[ October 8–11, 2019    McCormick Place    Chicago, IL USA ]

Newsroom                 

Student baker in training

Baking is in Dave Krishock's blood.

His grandparents owned a bakery outside of Milwaukee, where he grew up. He was involved with the family business from an early age. “My six brothers and sisters and I were cheap labor,” he says. Early on, he was “the short guy,” so his job was scraping the floor at the end of the day. He eventually graduated to pan greaser, and then on to pan washer.

Unfortunately, before he could get his hands in the dough, so to speak, his grandfather passed away and the family lost the bakery. Krishock spent the first decade or so of his adult life exploring other fields, but was lured back in when he saw a retail bakery for sale.

And that was all it took. Krishock went on to get professional training at the American Institute of Baking (now known as AIB International). After stints in sales tech at King Arthur Flour and as Production Manager at Zingerman's Bakehouse, he joined the faculty in the Bakery Science and Management department at Kansas State University in 2005. He's been there ever since, teaching and mentoring the next generation of bakery professionals.  

Programs like the one at K-State are exceedingly rare — and incredibly necessary. Baking, like other sectors of the food processing industry, is suffering from a serious labor shortage. In this article, we take a look at the current state of labor and recruitment in the baking field. And we hear from Krishock about the training strategies he's seen succeed.

State of the Shortage

A March 2016 article from Baking Business reports that the labor shortage continues to be particularly acute.

A recent survey from the American Bakers Association (ABA) and the American Society of Baking (ASB) asked respondents to share their perceptions of the labor shortage and project what they think employment will look like in 2025. The survey shows that currently the greatest skilled-labor shortage is in engineering and maintenance. But respondents anticipated an increased shortage of scientists, R&D, product development, and skilled production management by the middle of next decade.

In a follow-up article, Baking Business heard from Laurie Graves, chair of ABA's Human Resources Committee. Graves said, “We could change this conversation….We could all put things in place in our businesses and understand how we actually can all influence how people see our companies, how people see our skill set and how they can build careers.”

Or, as Krishock put it: “Who in the heck is going to fill all these job opportunities in the food industry?”

The (New) College Try

Recruiting new talent into the baking business involves building awareness of opportunities in the industry. The next step is training individuals to succeed as employees in the field.

Kansas State's unique program in Bakery Science has both of those critical steps covered. Unlike a culinary school certificate, this degree-granting program focuses on the science, technology, and business of baking. Students take courses in microbiology, chemistry, and physics, as well as more baking-specific courses like “Principles of Milling” and “Flour and Dough.”

Students receive real-world experience through summer internships at major companies such as General Mills, Pepperidge Farm and Quaker Oats. The program graduates 20 to 25 students each year, and it's growing.

It's no wonder that the program's popularity is increasing. Krishock enthusiastically reports that graduates have a 100% placement rate in their chosen field. What's more, 50% of graduates receive job offersbefore their senior year.

Internships

Internships are one of the cornerstones of successful recruitment. Students receive on-the-job training and are exposed to various aspects of company operations. They also develop relationships with companies that often turn into opportunities for long-term employment.

With 45 students in internships this summer, Krishock has done a lot of thinking about these relationships. He encourages the companies K-State works with to think of an internship as a “development program.” Each internship is an opportunity for a student to take her classroom knowledge and learn how to apply it in a specific role at particular company.

He also emphasizes that it's crucial for companies to view interns as potential future employees.

In this regard, Krishock says that General Mills “really has their act together.” The company comes to the K-State campus to interview students, and often makes offers of internships within a week — as opposed to other companies, who can take months to follow up.

Not long after a student accepts the internship offer, he'll receive a binder of information full of details about what the summer experience will look like, from job responsibilities to housing and compensation. This clear, efficient communication sets everyone at ease — students and parents alike.  

And lest the word “internship” brings to mind a dreary spectre of overworked, underpaid labor, Krishock sets the record straight: most internships in the baking business pay $16 to $22/hour, often providing a housing allowance and travel funds as well.

Fear of Millennials

Despite the need for new talent across the manufacturing industry, many seasoned employees persist in “millennial bashing.” What's so frightening about the current generation of young people?

Food Processing magazine's 2015 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey provides some insight. The survey found that millennials and baby boomers had some significant differences when it came to the factors that determine job satisfaction. Millennials placed opportunities for advancement at the top of their priority list, while boomers placed a high value on job security. When asked what benefits they would most appreciate, millennials ranked “quality of work” issues — flex time, time off, maternity/paternity leave, etc. — highest, while boomers favored health-related benefits.

But are these simply gaps that one would find between any younger and older generations?

Surely millennials' greater versatility with technology is a significant “fear factor.” But Krishock believes that companies need to work with, and not against, their digitally-minded employees.

For example, Krishock finds that students often complain about having to sit through three days of boring safety training videos at the beginning of their internships. He wonders, “Can we put a little more zip into these training videos?” And who better for that job than millennials themselves?

Older employees may also be unnerved by millennials' ambition. As Krishock puts it, there's a popular perception that every millennial “wants to be president of the company in a year or two.”

His response is twofold. First, that sort of ambition should be nurtured, not squashed. And second, having drive doesn't mean that young people don't also want to be mentored and coached.

Krishock's experience tells them that young people really want to feel like a valued part of the organization they're working for. They want to know how they're doing — not just through a traditional quarterly or semi-annual review, but on a monthly basis. And Krishock encourages his students to seek out mentors if mentors don't come to them. “Find some old geezer who's been there awhile,” he tells them, with a wink.

Effective mentoring can also encourage job loyalty. Indeed, another popular perception of millennials is that they are fickle and easily attracted to the next shiny thing. Supervisors may not want to send their better young employees to additional training, out of fear that they'll come back and go to the competition six months later.

But, Krishock says, that's not a new problem. Employee retention was an issue when he owned a bakery decades ago. The best thing companies can do to avoid having their talent jump ship is to show new hires that they're valued by investing in their potential.  

Krishock describes how one of the companies he works with learned how to work with, not against, the younger generation. Recently, Kroger came to interview at K-State, and ended up hiring two young women as interns at their Columbus, OH, location. As do many other companies, Kroger provided housing for its interns.

But Kroger distinguished itself by really taking the time to think about what sort of housing situation would best serve the interns. Many interns are far from home for the first time, and they're adjusting to a more intensive work environment. Kroger got the two K-State students a two-bedroom apartment together in a great community that had pools, common areas, and lots of other young residents. By thinking about the interns' needs, Kroger produced committed, enthusiastic workers.

Training Superheroes

Krishock's affection for the young people he works with is palpable. Every August when his students return from their internships, he says, “we're dealing with a new set of superheroes.” They've strengthened their skill-sets dozens-fold. They've learned how to deal with a broad range of on-the-job problems, from navigating difficult co-workers to dealing with equipment breakdowns.

And Krishock believes fervently in fostering the channels that will bring more committed young people into the baking industry. Associations like the ABA, ASB, and BEMA (Bakery Equipment Manufacturers and Allieds) have set up internship programs with major baking companies. These associations are also offering training programs, such as the ABA's “Leadership Development for Front Line Professionals,” which addresses the baking industry's struggle with undertrained front line supervision.

What to say to young people who wonder if baking will be a sustainable career for them? Krishock has a line that's pretty hard to argue with. “People like to eat,” he says, “so there's fantastic job security.”

Read more from Dave Krishock in his Expert in Residence article: Who You Going to Call?