It was a cold email sent at just the right time that introduced Alex Pierson to the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP). Through Reimagine Retail, a grant funded by the Walmart Foundation and Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, SDWP was looking for retail employers interested in upskilling workers through Customized Training (CT).
Pierson, who owns Amplified Ale Works, a local craft brewery with two retail locations—a beer garden and restaurant in Pacific Beach and newly opened brewery and tasting room in Miramar—was able to get reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the cost associated with training current workers using CT.
“The more I read about the program it just seemed like ‘Why would we not get involved?’” says Pierson. “It helps structure the training programs we’re already trying to do and then also we can get some money back; it’s a no-brainer.”
Amplified Ale Works’ November training kick-off came at the perfect time as business slowed during San Diego’s unusually rainy winter. “We already had some ideas for training that we wanted to do, particularly on the brewing side, so everything really just kind of came together for us from a timing perspective,” he says. “That’s our slowest time of year. I hate cutting people’s hours around the holidays because everyone is trying to make a few extra dollars, so it worked out that we had we had extra things to do with people.”
Four training tracks were planned to teach staff kitchen skills and safety along with the obvious choice of increasing craft beer knowledge and skills. We wanted to really try and raise the overall level of beer knowledge throughout the entire company,” Pierson says. In this case, that was done through sensory training focused on how to understand technical off-flavors in beer and how to describe beers based on aroma and flavor. This training, along with a safety course, was given to a core group of six brewers and marketers. From there, those team members held one-on-one and small group trainings to pass on the knowledge to servers and bartenders.
Training kitchen staff helped Amplified Ale Works “rethink some of the ways we do training and also really approach cross-training,” says Pierson, noting that dishwashers and food runners were able to learn knife skills and gain the ability to step into a different role when needed.
In the end, roughly half of the staff received direct training through the CT. Kitchen staff who excelled in training were promoted to shift leaders; servers became lead servers and every training and promotion created support and structure within management and a career pathway for employees.
A couple of staff members have been offered jobs at bigger breweries—both a curse and a compliment. “They are seeing that people going through our program are coming out with the skillsets and the knowledge that are desirable to them as well,” says Pierson. “I have to take pride in that.”
“It can be daunting trying to create the structure, trying to find the time and the effort to do a lot of these things, but at the end of the day it really is an investment in your team and in the business,” says Pierson. “It’s one of those things where the dividends from that are there—from employee retention to overall wellness and happiness to excitement for the business. We’ve definitely seeing a great return on all of these.”