Hi,

I thought of you all today as I looked back through some of the old discussions in the BGA group, and ran across this gem.

So its a little dated, but some of the questions and points that the contributors raised were pretty good ones. This discussion ended up being quite a motivator for me when I was a Chapter Rep, and I thought some of you that hadn't seen it might find it an interesting read.

For those bX members that weren't aware, we have a huge new batch of people "in power" within the BGA, including a new Chair - Scott Lucey.  With that in mind, I thought it might be time to raise this discussion again.

So, why should a barista join the BGA?

What sort of neat stuff does the BGA have planned for the membership?

What's happening with certification?

Where is the guild headed?

Looking forward to a good discussion on this.

b

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Great questions guys.

I'll start first by responding to Jared's questions regarding cost. Jared, I would ask you how much is knowledge worth? For startups that do not have the ability to properly train their staff and for those moving towards quality that have no training program in place this can be an invaluable group of classes. Speaking as an owner who invests both a ton of time and money into training I am very aware of the costs. Thankfully I have the knowledge and ability to train my staff in both our standards and the SCAA standards. Assuming that you know the SCAA standards and maintain a training program for your staff you all should be able to attain Level 1 "without a push" as you said. Now, of course people are going to knock down your doors for espresso regardless of how many level one baristas you have working behind the bar. It means they know the basics. We have to start somewhere. And for good reason. I've seen far too many baristas that don't know the basics. Anyhow, I truly believe the value is there but that value looks different for every shop in every situation. If you can't rationalize the cost of travel I would suggest being patient. The BGA is making an effort to provide skill building workshops across the country. As a matter of fact we just had one in Michigan and it provided a training opportunity here that I don't know that many in the Michigan coffee industry have had. Also, as Brady said, don't hesitate to contact your chapter rep Daniel. I know he would be more than happy to talk with you about helping provide you with educational opportunities.

Chris, your model isn't far off from what we are striving to achieve. I believe the reason we had a skill building workshop in Michigan is because we had enough instructors to facilitate it. So I believe the more certified baristas you see the more qualified individuals will be available to conduct workshops. Your trading of services is an "interesting idea" as Brady said but impractical from the standpoint that everyone that serves the BGA in some sort of leadership position is a volunteer. Making your suggestion, at least at this point, unattainable in that fashion.

Jared, the skill building workshops do fulfill the requirements for BGA certification. Other than providing basic knowledge, meeting certification requirements is their dual purpose.

Brady, thanks for asking the questions and making a lot of good points. The fact you all are interested in discussing the value of the BGA is encouraging. Keep in mind though that in reality if you want to get the most value out of a BGA membership it's gonna cost more than the membership fee. It's gonna cost your involvement. You can do almost nothing, take advantage of one or two of the available discounts and make your money back. But if you are willing to invest yourselves into the BGA to become a better barista I think you will find the return to exceed your expectations. I know that that is my story. I didn't fully realize the benefits of the BGA until I became determined to attend events and eventually host my own. It turns out that you get what you put in it.

So I hope I was able to answer of few of your questions. If not, keep shooting em at us. The BGA is about community. We're passionate about what we do. Your passionate about what you do. Being passionate together can go a long way. If you all have any questions for me directly feel free to email me at trevor at madcapcoffee dot com.

cheers
Very good thoughts here. Brady, you know how hard it is for me to sit back and let others share on this, but I want to hear others chime in, especially people like our EC Chair Scott Lucey, and Trevor Corlett, both top tier baristas who have a great understanding of what the BGA is and can do.
and please don't think i'm super critical of the BGA - i'm not. i'm just saying from a shop owner's perspective the certification costs seem prohibitive, at least for the 7 months i've been open.
BTW, I've already given my thoughts on the immense value of the BGA on Alex Negranza's blog post on the same thing. Also look for an article in Barista Magazine soon about this issue from me.
Jared,
I know your "$" pains. I have been open for going on two years September 23 and still don't have the dollars for the full program. I did have enough to attend the Anaheim event and sit in on the BGA presentation / business meeting. I was convinced to join asap regardless of when I can get the certs. One of my main goals as a new coffee shop owner/barista and many etc's is to bring up the level of "BaristaHood" in the US. Wages need to be much better than mim. wage to grow and sustain the best talent this business has to offer. I want to be a part of this and I believe the BGA is the best vehicle to achieve this. In due time with enough members coming on board more testing in more cities will come up for us. I'm an old dog coming into to a young man/or women's game and loving every minute of it. Standing next to and visiting with Nuova Simonelli's public relations consultant Gianni Cassatini at the USBC I realized age really has nothing to do with this business. I was lucky enough to photograph the competition and meet some very key players in the future of coffee in this country. I wish all BX'ers could have been there with me.

--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.


