THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Career Strategies To Maximise Your Potential In The Craft Sector

Over the last year, I have been interviewing industry members to get their tips on how to build a sustainable career in our industry. One of the emerging themes is that building a career in the craft industry can be tricky. While the craft industry offers the benefits of a dynamic, creative environment it can have a downside of fewer promotion prospects and lower salaries, which is typical of any smaller company. So, I asked those in the industry how they would recommend approaching building a career in craft and have curated a short overview of their advice.


Their advice for an early career strategy was to move often and focus on maximising your exposure to different technologies and products. On this basis, when interviewing for roles you need to do some due diligence and ask ‘what would I learn here?’. Also, interview the boss – they will be leading your training and you need to assess their potential as a mentor. You may even be able to get a feel for this through your network, who can steer you in towards good development opportunities. In addition, they advised that if you were not getting development in a role, move sooner!

The second factor important for early career was to take professional qualifications, such as the Certificate and Diploma from the IBD – even if you need to fund this yourself. Increasingly, having the Diploma is a requirement for ‘Head’ roles in the craft industry and it will certainly make your CV more competitive.


The smaller craft operations will tend to have lower pay and restricted opportunities for promotion, and mid-career is often a time when this becomes more of an issue and you can feel ‘stuck’. A sound career strategy is to consider moving to larger craft operations, providing it still has all the elements you enjoy, but offers a better pay and promotion structure. How do you decide what is the right fit? As a career coach, I ask my clients to debate the following types of questions: What do you enjoy about craft and what does ‘craft’ mean to you? Is it about production size, the number of employees in the company, the team size, degree of manual vs automation operations, the product portfolio (e.g. cask vs keg), values (e.g. social mission), the variety within the role (e.g. commercial aspects?). Essentially, if you can follow your passion in a larger craft operation it will naturally widen your future career opportunities.

If you decide to move to a larger craft company, consider what skills and experience would you need to target to be competitive. This list of skills may include areas such as quality assurance and control, safety systems, process efficiency, project management, packaging, yeast handling and laboratory analysis. Strategies for filling any potential gaps include volunteering to put in or improve the QA/QC in your current role. Also arranging technical visits with your network to look their operations – perhaps they recently put in HACCP? For packaging, taking the General Certificate of Packaging and again arranging technical visits to where you can see packaging formats that you are not yet familiar with. Visiting your suppliers, such as those that provide analysis and testing, to deepen your understanding of this area.


As with any role, you also need to know your strengths to make the move. You may be competing against those already working at a larger scale so it’s worth considering where you will you have the edge. For example, if you have been working at a smaller company you are likely to be strong on skills such as flexibility and agility (wearing multiple hats, often at the same time!), broader commercial experience, innovation and creativity, negotiation (e.g. with suppliers) and these skills can make you a very attractive candidate.

It’s also useful to work on building your network, making connections with those working at the scale you want to move to. It allows you to sense check that the move is actually going to give you what you want, identify missing skill sets, arrange technical visits as well as potentially get a heads up on new roles.


Several interviewees identified a strategy of moving to geographical locations where there will be less intense competition for roles. For example, roles that have a remote location tend to be less popular and, if it’s something that appeals to you, you may land an exciting role. Alternatively, look at international trends: The craft industries in Canada and Australia are a vibrant job market and both countries offer visa schemes for young professionals that can make these roles accessible. One interviewee suggested that this strategy applies to producing rum in the Caribbean, but it’s hard to understand why this would be less competitive?!


Do you want to be directly in production at a craft brewery or distillery or would you potentially enjoy the vibe of working with and supporting craft brewers and distillers in an external role? In my experience, the answer to this question tends to change as you go through your career and often, after several years in production, it can feel like its time to move away from shift work! So, its worth taking a pause to consider this question and look at career options in the allied industries.

For example, raw materials. Hop, malt, yeast companies will likely have teams that deal exclusively with the craft sector, tailoring products to this market and being expert at troubleshooting for them. Both technical roles for developing products and technical sales roles for working with the clients might appeal. Many of those that I interviewed had made this transition after gaining experience in production and were finding their roles enjoyable with good salaries and regular hours. They also offer the advantage of rapidly building your technical experience through working with a variety of operations as well as building commercial skills. A final benefit is that these roles allow you build strong network to support your next career move – which could be back to into production, but at a higher level!


Career paths in the industry are rarely linear. For example, a career path could involve a few years at various smaller craft operations, targeting building experience, taking exams, and building a network. Then moving across into the allied industries to fast-track technical experience, commercial skills and further building a network. Then moving across into a larger craft operation, potentially in a technical or more commercial role. As such, being open to being flexible and keeping skills development as a focus to allow these transitions, tends to lead to better career sustainability.

Dr Caroline Walker is an IBD fellow and an accredited Executive coach. She offers specialised online career coaching and mentoring for the industry. She can be contacted at or through Linked in Dr Caroline Walker | LinkedIn