Deepening crisis: The COVID-19 workforce shortage in the bakery industry
The coronavirus pandemic has placed the bakery industry and other manufacturers of essential items among the most-needed workforces in the economy. Today, as the bakery aisle thrives and digital business grows, most commercial bakeries are exempt from any cutbacks, and employers are scrambling to find skilled talent in an industry already struggling with employee shortages.
In recent years, technology has revolutionized productivity in the bakery industry. As bakeries of all sizes grow more sophisticated in their use of artificial intelligence and robotics, the demand for technical talent has surged with even entry level jobs requiring more technical know-how. Now, with consumers stocking up and emptying store shelves, the search for skilled workers like machine operators, automation technicians and line technicians will challenge bakery production even more.
Even bakeries primarily supplying restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and convenience stores are ramping up hiring in anticipation of a huge jump in shopping, dining, and other activities as mandatory quarantines will be winding down in the coming months. Across the industry, we should be ready for a surge in talent shortages.
Every minute counts when attracting talent
When organizations struggle to fill a higher percentage of open positions, talent acquisition, training, and retention become the most important functions an organization has—even during a pandemic. To meet pressing talent demands now, as well as preparing for those of tomorrow, start with a focus on these five key areas: 1) virtual talent acquisition; 2) candidate sourcing; 3) Applicant Tracking System optimization; 4) employer branding and 5) and talent development.
1. Fine tune virtual hiring processes
While face-to-face meetings are the tried and true way to evaluate talent, virtual hiring can be a critical weapon in the fight to attract the best talent. While it's challenging to fit routine face-to-face processes into a virtual environment, here are a few tips to help you—and your candidates—succeed:
- Virtual interviews: Be very clear on your expectations for the visual aspects of the interview. Consider sending an email ahead of time with tips on things such as camera angles, lighting and background. For example, remind candidates to keep the camera at face level and to look into it during the interview, rather than at the interviewer.
- Virtual tours: Since candidates are currently unable to experience your physical workplace, think of alternative ways to demonstrate company culture. Consider creating a video that includes a tour of the office, employee testimonials, and photos from memorable company events. Although videos require an upfront resource investment, these kinds of visuals help convey a sense of community and inclusion to candidates, as well as helping them to feel more at ease about accepting a job offer from a virtual interview.
- Virtual onboarding: Even remotely, onboarding is an opportune time to make new hires feel welcomed and excited about their new company. Keep the following in mind:
- Equipment: Once you decide on the platform you want to use, do multiple test runs to make sure the audio and video quality is professional. Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco Webex, and Microsoft Teams are all reliable video conferencing platforms to choose from.
- Environment: An environment that is conducive to learning can be just as important as the content being presented. When onboarding new hires, go out of your way to make your environment free from distractions. Even if you need to rent a shared office space or something similar, it’s a worthwhile investment to ensure that the employees leading the training are in a professional and focused setting.
- Engagement: A conference call doesn't always suffice for giving new hires the depth of understanding they need about the company, their role, and the ongoing responsibilities of their colleagues. Consider assigning a co-worker the role of "virtual buddy" to introduce a new hire to the rest of the team and get up to speed on current projects.
2. Diversify and broaden talent sources
Finding the "perfect" candidate or similar fit from another bakery or food production environment is no longer a sustainable option. The combination of workforce aging and a diminished desire of younger workers to enter one of “the trades” is going to require more ingenuity to expand and diversify candidate pools.
Our largest renewable talent resources are high school and college graduates, along with military veterans. Many transitioning veterans come to the civilian workforce with transferable skills well-suited for a wide variety of manufacturing environments. A one-term (four to five years) enlisted technician coming out of the military is usually 22-25 years old with experience and maturity that far outpaces civilian counterparts. Commissioned military officers, too, have impressive credentials, typically completing 4-year bachelors degree programs prior to entering the military. Many young officers have managed the maintenance and repair of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and have led large groups of young men and women in stressful environments. All are worthy candidates who just need to be trained on how your business operates.
Location, too, has a significant impact on talent pools. If your facilities are within a commutable distance to a major metropolitan area, you are at much higher risk of losing talent to other businesses than if you are located in more rural areas. Instead of limiting your talent search to the 30-45 miles surrounding the facility, look for high caliber talent from around the country. Military and college candidate pools often include job seekers who prioritize career opportunity over location.
You can also broaden talent pools by targeting candidates with relevant experience from other industries. In these cases, clearly articulate your willingness to accept applicable skillsets in online job descriptions and make sure recruiters understand precisely how these transferable skills can be leveraged in your organization.
3. Get your recruiting and hiring management software up to speed
A well-tuned Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can help identify, engage and onboard qualified talent more efficiently. If you are responsible for your company’s ATS, keep three things top-of-mind:
- Keep the system up-to-date. Is your database filled with unverified or unscreened applications? All candidates in an ATS should be labeled according to their applicant status. As an example, you may identify each candidate as either in process, viable but not in process, or not viable. That may seem oversimplified, but if the candidate data within your ATS is not current, you won't be able to use it effectively.
- Develop relationships with candidates. If candidates apply to a position through your ATS and never receive a call or even a “thank you for applying, but we don’t currently have openings for which you are a fit” email, they are far less likely to consider your company when you need them. Stay engaged with them—even when there is no immediate need.
- Engage past candidates in your database who may not be actively searching. Even if a candidate is inactive or off the market, search your entire candidate database to uncover the best matches for open positions. You may find that inactive candidates are underemployed individuals who will engage when presented with a worthy opportunity.
4. Tell a better brand story
The bakery industry has been widely overlooked by career-minded job seekers, and most people simply do not know much about it.
Enhance interest in your company by demonstrating the bakery industry’s enduring stability, clean working environment, use of the latest automation and machine design technologies, and its role in healthy diets. Attract younger workers by telling inspirational stories about the industry's impact around the globe and the role it plays today in comforting consumers sheltering at home. YouTube and other social media platforms are free—so hire a marketing expert to produce professional videos and distribute them, for no cost, via social media.
Your employer brand is particularly important when appealing to furloughed skilled workers—from any industry—currently at home wondering if they will have a job to return to or not. Consider mentioning on your website and social media that your company wants to hire people who have lost their jobs, permanently or temporarily, as a result of COVID-19. Whether affected by the pandemic or not, everyone will appreciate your company's caring and responsible culture.
5. Hire for talent, not experience
A strong commitment to upskilling and training programs is another sure way to enhance your brand. When you make it clear that you value future potential, personality, and cultural fit as much as industry experience, your brand becomes more attractive to career-minded younger talent, and military veterans planning their transition to the civilian workplace. While a formalized and promoted Leadership Development Program can draw significant interest from top talent, its success depends on having a dedicated resource in place to manage it, rather than simply assigning it as an ‘extra’ item on top of an already heavy workload.
Pandemic or not, do not devalue or try to cut costs when it comes to attracting talent. Equipment, technology, customers, and suppliers all have a hand in how you operate your bakery business—but it's ultimately your people who truly care about the success of the company and determine profitability or loss.