PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — The American Bakers Association (ABA) and the American Society of Baking partnered to refresh the Recruitment and Retention Trends in the US Commercial Baking Industry survey with Cypress Research to see how the industry’s needs have changed since 2016. Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research, presented those findings as well as the strategies baking companies are using to address those needs at the ABA Convention, held March 27-29 in Palm Springs, Calif.

“These two study years really give us a picture of how the industry is doing in adopting best practices to address the challenges the industry is facing and to detect where there are opportunities to increase the usage of certain strategies,” Ms. Hellmer said.

Both studies focused on hourly skilled and unskilled workers, and the three main challenges for recruitment and retention remain largely the same for both groups. Those challenges in order of significance related to finding and developing talent, industry and company branding, and salary and benefits. The study did show that since 2016, baking companies have pivoted their recruitment and retention strategies to address these specific challenges.

Nearly 100% of baking companies reported finding and developing today’s talent to be a moderate or significant challenge for both hourly skilled and unskilled production workers. This trend is up from 89% of bakers reporting this degree of challenge when finding talent for skilled production positions in 2016.

To address these issues of finding workers, more baking companies are implementing formal employee referrals and digital recruitment strategies compared to 2016. Use of talent-focused recruitment strategies that are typically focused on in-person engagement were down, according to the new study, most likely due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ninety-three percent of survey respondents reported using formal employee referral programs for skilled positions, up from 68% in 2016. Social media recruitment efforts saw enormous growth from 2016, with 87% using them for skilled workers, up from 53% in 2016. Job fairs saw some of the most significant growth, with participation in local job fairs — either virtual or in-person — up 19 percentage points. Companies doing their own specific job fairs grew significantly; 69% of baking companies reported using this strategy in 2021 to recruit skilled workers compared to 28% in 2016.

“We know that significant increase is driven by the pandemic and those job fairs are likely virtual because we haven’t been able to come together for in-person recruitment efforts,” Ms. Hellmer explained.

When it comes to industry and company branding, 92% of baking companies reported that making bakery manufacturing an appealing career for skilled production workers a moderate or significant challenge, and 95% reported the same is true for unskilled positions.

When it comes to industry and company branding, baking companies are prioritizing company culture and using social media to get their companies in front of potential workers. Eighty percent of baking companies said that they are fostering a positive work environment through internal company websites, improving working conditions and fostering teamwork as compared to 67% who prioritized this in 2016.

Culture also showed up in current industry retention strategies. Ninety percent of baking companies reported in 2021 that they were promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplace culture. While this strategy wasn’t included in 2016, the level of bakers prioritizing this speaks to its importance. Ms. Hellmer also pointed out that the focus on improving workplace culture as a retention strategy went up 14 points between the two study years.

“The focus on culture has moved up significantly over the past five years,” Ms. Hellmer said.

Ms. Hellmer also pointed out that the baking industry has room to grow in increasing awareness of jobs in bakery manufacturing. Bakeries prioritizing their own company branding efforts online grew from 61% in 2016 to 67% in 2021, while outreach to schools, whether high school, technical schools or colleges, sat at only 49% over the five-year period.

“Employer branding efforts will take bites out of making bakery manufacturing more appealing and visible, and it’s not being leveraged the way that it could be,” Ms. Hellmer said. “It’s a great opportunity to continue employer and industry branding to move that dial.”

Overall, Ms. Hellmer said this five-year update shows that the baking industry is addressing its workforce recruitment and retention challenge in new ways.

“I can only imagine that sometimes it feels like you’re not making progress in keeping your talent. It’s such a tough environment, but we see from these study trends that progress is being made,” she said. “These best practices align perfectly with the biggest pain points with regard to recruitment and are being used by more than 80% of companies in the industry. It is getting better.”