I recently had the opportunity to work with the owners of an industrial bakery who intend to transform their operations. The goals were straightforward — increase capacity, optimize manufacturing efficiency, improve yield, minimize non-value-added labor tasks and reduce operating costs. It wasn’t the first time I had heard those goals for a new bakery or modernization program. However, while their operational goals may be considered common, their strategic objective did take me by surprise. Their objective is to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as a catalyst for achieving a sustainable future. They saw their future tied to meeting the needs of their workforce: line workers, support personnel and management.

Conversations with employees quickly identified what they saw as important for improving their quality of life. First, they wanted a regular work week — days preferable — that would allow them additional time with their families; second, a reduction in overtime; and third, improved working conditions.

Beyond enhancing the quality of life for their workforce, the owners wanted to achieve improved and consistent product quality, better service to market, less turnover in factory workers, lower cost of goods, becoming an employer of choice and reduced downtime.

Looking down from the 20,000-feet level, the objectives of the employees and owners mesh well.

If there were sufficient capacity to produce the required volume in a 10-hour shift, a single-shift operation for the majority of employees would become a reality. This would also substantially reduce cost by eliminating the second shift. In addition, a single-shift operation would provide sanitation and maintenance with enough time to keep equipment in top shape, reducing downtime. Lastly, it would save on utilities, eliminate 24/7 supervision and reduce the need for 24/7 support services.

Certain steps could improve efficiency and enhance the work environment: increase lighting, improve the workplace environment, create space to safely move ingredients and finished products, and provide “homes” for supplies, ingredients and finished products.

Other steps contribute to better process consistency and less labor intervention. These include minimizing material handling through automated systems; providing controlled environments for fermentation, retarding and proofing; automating pan and board handling and rack loading and unloading.

Beyond the capital expenditure is the investment in the employees themselves. They need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to operate new technology, employ new manufacturing methods and operate a disciplined process. A significant percentage of the workforce will have the opportunity to move from performing manual tasks to operating machines, which requires new skills but also provides a higher level of compensation.

It is also expected, based on the company’s experience, that there will be significantly less turnover at the operator level, saving numerous soft costs associated with workforce turnover: reduced cost of hiring, financial impact of a vacancy, the onboarding costs of a new hire and higher process loss as new skills are learned.

The bakery’s ownership is making a smart investment, one that directly addresses employee satisfaction and recognizes their needs. At the same time, the company is providing the necessary return with ongoing benefits well beyond the investment period. If you were challenged to improve the quality of life for your workforce, what do you think they would want? Maybe you should ask them.

Jim Kline is a contributing editor for Baking & Snack and founder of The EnSol Group. Connect with Mr. Kline at [email protected].