Bakers Journal

Good Hiring Practices

December 4, 2007
By Jane Ayer

Fire before you hire is just one of many pieces of advice

Fire before you hire is just one of many pieces of advice offered by Warren Coughlin, guest speaker at the October meeting of the BAC’s Ontario chapter. Coughlin is a certified business coach with Action International Business Coaching. He works with businesses of all sizes, helping them with issues ranging from finding good employees to improving the bottom line. How did Coughlin suggest you fire before you hire?

“Make potential employees jump through hoops,” said Coughlin. “If someone isn’t going to work to get a job, do you think they’re going to work once they’re hired?”

One of the hoops he recommends setting up is an application form, complete with questions such as, “what traits or characteristics do you most admire in co-workers?” or “who was the best supervisor or manager you’ve had and what characteristics made that person a good manager?” Questions such as these, said Coughlin, say much about a person’s values and what kind of person they themselves are.


Coughlin’s presentation was full of lots of good words of wisdom (including the suggestion to engage both sides of the brain by using coloured markers or pencils when brainstorming or taking notes), but one point in specific seemed especially important for the baking industry to embrace, particularly at a time when labour is an issue that is rearing its nasty head. Hire behaviour and attitude, train whatever, advised Coughlin, skills can be taught.

How many times have I heard bakery owners lament the lack of skilled workers at their disposal? I’m sure I’ve also lamented the same thing on this very page. I’ve also spoken to many bakery owners who aren’t happy with the quality of skills belonging to some students who have graduated from a college baking or pastry program. While working on a business plan for the magazine a couple of years ago, I called bakers all across the country to chat about the issues and concerns they face on a regular basis. The most common concern was skilled labour: where to find it, how to keep it.

I happened to catch a food review segment on CBC radio this morning. The reviewer was discussing a “wonderful” bakery that had just opened in Toronto, owned by a woman who worked as an administrator for a health publication just prior to opening the bakery. She had no formal training as a baker, just always loved baking for her family and friends, and always had a cookbook on hand. When it comes to those who are not professionally trained in the craft of baking, we in the industry can sometimes be a little snobbish. But most customers aren’t – as long as the food they purchase meets the approval of their tastebuds and pocketbook, they’re usually satisfied.  As the success of this new baker (she hasn’t been in the industry for long, but is already receiving rave reviews such as the one mentioned above) and many more in the industry just like her proves that passion, dedication and a willingness to chase after dreams are often enough to succeed.

Are they enough for you when you’re looking for a new employee? Perhaps they should be.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve been looking for the wrong thing in potential employees. Maybe, just maybe, we should be looking for employees who are willing to work hard, with a desire and passion to learn. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily hire Joe off the street because he seems like a good person. It does mean that if a newly graduated student from a college baking or pastry program approaches you, and he or she doesn’t have quite the skills you’re looking for in the “ideal” employee, you might want to consider them anyway. Perhaps with a little coaxing, nurturing and training, a passable employee might evolve into the ideal one.

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