Career pathing can put your coffee business on the road to success

In a coffee industry brimming with opportunities, employers can increase staff retention, improve customer service and build robust systems by clearly signposting career progression and encouraging professional development, says Laila Ghambari

Laila Ghambari won the prestigious title of United States Barista Champion in 2014 | Photo credit: Laila Ghambari


The coffee industry is a complex ecosystem with vast opportunities for career growth and a dynamic field where passionate individuals can build fulfilling careers. Having travelled this path from entry-level to executive, it’s clear that the road to a desired role doesn't happen overnight. 

Every step along the way, from learning the fundamentals to managing complex operations, lays the foundation for a successful career. What may seem like a modest start in the beginning paves the way for a deeper understanding of the industry. 

I often have this conversation about career pathing with baristas looking to develop their professionalism in this industry. We discuss the importance of investing in yourself, taking the initiative to develop, and the patience and practice it requires.

This conversation, however, is equally important for an employer to consider, whether your business is a place for development and growth or just a stepping stone. 

Career pathing starts with a well-defined framework that outlines the different roles within a coffee business. This could include positions like barista, lead barista, shift supervisor, store manager, regional manager, and beyond. Each role should come with a set of responsibilities, skills and qualifications, providing employees with a roadmap for advancement.

A well-structured career pathing programme engages employees by giving them a sense of purpose and direction. When individuals see a clear trajectory for advancement, they are more likely to stay committed to the organisation. 


“Coffee businesses can foster a culture of continuous learning by offering skill development opportunities”  

An effective career pathing programme can reduce recruitment costs by fostering internal promotions. Hiring from within not only saves on external recruitment expenses but also ensures that new leaders are already familiar with the company culture. 

Coffee businesses can foster a culture of continuous learning by offering skill development opportunities. This could involve training programmes, workshops, and certifications related to coffee brewing, roasting, customer service, and business management. 

By investing in their employees’ skills, businesses not only enhance the quality of service but also prepare them for more advanced roles. The reality is that many smaller businesses, like single-unit coffee shops, don’t have much room for growth. However, that doesn’t mean they still can't foster continued education and give employees the opportunity for advancement in knowledge and skill sets. 

Think of it like a waterfall. Leadership passes knowledge on to their team through hands-on training or job shadowing. This is important for building your bench, a term borrowed from sport, to have back-up players ready to jump in at a moment’s notice equipped with the skills to be an asset to the team. 

As leaders, developing your team is part of your job! Adding coaching to your already full plate might sound like more than you can take on, but here are a few simple ways you can give your team opportunities for growth with just a bit of intention. 

As a leader, you have a seat at the table. As a department leader, you are given credit for a good performance. You know it was a team effort, so give credit where it is due! Offer more than just a ‘good work team’ – call out specific people for their contributions in leadership meetings. Celebrate achievements openly to highlight their impact and value to the team. 

You get access to valuable time with the C-Suite. Create opportunities for face-to-face interactions between your team and the executive level. Find ways to afford your team face-to-face opportunities with the executive team, either in formal meetings or a casual lunch. This exposure offers valuable insights, networking, and a chance for your team to showcase their skills. 

Foster collaboration among team members and across departments. Joint projects create learning opportunities and promote teamwork. Finding and encouraging opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration yields positive benefits such as establishing relationships, building connections, diversifying perspectives, and sharing skills for mutual development. 

Lastly, be a mentor or help your team find mentors. Beyond your knowledge and experience, your connections are the most valuable asset to your team. The above points address the opportunities for connecting internally, but connections outside of your four walls are meaningful too. Allow your team to use work time for these connections, for industry events, volunteerism, and so on, showing them that continued education and the initiative for growth are encouraged and valued by you and the business. 

Coffee businesses that invest in career pathing reap the benefits of enhanced staff retention and recruitment, ultimately contributing to their long-term success. As the coffee world continues to grow and diversify, providing employees with clear paths for advancement becomes not only a strategic advantage but a necessity for businesses aiming to thrive in a competitive market.  

Laila Ghambari has nearly 20 years of specialty coffee experience. She won the prestigious title of United States Barista Champion in 2014 and was an elected member of the Executive Council for the Barista Guild from 2012-2016. 

Her expertise is in running multi-unit retail operations, training and education, as well as team and organisational leadership. This year she founded by Laila Ghambari, her consulting company supporting coffee businesses with operations, strategy and profitability.

This article was first published in Issue 18 of 5THWAVE magazine

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