Jared Rutledge said:
and please don't think i'm super critical of the BGA - i'm not. i'm just saying from a shop owner's perspective the certification costs seem prohibitive, at least for the 7 months i've been open.
With all due respect, I always find it curious when industry folk tout how the public will find value in something like "BGA Certified Barista." What does that mean anyway? I certainly don't see most of America worked up into a frenzy just because someone is certified as a "sommelier" by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

However, we do see people touting and mimicking the California Milk Processor Board's "got milk?" campaign. Though they've spent millions on that campaign.

Perhaps the BGA Certification should be recognized and appreciated for what it is: a professional certification program. Yes, it should be difficult and it should instill respect in those who achieve the levels, but to believe that it was act as a panacea for our craft and shop woes is setting the program (and your expectations) up for failure.

I do not foresee our customers flocking to our shop because they heard that our baristas are "BGA Certified" - actually, that situation to me is laughable. We want to be known for quality drinks and excellent service. Certification does not guarantee that, only the company culture, philosophy and practices ensures such a result. Certification can be helpful and instrumental, but without commitment on the part of the ownership, it just won't happen.

Jared's comments on the cost (for his company) regarding certification should be considered carefully by the BGA Exec Council. $3,200 is a tremendous amount of money for the average shop owner to expend on certification for staff that may not be there in a year's time. I'm sure the EC is exploring the possibilities of staging regional/local certification classes, but the cost for the BGA is prohibitive - especially since the BGA does not control its own destiny in terms of financial control.

The BGA's situation is one of "Mother may I?" where it has to go to the SCAA each and every time as though asking for alms, then being denied almost every step of the way. It is what has plagued the existence of the BGA since its inception in 2003/2004. Understanding the situation that the BGA leadership faces each day is key towards setting your own expectations.

But how important is that BGA Certification? That's something for you to decide. Do you really need to send all of your people for certification? How about sending one person (perhaps yourself) to earn certification and then train your staff to that standard?

Another route is to offer incentives for your staff to become BGA Certified. If you cannot afford to send them (and I really question whether or not you should), how about offering them a bump on their hourly pay rate for certification. Let's say your base barista rate is $8.25/hr. Level One Certification earns you an additional twenty-five cents per hour - an additional $520 per year. And that's for a certification level that really is not very challenging and that any starting barista should pass. Higher certifications could earn more.

With a rate structure like this, now you're giving incentive to the barista to achieve greater levels of certification because it has a direct impact on their paycheck. Instead of spending all that cash on sending them for certification, then keeping them at their normal rate, the barista can invest in themselves to earn higher wages.

At the same time, it builds value into the Certification Program itself because the BGA can then legitimately state that their CP has value in the field.

As an employer, I'm interested in the possibilities of the BGA CP. Does certification really mean I can expect a certain caliber of barista? Once established and tested, I'll know that an applicant with Level 2 certification is worth X amount of dollars to the company in terms of training expenditures saved. If I don't have to spend all of that staff time and product waste training an applicant then that's value to my company and perhaps worth the bump in payscale to the new hire.

If the BGA CP can save my company money or help generate an additional revenue stream, then we've got something to be excited about.
In my mind, BGA certification ought to be accessible enough so that a working barista can pursue it on their own time and budget. I don't think that's currently the case.

Don't get me wrong, I think its great that shop owners are starting to line up and send their staffs to these things but, if we think about it, the BGA's constituency isn't the cafe, its the working barista.

I'd love to see a scenario where motivated baristas can pursue certification on their own as a path to a better gig. Think about what that says to a perspective employer - not only is this candidate already capable of doing the job, they are demonstrating initiative and a professional mindset. But that can only happen if certification is truly accessible to them.

To me, the current structure of training within a SBW is very much a SCAA approach. Perhaps we need to consider what a more barista-centric approach would be?
Trevor said:
Your trading of services is an "interesting idea" as Brady said but impractical from the standpoint that everyone that serves the BGA in some sort of leadership position is a volunteer. Making your suggestion, at least at this point, unattainable in that fashion.

Granted. I pretty much only offered the alternative solution (the 'traditional Guild-structure) to illustrate it's impracticality. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. It's good to hear that the BGA is headed in the other direction, though! While I'm sure that one person's $45 isn't going to make it, ten people may just make the trip feasible with membership fees and Certification fees.

Trevor said:
Your trading of services is an "interesting idea" as Brady said but impractical from the standpoint that everyone that serves the BGA in some sort of leadership position is a volunteer. Making your suggestion, at least at this point, unattainable in that fashion.

Granted. I pretty much only offered the alternative solution (the 'traditional Guild-structure) to illustrate it's impracticality. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. It's good to hear that the BGA is headed in the other direction, though! While I'm sure that one person's $45 isn't going to make it, ten people may just make the trip feasible with membership fees and Certification fees.

Jay Caragay said:
I do not foresee our customers flocking to our shop because they heard that our baristas are "BGA Certified" - actually, that situation to me is laughable. We want to be known for quality drinks and excellent service. Certification does not guarantee that, only the company culture, philosophy and practices ensures such a result. Certification can be helpful and instrumental, but without commitment on the part of the ownership, it just won't happen.

