WATCH: Tackling the workforce challenge by automating the baking industry
As such, Bakery Equipment Manufacturers & Allied (BEMA) places stark emphasis on education and helping producers attract, train and retain their employees.
“We saw it was a space that not a lot of other people were filling, so we really jumped in,” Kerwin Brown, president and CEO of BEMA, told BakeryandSnacks at IBIE 2019, held in Las Vegas, US, last month.
“The ability to educate and train in all facets is vitally important,” he added.
And then there’s leadership – where are the next leaders coming from?
“We’re [also] looking to see how we can mentor the next generation because we’re going to be passing on this baton to them.
“BEMA members are at the forefront of automation that can help take out some of the menial tasks and perhaps ‘repurpose’ those workers to more meaningful jobs.”
Skilled workforce is essential
He noted production lines today are so efficient that a producer does not want to be down for even an extra minute, so, retaining a skilled workforce in place is essential, particularly as the industry heads into a more data driven future.
“For years, we’ve talked about the ‘lights out’ bakery where you can just turn it on and run,” said Brown. “We’re seeing some lines that have very few people on them that are running a lot of products … [but] we’re not there yet.”
He added the bakery sector is growing, particularly as global consumer demands veer towards fresh products that sport a clean label, are transparent in where the ingredients are sourced and deliver in taste.
“Bread continues to get a bad name … but when I talk to consumers, people still love bread … and we’re going to continue to fight for that market share to get it to grow.
“We’ve got to keep on trying to find ways to meet needs … the fresh need, the clean need, and cope with a challenging workforce, too,” said Brown.
Community of solutions
BEMA – founded in 1918 to help with the WW1 war effort and today boasting over 250 member companies, including major FMCGs like Bimbo Bakeries USA, Ardent Mills, DuPont Nutrition & Health and Flowers Foods – also acts as a community platform.
“We’re going to help you connect with the industry. Certainly, everyone wants to connect with the customer – that’s a no brainer – but on the supplier side, it is super important that we connect with other suppliers, because you can’t do it all,” said Brown.
“[With BEMA,] you can offer this community of solutions.”