Who Wants To Be a Maintenance Mentor?

By Jeff Dearduff

Training, training, training ... That’s the term we hear way too often when people make mistakes or when they just don’t get it. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time someone mentioned the need for more “training,” I’d be a millionaire.
In the business of bakery maintenance, however, training itself is not the “final answer.” Rather, you might need to use a “lifeline” to get your people to the next level.
Your choice of lifelines is probably shorter than you think. You could “phone a friend” to get some tips, but chances are they’re struggling for the right answers, too. You’ve already done a form of “50/50” just by trying different programs through the years and succeeding on about half your ideas. And the audience isn’t going to help you on this one, so I would like to suggest a lifeline called “mentoring.” Mentoring is nothing new, but its application to our world could use a little clarification.
Webster’s Dictionary says a mentor is a wise advisor — one who leads you through your early years, one who teaches and coaches, and one who gets you past your biggest fears. Well, Webster doesn’t say it exactly like that, but this works for me. So how do we employ a mentoring program in the world of bakery maintenance? It’s not simple, but it’s doable.
The ingredients you need to get this mentoring project up and running are already right at your fingertips, or at least sitting on top of the workbench having a sandwich at lunchtime. The recipe simply requires a couple of veteran crew members and some inexperienced up-and-comers. The formula for success, however, depends on how you manage all the participants.
The “wise advisor” role might be yours. However, you already have plenty to do with running the day-to-day business, so you need to rely on others to carry out your initiatives in this regard. That’s why you should nominate your most experienced crew members for the teaching role.
In some cases, they might need a little convincing about how important it is to get the newer people up to speed. Some bakery maintenance pros can be reluctant to share their expertise with the young guns — this is where you remind them that we are all in this together, yada, yada, yadda. Once you get them on board, you then can pick your targets: those who will benefit from the knowledge-sharing practice. If you have some real hot shots on that list who already “know it all,” again, do some convincing. It will be critical that all participants “get it” for the program to have a chance of succeeding.
Now that your group has totally bought into the program, what are you going to ask them to do? This sounds a lot simpler than it actually will turn out. All that has to happen is that your up-and-comer needs to hook onto the pro and watch and listen as they move through the day together. But what likely will happen is the experienced pros will be somewhat guarded with what they share, and the newbies will only half-listen. As the chief mentor, you have the responsibility of managing all these egos to get the results you need.
As we know, bakeries tend to take on their own identities. As in any workplace, there are many idiosyncrasies that you must become familiar with to help your employees find their way through a problem the next time it crops up. Sometimes we think we are at an advantage when we hire people with prior bakery maintenance experience. That’s not always the case. Regardless of how much time they spent at other shops, they will find that your bakery brings a new set of challenges. This mentoring program helps them discover the oddities sooner and, if explained well, can elevate your new employees’ confidence in a hurry.
What do you do if the experienced pros are on opposite shifts of those who need mentoring? This is just another little challenge for you. Hopefully, your workplace rules will allow temporary reassignment of shifts so that you can match up the best teacher with the neediest student. You might move the teacher to the student’s shift for a while or vice versa. You might need incentives to make this happen, but just think of the huge benefits this will payout when you get newer crew members exposed to what is going on behind the curtain.
It’s easy to find seminars or workshops to send some of your prize students for a few days where they might pick up and retain 10% of what was taught. You might be able to enroll them in industry correspondence courses that put words and pictures in front of them for some level of knowledge transfer. And you always can send someone through the extended residence courses that target bakery maintenance.
However, the neat thing about the mentoring approach is that you have little to no investment in materials and minimal program structure. Best of all, it involves people learning from their peers. When formal training is coupled with a solid mentoring program at your bakery, the value you will get is definitely worth a million bucks. SF&WB