An ancient craft is brewing up new jobs

Jobs brewing in this industry...
Jobs brewing in this industry...

On a cold February night in Stamford, Connecticut, the chill in the air is doing nothing to dampen patrons' thirst for Half Full Brewery's craft beers. The brewery's tasting room is serving a steady flow of customers looking to sip a glass of its Bright Ale, Pursuit IPA or Onward Pale Ale. The mood may be mellow, but it belies Half Full's rapid growth.

Opened in August 2012, Half Full saw its revenue top $350,000 by the end of 2013. Last year it hit $750,000, and this year owner Conor Horrigan expects it to top $1 million. As demand has increased for Half Full's beers, the brewery is looking to hire more workers.

"I would say in the next 60 days we're looking to almost double our staff," said Horrigan, who currently counts seven employees on his payroll.

Half Full is not the only craft brewer looking for workers. The Brewers Association trade group said here in the U.S. one or two craft breweries open every single day, and growth in this industry shows little sign of slowing down.

A worker at the Half Full Brewery in Stamford, Conn.
Karina Frayter | CNBC

Defined as small, independent and traditional, these brewers will make less than 6 million barrels a year, but small is increasingly mighty in the world of beer. Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said craft beers accounted for about 12 to 13 percent of all beer sales by volume last year, a number he forecasts could reach 20 percent by 2020. As volume increases, so too will the need for workers to fill a whole host of positions at these businesses, creating what Watson estimates will be tens of thousands of new jobs.

"The types of positions that brewers are looking to fill are really going to vary by the size of our brewer," said Watson. "So a small brewery is going to need a jack-of-all-trades. They're going to need somebody who is both a chemical engineer and a forklift driver, whereas, as you move up to a regional craft brewer, they're going to have much more specific positions — lab technicians, that chemical engineer, or a head brewer, somebody that understands production processes and can help in the canning line."

I would say in the next 60 days we're looking to almost double our staff
Conor Horrigan, owner, Half Full Brewery

While humans have been making beer for what historians believe is well more than 5,000 years, there is a shortage of workers experienced in this ancient craft. It takes years to become a master brewer and while a lot of people are familiar with the product, they lack the know-how to produce it.

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"I would say that the toughest thing in this industry, as it grows, is finding people with an advanced level of knowledge," said Horrigan, the 34-year old himself a refugee from Wall Street, where he once was a trader for Bear Stearns.

The need to fill that knowledge gap is the primary reason San Diego State University created a program where students can receive a professional certificate in the business of craft beer. With San Diego home to more than 100 craft brewers, local businesses wanted to hire qualified people, and find ways to ensure the quality of the product and the process among new entrants. The brewers' concerns and input helped SDSU develop the 13-course program.

A worker at the Half Full Brewery in Stamford, Conn.
Karina Frayter | CNBC

"So every student needs to start with (the course) Exploring Craft Beer. That gives everybody the same level of education coming in, and then they can choose their path," said Program Director Giana Rodriguez. "Those that are really interested in the brewery start-up piece can take our Brewery Startup One and Brewery Startup Two."

Rodriguez said these courses teach students how to write a business and marketing plan, how to get the financing to start the brewery and how to handle front-of-the house management which includes tasting room management and draft systems. Additionally, students who are more focused on the hospitality side of the business can take courses on various beer styles, and beer and food tasting.

"We get the emails saying we want to hire directly from your group because we know that they can talk about beer," said Rodriguez.

More than 600 students have taken at least of one the program's courses over the last three years, and 144 have received their certificates, said Rodriguez.

"We have a mix of students who are in a career looking to change careers who are really trying to get their foot in the door in the industry," she said. "We have some entrepreneurs that come in who are actually looking to invest into the industry and are starting to make connections and learn about the craft."

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Twenty-seven-year-old Ashley Benson is currently enrolled in the program. A home brewer for five years, she never considered a job in the industry until she started seeing ads for openings at craft breweries in and around San Diego. She has completed one course of the SDSU program and is enrolled in another. A social media specialist for pet supplies retailer Petco, Benson said she plans to pursue the certificate, with her sight set on landing a marketing position.

"I'm hoping to switch as soon as possible, but I think in the next year would be a good goal," she said. "And then in five years I'm just hoping to kind of have enough knowledge to either be doing marketing for a good craft brewery or be looking to open my own craft brewery."

Ashley Benson in Beer Styles class at San Diego State University.
Source: Issac Cadriel

The positions craft brewers are looking to fill these days are on the business and service side, include salespeople to work with distributors, tasting room managers and tasting room staff, said Rodriguez. As for what those jobs and others in the brewing operations pay, it depends on the worker's experience and skill set.

"Service industry jobs are going to be comparable to other service industry jobs, so a job in a brewpub is going to look like a job in a restaurant," said the Brewers Association's Watson. "Highly skilled technical brewers can be making you know, as much as six figures if they're working in a large regional brewery."

The pay also may vary by region. Horrigan said he pays his workers more because the the cost of living on Connecticut is higher than the national average.

Beer Styles class at San Diego State University.
Source: Issac Cadriel

"We pay, generally speaking, probably 20 to 30 percent above the industry average because of where we are," he said.

Where Horrigan sees Half Full in five years is producing 15,000 barrels a year, up from its current output of 3,000 barrels. He said that kind of volume would likely mean his staff would grow from the current seven to the planned 14, to 20 employees by 2021.

Small businesses like Half Full are giving job seekers in the beer industry something to cheer about.

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