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Balance sheet of a difficult summer: family above all!

Caliti junku, ‘ca passa la china.
Caliti junku, da sira ‘a matina

Franco Battiato

As the summer season sails towards its end, it comes natural to us to use this space to celebrate a performance among the hardest -but most amazing- our family remembers.
I had already spoken about the problem in another, sadly prophetic article on this blog (Italian only for now), even though it focused much more on framing human resources dynamics in the Italian market within the context of a global, much more worrisome tendency, rather than on future trends predictions. Since it was written just three months before the period we are now coming up for air from, short-term extrapolation would have been as easy a game to play as it has been hard to carry the workload of these hot months coming to an end.
While drafting August pay slips, just a few days ago, we have compared the number of active collaborators in August 2019, when they were was 52, with those working with us in August 2022, 44 ! We have faced a summer workload similar to those of 2021 and 2019, with up to 8 workers less at peak time, factoring in vacancies both in sales and production.

It was an early start: two people resigning from the morning sales shift in July because of personal conflicts with colleagues (stupid and childish ones, to be sure), another person from the morning shift fired by us on the spot to make sure the cleaning was thorough, two people who resigned from the evening sales shift for “excessive tiredness”…casually right before the beginning of August, i.e. when the most work-intensive part of the summer begins, after any tiredness had gone unnoticed in June and July. Of course it was simply a matter of chance…

Same story, perhaps even better one, right from the start in the production department: with two confectioners down from previous years because of their own personal reasons and with two baker’s boys less than usual, with the notable exception of a Syrian guy left alone where there used to be three people, there were at least 4 important figures missing from the lab as well. The morning duties of the missing baker’s boys taking care of croissants dough-stretching has fallen on the shoulders of survived collaborators, to whom we are grateful for the proven spirit of sacrifice and professionalism; in the evening production shift, instead, work in front of ovens has weighted only on Franz, Clelia’s and Emanuela’s shoulders, with no external help at all.

How did we face August in the sales sector instead? From one hand, we pulled out of the hat five inexperienced people, among whom were three young girls from Senegal, an Italian part-time who has worked with us in 2019 and a just-turned-16 girl; on the other hand, we stepped into the frontlines ourselves, personally serving customers and closing pasticciotti in the most critical moments in the lab.
It was a bloodbath, especially during the central weeks of August, when, after a tiring morning shift, we used to come back in the evening rush hour to fill up ice cream cones after…but we did it, by leveraging our unity as a family !

If, one one hand, we can celebrate our union and resolve, on the other hand there is no alternative to acknowledging a mechanism, in HR managing, especially for seasonal businesses, that will make foreign employees an increasingly important part of the workforce and will drastically reduce qualified Italian personnel, who was already hard enough to find beforehand, since top professionals are usually employed all-year round.

Therefore, looking at the future, there seems to be no alternative, to keep such a business as ours alive (by which we mean crafty, seasonal and family-based) than investing in two directions at the same time:

  • mechanizing production of our key products, pushing for freezing and stocking at negative temperature those half-processed foods with which this is feasible without jeopardizing the end-product overall quality;
  • thinking of ourselves as forge of employees for other businesses, accepting the challenge of shaping very young people (the few willing to work these jobs who are still left) into full-fledged hospitality workers, to let them move on with their work life after the summer season is over.
    This is the curse of highly professional seasonal businesses, but it’s the smallest prospective evil.

The necessity to rethink from scratch some production dynamics pushes us to considerations demanding attentive and reflective weighting, which best fits autumn and winter months, before leading to specific final decisions, but there is no doubt, by now, that the way is traced and that “too human” craftsmanship is no longer viable without support from high-end technology.

Mirko Serino e Franz Panarese

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