S'tue, Jay, but dogs aren't the only organism that can be taught Pavlovian behaviour responses. If they associate the BGA certification emblem with good coffee often enough (hey, Howie trained them to do it with the mermaid...) they'll start to look for it. I don't see it as replacing the cafe's commitment to great coffee, just an indication of it. There are no guarantees, but if the barista are certified *and* following the training that they get, might as well let the drinking public know about the potential relationship between the two, and hope that they're smart enough to recognise the pattern. The ability to recognise patterns is what brought us down from the trees in the first place.
If the BGA doesn't use the certification program as an emblem for a standard of quality, it's just another card in your wallet.

And having certified baristi get certified in training and certifying other baristi was a part of the solution I suggested. It could help reduce secondary certification expenses.

'Flocking'? Not at first, no. Once folk realize that there is something better out there, and learn to recognise how to find it, they'll start to gather. 'Flocking' may come, but baby steps. ; >
Chris said:
Jay Caragay said:
I do not foresee our customers flocking to our shop because they heard that our baristas are "BGA Certified" - actually, that situation to me is laughable. We want to be known for quality drinks and excellent service. Certification does not guarantee that, only the company culture, philosophy and practices ensures such a result. Certification can be helpful and instrumental, but without commitment on the part of the ownership, it just won't happen.

S'tue, Jay, but dogs aren't the only organism that can be taught Pavlovian behaviour responses. If they associate the BGA certification emblem with good coffee often enough (hey, Howie trained them to do it with the mermaid...) they'll start to look for it. I don't see it as replacing the cafe's commitment to great coffee, just an indication of it. There are no guarantees, but if the barista are certified *and* following the training that they get, might as well let the drinking public know about the potential relationship between the two, and hope that they're smart enough to recognise the pattern. The ability to recognise patterns is what brought us down from the trees in the first place.
If the BGA doesn't use the certification program as an emblem for a standard of quality, it's just another card in your wallet.

And having certified baristi get certified in training and certifying other baristi was a part of the solution I suggested. It could help reduce secondary certification expenses.

'Flocking'? Not at first, no. Once folk realize that there is something better out there, and learn to recognise how to find it, they'll start to gather. 'Flocking' may come, but baby steps. ; >

Think of 3-5 years down the road... you are on a road trip and need coffee, moving to a new city, trying to find a shop to recommend to out-of-town family, etc. What if you could pull up a BGA app on your phone and locate a nearby indie shop that had BGA-certified baristas? Wouldn't that improve your odds of finding a shop where you could at least drink the coffee?

Jay, the thing you have to remember is that your shop is kind of an unusual thing. In most areas, the average indie shop would be far better if their baristas had basic level one competency.
I agree witrh Brady. This stuff has to start somewhere. That's what certification is about. I wouldn't be spending so much of my time on it over the past few years if I didn't see the incredible value long term.
Chris-
I don't doubt that the public can be taught that "BGA Certified Baristas" means something of quality. However, the BGA does not have the manpower, resources or capital to stage a media campaign to make that "BGA Certified Baristas" mean something and be effective - hence my mention of the "got milk?" campaign.

With its limited resources (and I do mean LIMITED), the BGA is better served focusing on developing its core audience of barista professionals and owners to see the value in certification, as well as continually developing that certification program.

To my mind, certification has the greatest benefit when it impacts the coffee companies with greater revenue, and the baristas with greater compensation because of the certification.

Brady-
I realize that my company is kind of unusual. In fact, our newest shop is the only one of its kind in the world. However, the point here is that quality is not possible without commitment on part of the ownership. That commitment encompasses everything the company does, from sourcing to ingredients to hiring to training to spending money on developing and maintaining that focus on quality and customers.

As an employer whose focus is on customers and quality, I want to serve the best. I would like to hire the best. Certification offers the promise of lowering a company's training costs and the potential for greater earnings for the barista. Of all people, I understand that the BGA CP will take a long time to develop. Look at the sommelier programs, they've taken generations to reach the level of respect they currently enjoy. A Master Sommelier commands greater salary than the entry level, and for good reason.

I can foresee the day when this can happen for our craft and profession. However, it will not happen overnight. One of the greatest challenges today is cultivating coffee shop and coffee company owners who see the potential and strive towards high levels of quality.
This is enlightening reading, and a great discussion. Regarding the cost of certification, certainly education has value, and properly trained instructors is a must, justifying the expense to some degree. I think what Jay is saying regarding the incentives for baristas to deepen their knowledge and experience is well-founded. It is a sure way to help a business owner sift through the truly dedicated baristas and those who just want a job. Motivated people are the ones you want working for you.

Regarding the public's association of BGA Certification with quality, that will never happen unless quality shops meet the BGA halfway by getting involved and providing visibility for the BGA. The BGA may need to consider offering SHOP certification, as well as individual barista certification. I wouldn't want the local Charbucks flying the BGA Certified Barista flag, with only one certified barista, and be equated with my shop full of upper-level certified baristas. It cheapens the quality shop. Any thoughts on this aspect?

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