5 Steps To Tenuring Bakery Talent

With the industry facing a major skills gap, replacing staff is no easy task. Here are five ways to curb turnover by keeping employees happy and engaged.

1. Prep Staff for Success

The first step to inspiring confidence—and loyalty— in employees is solid training. As part of the hiring program at West Town Bakery in Chicago, new staff members review training materials, recipes and photos, participate in food tastings, and share ingredient knowledge and safety tips.

Some bakeries, like Freeport Bakery in Sacramento, California, make training a full-time job, employing a professional to run orientations alongside other duties, according to co-owner Marlene Goetzeler.

2. Bake Education Into the Everyday

Give employees opportunities to grow. Goetzeler occasionally sends her team to events like the International Cake Exploration Societe convention and Retail Bakers of America workshops.

Freeport employees also participate in an in-house customer service training program. Educational opportunities don’t have to cost a fortune, Goetzeler says; they can be as simple as gathering around a bowl of popcorn to watch training videos.

Another affordable option is having employees host skill-sharing workshops. Whether they teach each other cake decorating techniques or how to navigate the bakery’s point-of-sale system, these opportunities grow leadership skills and let staff flaunt their expertise.

3. Foster Ownership

Employees want their opinions valued, says Ellen Pignatiello, owner of Cookie Cupboard, a small-batch cookie manufacturer in Cleveland. Using message boards posted in the lunchroom, Pignatiello asks her employees for input on a variety of topics, from changing packaging materials to increasing cookie production. If she uses an idea someone submits, she rewards them with something small, like a gift card.

Goetzeler also strives to give employees a voice. As an example, an employee pitched “specialty cake hours,” specific times during which custom orders can be placed. This stopped customers from routinely popping into Freeport right before closing time to place lengthy orders, often stranding employees in the bakery after hours.

4. Be Flexible When Possible

Bakeries operate on strict schedules; early starts and long hours around the holidays are non-negotiable. But giving employees some control over their shifts can be the difference between employing grateful workers and putting up “now hiring” signs.

Many of Freeport’s workers are students. “We are very respectful of their schedules,” Goetzeler says. If someone has class on Wednesdays, for example, she won’t schedule them for that day. As a result, she’s retained faithful employees, many of whom stay on after they graduate.

5. Say 'Thanks'

Benefits like paid vacations, retirement savings plans and parental leave can place a bakery miles ahead of its hiring competition. At 5 Generation Bakers in Pittsburgh, employees receive free dental, vision and life insurance, and can enroll in a 401(k) matching program. President Scott Baker recognizes many small-business owners operating on thin margins can’t afford these perks. Still, he says, there are other ways to demonstrate gratitude. At the annual holiday party, Baker acknowledges outstanding employees with prizes like extra paid time off.

That type of recognition can happen on a smaller scale too. Giving staff discounts at the bakery and treating them to pizza every other month can go a long way in making them feel valued.