KANSAS CITY, MO — Long before COVID hit, a labor crisis was brewing for the baking industry. Today, evolving education needs are playing a key role in not only workforce recruitment and retention but also in how businesses are adapting to overall market changes.

Commercial Baking sat down with three executives from the American Bakers Association (ABA), BEMA and Retail Bakers of America (RBA) to discuss these trends and how they’ll manifest during IBIEducate. The Expo, which is co-owned by ABA and BEMA and supported by RBA, is set for Sept. 18-21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with an exclusive day of education on Sept. 17.


Hire first, educate later

In the past few years, the baking industry has seen training and education play an even more critical role in solving workforce issues. A dwindling labor pool means employers can’t always pick those highly trained and experienced professionals. It’s become a “hire first, educate later” scenario.

“Employers need to take a larger role in education,” said Emily Bowers, VP of education and operations for BEMA and co-manager of IBIEducate. “Because of the labor crisis, they need people who want to work, and cannot necessarily find people who are already educated appropriately. That means employers must be willing to provide education to develop the workforce they want and need.”

On the retail side, Bernadette Shanahan-Haas, RBA’s director of operations and IBIEducate co-manager, has seen similar education trends playing out for bakery owners.

“Our bakers just need bodies — to work front of house and back of house — and they’re willing to train them,” Shanahan-Haas said. “They’re willing to send them somewhere for education so they can keep them. The golden rule of retention is that if you treat your employees well and train them well, that education will come in handy as they become more valuable employees.”

Education that offers technical information on a basic level can attract workers from outside the industry, while next-level technology training offers a leg up to those who see baking as a long-term career opportunity.

“It’s no secret that when an employee is exposed to well-rounded education where they realize a deeper connection to the whole process of baking, those employees can fall in love with the industry and really get ‘baked-in,’” said Samantha Moore, senior director of meetings and education for ABA and operations lead for IBIE.

“It’s no secret that when an employee is exposed to well-rounded education where they realize a deeper connection to the whole process of baking, those employees can fall in love with the industry and really get ‘baked-in.’” —Samantha Moore | senior director of meetings and education, ABA | operations lead, IBIE


Content and delivery, redefined

While the need for education is clear and present, how the training is developed and delivered is still a learning process. Given the drastic changes over the past two years, the baking industry has weighted content and dissemination equally.

New delivery methods such as remote learning and virtual reality have created efficiencies for bakers at all levels who, for whatever reason, can’t get out of the facility to attend classes.

“While there’s a large amount of people who are ready for things to go back to normal, there’s also a subset of people who, through remote learning, have realized efficiencies they want to maintain,” Bowers said.

As these efficiencies have been achieved, bakers are seeing how education can impact the bottom line more than ever.

“If you can train and optimize your employees so they understand the process, then it goes beyond just watching dough dump into the depositor,” Moore said. “They understand how something like adding in an extra pound of flour can really affect the final product. If they understand the process, you’re going to save money in your operation. And that, in turn, could help fund more education.”

RBA has used the upheaval that occurred in 2020 and 2021 to refine not only the content it offers but also how it’s been delivered, and that has helped retail bakery owners develop their staff while streamlining their business as well.

“We have learned as an association so much more about how to deliver information,” Shanahan-Haas said. “We were somewhat standardized with Roadshows and certifications that it had become verbatim. We’ve really changed that in the past two years.”

Marrying the old with the new
It’s true that the pandemic forced the industry to take everything online, and that provided learning opportunities for all.

“Everyone is more tech savvy now, and that will help us all in our careers,” Moore said. “We’ve all had a crash course in video and audio settings, things like that. At ABA, we’ve had record attendance for our webinars and our virtual convention. We had attendance from people we’d never engaged with before because of these new opportunities we had provided.”

ABA has been no stranger to virtual education platforms with online options for courses in its Bakers Manufacturing Academy and hybrid FTRAC Food Safety Professionals Groups meetings in addition to traditional offerings like Front Line Professionals programs.

The RBA team has also sharpened its digital skills to serve as a conduit between members and their suppliers to help fill some of those gaps.

When it comes to digital and virtual learning, especially for training purposes, Bowers noted that a big element in this evolution is expectation management.

“There were periods when suppliers couldn’t go into the bakeries,” she said. “Those suppliers had no choice but to train customers virtually, but the expectation was that they still had to deliver the same level of training they’d always done when they were able to walk in the door.”

Last year, BEMA also introduced a virtual Workforce Edition component to its annual convention, providing exclusive education opportunities for junior and mid-level employees. This digital component provided a new style of networking and education.

“We wanted to go outside the typical attendance and dive deeper into membership with workforce-related offerings in smaller groups,” Bowers said.


The IBIEducate effect

Bowers and Shanahan-Haas have been paying close attention to these evolving education needs as they design the IBIEducate program for the 2022 Expo.

“We looked at the current state of the industry and everything we know about how much people want to engage, collaborate and talk to each other, and we built that in from the inception,” Bowers said.

While virtual tools have given the industry new ways to learn — and in some cases increased engagement — baking is a sensory craft, and this workforce is craving a sensory experience, especially in a teaching environment. The IBIE education program is designed to bring engagement to the in-person platform, breathing new life into the classroom setting the industry expects from IBIEducate programming.

“Retail bakers have been on a wheel for two years, and it’s been like ‘fight or flight’ for many of them,” Shanahan-Haas said. “They’re looking for tangible education that they can bring back to their bakery and implement right away. That’s why I’m excited about our education program: It will be the first time in a very long time that we’ll be able to sit down together and learn from one another.”

IBIEducate will be the first major international in-person learning opportunity since the onset of the pandemic. In fact, it’s the largest education event program in the world.

“We are working toward giving workers common-sense opportunities to learn across several areas,” Bowers said. “It’s become more apparent than ever that we need education. We can’t possibly go without it.”

As IBIE adapts to the changing workforce education and training needs, plans are in place to extend the program beyond the Expo. In the meantime, the IBIEducate program for 2022 will be announced in early March. Visit the IBIE website for updates and information.