If you are reading this article, I am sure you are aware that the craft beer industry is booming. Every day, new recipes are being created, never been tasted beer is tapped and new employees are hired to make, serve and sell the beer. The economic impact is one of the greatest things about the beer industry. $1.6 billion was contributed to the economy in Colorado in 2013, a huge portion of that coming from jobs alone.
Lately, I have noticed a trend that is putting these jobs in jeopardy. This isn’t a trend that is new, in fact, you probably participated in this trend at some point in your life. But you were called an intern, and you probably got college credit for it. It is even a trend that is affecting other industries too, the use of free labor. The problem is this trend is changing. No longer are breweries asking their relatives and childhood friends to help ‘em out, but are now asking for highly qualified candidates to work FOR FREE for their brand.
It’s no secret that smaller and newer breweries often rely on very-part-time employees and volunteers. The money just isn’t there yet for a fulltime marketer, sales rep or assistant brewer and there are too many events and not enough people. There is nothing wrong with utilizing your resources in most cases. In fact, my first position in a brewery was volunteer. I volunteered in the Pateros Creek Brewing Co. taproom, making only tips. But I nannied for them as well, they were my family, and I didn’t mind helping out family when they needed it to make their dreams come true. Just like the family of Loveland Aleworks, and West Flanders Brewing Co. My fellow volunteers at Pateros Creek included the brewer’s mother, sister and brother-in-law, who all helped fill in the slots until they could hire someone trained to handle it.
These newly funded positions are opening up every day in production, packaging and sales with more than enough applicants to fill them. People have moved to Colorado in search of a career in beer. Not to mention, if you asked someone who already lives here if they would work at a brewery, the answer would probably be a loud “when can I start?. I even get several emails a month even asking if my blog is hiring (Sorry folks, I don’t even get paid for this). Clearly, there is no shortage of labor in this industry, and in most cases it is passionate, dedicated labor. Some breweries are now starting to take advantage of that with more and more volunteers.
There was recently an “incident” that made this issue weigh on my mind for over a week, until I just had to write this post. The Fort Collins Brewery recently sent out a call to staff a “Street Team”. I use the word staff because they sent out a full job description asking for highly qualified candidates to help rep and sell their brand. The kicker, there is no compensation for this job. But wait….there’s more! If you call right now, you get free beer and shwag as “bonuses”! Plus, the best workers might possibly, maybe, in the far future, get a REAL JOB! That’s right folks, they are throwing in a free carrot, just for you.
I have often referred to Fort Collins Brewery as “the forgotten brewery”. Their community involvement just isn’t there. Their sales prove it, with the majority of their money coming from out of state (SOURCE: Doug SMith, Operations Managers Fort Collins BRewery, Beverage Business Institute Presentation, 2013). But, they have been trying in the last couple years to change that. They hired a new marketer, Charles Stanley, who reached out to me and the groups I was associated with, and his efforts made me and my groups stop by the taproom more often, even just to share a chat with Stanley. But then something changed again, and Stanley left, and I am not cool with this new direction, especially the “street team”. I can see how Fort Collins Brewery can see this as a way to get involved with community, create a following, and be more visible. But by doing this you are hurting the industry as a whole, as well as yourselves.
You may or may not know, but I get paid to do the exact same job Fort Collins Brewery has posted for their “street team”, as do many of my friends who I get to see on a regular basis at beer fests and other events, repping other brands. Unfortunately, now our jobs may be in danger. Why would a smaller brewery with less income pay us to do our jobs when Fort Collins Brewery, a much larger company, is getting the labor for free?
Let’s take this out a step further. Why would the consumer pay $6 for your premium beer when they know the person serving it is working for free? Not paying your employees goes as far back as that economic impact study. You are not providing jobs for our community. You are not part of the cash flow through our economy. You are simply taking when you ask for free labor. Taking time, money, and community away from the craft beer industry.
This is my plea to all breweries, not just Fort Collins Brewery, to fairly compensate your employees. Many are highly trained, whether it be Cicerone, the BBI or other fermentation programs. They deserve to be compensated for their time and talents. Spreading the word of your brand for free is YOUR job, not theirs. They have homes to pay for and families to feed, and unfortunately, one cannot live off beer and and t-shirts alone.
POST EDIT: I added in some sources, as so many of you have come forward saying I am making this up. It is hard to make up something that I can link directly too (the job description). I would also like to thank the FCB employees (and their SOs) for their harassing emails, prank phone calls and facebook status messages. You see, I did my research and traced your emails and phone numbers so you are not as anonymous as you think you are. My intention was to open up discussion on an issue that is effecting the industry as whole, something you have a huge part in, and you choose to respond in the most inapproriate way possible. Just because we are in the same industry doesn’t mean I have to agree to and bow down to your way of business. Rather than agree to disagree you have chosen to take a sad path and hurt the industry even more with your actions. How are we supposed to say our industry is open and collaborative when you viciously attack at a moments notice?
As far as the mean, hate filled emails from FCB employees (and their SOs), I have received more than double “thank you” emails from industry (and many former FCB employees) for being willing to speak up on this issue and tell someone what they are doing it not right. And it is no secret why these people are afraid to speak up, because doing so gets your head on a steak by immature people unwilling to open lines of discussion, but rather act hatefully and rashly.