The Baking Equipment Manufacturers and Allieds (BEMA), Overland Park, Kan., featured a wealth of educational topics at this year’s Winter Summit, March 2-3 at the Chicago Marriott in downtown Chicago.

The meeting featured a new educational track and record attendance at the networking reception.

The Baking Industry Forum (BIF), a joint effort between bakers and suppliers, selected the issue of creating a skilled workforce as its focus for 2013. BIF presented one solution: Hiring veterans. BIF member Mike Pierce of the Austin Co. showcased the results of a survey of bakers and suppliers conducted by the forum in fall 2012. The survey found that skilled positions (plant maintenance and service) will be in higher demand in the coming years, so bakers and suppliers should look beyond traditional recruiting sources and consider additional sources.

Scott Dearduff, CMSgt, U.S. Air Force (retired), shared the veteran’s perspective, dispelling stereotypes and stating that veterans’ educational credentials may not be the same as other applicants, but they bring discipline and technical capabilities that equate to years of experience.

Marady Leary, director of Strategic Programs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, described the chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program. The program hosts hiring fairs that connect veterans to employers as well as provides training for veterans. She also described the tax incentives available through the program.

The Winter Summit also featured a Vendor Relations panel featuring Dave Watson of Pepperidge Farm, Mike Alagna of Nation Pizza and Foods and Joe Turano of Turano Baking. The three discussed their companies’ history and facilities and answered questions about improving communication between bakers and suppliers from panel moderator Scott Fischer of Shick USA. The panel agreed that they preferred face-to-face communication and emphasized the importance of dedicating time and resources to training in advance of plant start-up.

BEMA also introduced member-to-member educational sessions, with topics such as protecting intellectual property, STEP grants and R&D tax credits and integrated safety solutions. Each session was presented by a BEMA member, along with an expert in that field.

“We received great feedback on the value of the content,” says Kerwin Brown, BEMA president/CEO. “We’ll be working to establish the best schedule for these sessions and will continue to present them as an investment in our members.”

Networking opportunities are the second key component of BEMA meetings. At Winter Summit, meeting attendees benefited from increased attendance at a welcome reception held in a new venue, the Woman’s Athletic Club of Chicago. Bakers attending ASB, as well as the full BEMA membership, were invited to the reception, creating a valuable networking environment. BEMA’s luncheon provided an additional opportunity to interact with members and customers. BEMA honored Steve Wright of Hansaloy at the event with a Lifetime Achievement Award.