How to Find Maintenance Workers in Food Manufacturing

“This industry needs to fish with a different bait and in a different lake. We’re fishing, but in the wrong places”

Baking Business.com shared an article based on an interview with Rowdy Brixey, former Director of Engineering & Maintenance with Bimbo Bakeries and current President of Brixey Engineering.

So much of what was shared resonated with me–not just because of what I’d experienced for my baking clients–but for all my food & beverage clients.

MaintenanceI’ve been a recruiter in the Food & Beverage industry for over 10 years and reading this was like a massive ‘aha’ moment.  I absolutely agree that the roles that take the longest and are the hardest to fill are maintenance and sanitation.

I filled a Maintenance Manager role for a well known, reputable company (who make grrrrrrrrt cereal) and it took me a year to find a suitable candidate.  This is not uncommon, in fact its the norm.

It is very difficult to find people with the right skill set and experience and companies’ that have good ones, take care of them.  They are well paid and looked after making it impossible to lure them away.

While some may not perceive these as the most glamorous positions, food & beverage companies’ literally cannot function with out them.

Where to Find the Talent

The interviewer stated; “Many baking companies and associations are coming up with new ways to find new talent. But where are they not looking?” Brixley’s response is perfect and brings into light an area that I am passionate about.

He suggests that companies are looking in the wrong places to bring in the specific talent they need now and to train and develop over time.

We need to start going to trade schools. I believe we even need to start the conversation at the high school level. I’ve said it before. We ought to be going into high schools and talking to kids in 10th or 11th grade. We need to split the group between who’s interested in going to college and those who aren’t.

Skilled trades are dying but if we can attract people to the industry from an earlier age, support them and provide them with the information they need to move forward in their career, we would create a healthy pipeline for all areas, departments and functions in food and beverage production.

Would You Support an Apprenticeship Program?

Brixley goes on to suggest that sooner rather than later the industry will be hurting for maintenance workers and mechanics.  Perhaps a summer school or apprenticeship program is the answer.

They’ll have a job — maybe working nights and weekends — but making a decent wage. This way, we’re putting them on a path that as long they’re willing to continue learning, we’ll continue to push and develop them.

If industry were to support a platform that was dedicated to attracting and supporting the future workforce (across all departments/functions) we could address some of the challenges we are already facing and be proactive in limiting future obstacles.

Brixley provides some excellent advice on retention and developing your workforce with over 30 years experience in food production.  I highly recommend you read the full article

This industry needs to fish with a different bait and in a different lake. We’re fishing, but in the wrong places; we’re fishing in colleges. Don’t get me wrong, we need both. – Brixley

Do you have the time and resources to ‘fish’ during your workday? Building relationships with educators across the board (colleges, universities and trade schools) is time consuming and difficult to maintain.

But how important is a strong, skilled, available workforce to the success of your business?

We need people with all kinds of backgrounds and skills working in food, and whether you’re a genius or a hard grafter, I know first-hand that this industry has never been more dynamic.
This generation and the next will make the biggest impact on the food industry we’ve ever seen.”-Jamie Oliver