the areas you can control and how good you are going to be in convincing upper management that “quality of life” issues in the maintenance department need serious attention, now and in the future. The talent pool only seems to have a shallow end these days. Your chances of finding the right guy floating around on his raft while waiting for your call are slim. Chances are he already is working, and because of the lifestyle the bakery provides, he is probably working in another industry where he doesn’t have to work every weekend.
So, when you throw in the rope and pull one of these guys out of the pool, make sure you have a plan to develop him into a long-term contributor to your mission … and provide a quality of life that will make him feel that he has found his “workplace home.” SF&WB
Editor’s Note: In this monthly column, Jeff Dearduff, director of engineering at East Balt Inc. in Chicago, addresses the responsibilities of the bakery engineer. Jeff got his start in the baking industry at Perfection Biscuit Co., now Aunt Millie’s. He is a member of the American Bakers Assn., the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee, the American Institute of Baking and the American Society of Baking. You can contact Jeff at