Rarely does a week go by without the topic of workforce development crossing my desk. It’s a problematic situation that’s central to industry performance as we deal with present challenges—and look toward the future.

The IBIE BEST in Baking Program, sponsored by IBIE and SF&WB, highlights top innovations across baking. As part of the 2019 program, Akron, OH bakery Main Street Gourmet was recognized with a Top Honors designation in the Workforce Development category for its innovative staffing model involving hiring recently resettled refugees.

“Starting in 2008, we made a concerted effort to create a program that would attract and retain qualified employees,” said Kelly Loebick-Frascella, human resources director, when I recently visited the bakery. The bakery partners with the International Institute of Akron, a nonprofit that has helped settle immigrants and refugees into the area for over 100 years.

“We speak around a dozen languages in this plant,” said Steve Marks, co-founder, member of the board of directors and former co-CEO. “We’ve helped a lot of employees become citizens.”

The program has grown into a competitive advantage. “It has blossomed into something that’s now part of our culture,” said Loebick-Frascella. “Currently, 42 percent of our workforce has refugee status. These employees develop a commitment to Main Street Gourmet. In turn, they help bring in additional people, creating a stream of really good candidates.” High performers have opportunities for leadership development.

The program has helped with employee retention. “The baking industry in general has around a 40 percent turnover rate,” says Loebick-Frascella. “Ours was 17 percent in 2018.”

People who have a criminal record are also an untapped resource. A recent study from the Society for Human Resources Management found that 80 percent of HR managers feel the value employees with past criminal records bring to the organization is as high as, or higher than, the contributions of employees without criminal records. Three-quarters of managers and HR professionals also believe the cost of hiring these workers is the same or lower than hiring workers without criminal records.

One bakery that has found workforce success through hiring people with criminal backgrounds is Dave’s Killer Bread, through its DKB Foundation Second Chance Employment program (see https://www.dkbfoundation.org). MOD Pizza is also actively recruiting people with a troubled past to help give them a second chance.

At a time when staffing continues to pose multiple challenges, snack producers and bakeries need to have a multi-pronged approach toward solutions, and all options should be on the table.