The ongoing labor crisis remains a major concern for the food and beverage (F&B) sector. Across the United States, businesses are still struggling to fill positions.
Recruiting in the F&B arena, when unemployment is low and candidates are lured away by many different – and maybe more appealing – career choices, has become tougher than ever.Unfortunately, a lot of people were displaced in the food and beverage industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses tended to fall into one of two categories: those that were selling to grocery and retail enjoyed boom times, whereas others that focused on supplying the restaurants and hotels affected by the many shutdowns and social distancing restrictions really suffered.
The result is an extremely competitive jobs market, where finding talent is tricky and keeping hold of it is tougher still.
As it’s become far harder to hire people nowadays, it’s time to reassess the way we recruit and optimize what we're doing to attract people into the industry. In this article, Linda Bryan, Head of Food & Beverage Strategy at Datacor suggests five ways to attract people and stay profitable and productive:
1. Optimize Hiring, Be Creative
Like most industries, the food and beverage sector has experienced a period of unprecedented change these past few years. In this markedly different world in which we’re now living, businesses can't simply rely on the same tried and trusted hiring mechanisms they've used in the past.
Those enjoying greater success, performance, and profitability have already implemented this new way of thinking and are being most creative when hiring.
When you're short on labor, it’s very tempting to act fast and fill positions as quickly as possible, especially for key positions such as production scheduling and plant managers. That often means businesses hire the first candidate that comes along – even though they may not be best suited for the role. Instead, it pays to bide your time and properly assess their skills and abilities. They not only need to be capable, but suit your company’s culture to succeed. Hiring a really good employee could be equivalent to bringing in two or three average candidates.
Focus on the pros and cons of working for your business. Ask your current staff why they enjoy working for you – and perhaps what they don’t particularly like about the job. This invaluable insight will allow you to uncover and fix existing issues, and to understand some of the positives so you can advertise them to future prospects.
If possible, take some time to revisit perks and salaries. Flexible hours and remote working, for example, became hugely attractive to employees during COVID-19 and are still particularly appealing to those seeking work. Of course, it can be a lot tougher for the food and beverage industry and a plant environment to always accommodate this, but why not investigate whether certain roles could work from home for a few days a week?
When the labor market is tight and you’re struggling to recruit, it’s also worth considering broadening your search to other parts of the country and offering to relocate them. If, for example, you have a facility in Texas but are having trouble filling positions, why not advertise in another state and move them closer to your site? Another good idea is to consider extending your search to other industries.
2. Improve Company Culture
It’s challenging in the midst of a labor shortage to hire more people. It’s equally challenging ensuring they want to stay with you. A strong company culture makes them moving on far less likely.
Effective leadership teams engage with their employees, listen to feedback, and understand what’s important to them. Businesses need to emphasize how everyone is working for a common cause.
Highlight how your employees’ contribution is making a positive difference to the company, share and discuss financial reports with them to demonstrate performance levels, and provide regular company performance updates – maybe through internal newsletters or meetings.
3. Focus on Retention of New Employees
When new recruits join your company, their first impression of the business really matters. Be sure to give them a good welcome and have a robust plan in place to ensure their career with you gets off to a good start. Get to know them, take them to lunch, listen to their ideas to show them they really matter. Make them want to come to work by feeling like they’re an important part of the team.
From the outset, ensure they have the tools in place so they can be productive. Create a thorough onboarding plan for new starters and outline objectives for the weeks or months ahead. It all helps to keep them engaged and understand what’s expected of them.
Provide encouragement and regular feedback. Ask them for feedback too. Remember, your best ideas will often come from your employees on the front lines.
4. Use Technology to Drive Employee Engagement
Technology is a vitally important part of a modern forward-looking business – and it’s certainly no different in the food and beverage industry. Embrace it.
Consider implementing recognition programs or internal “educational games”. Gamification is an innovative way of using technology to encourage higher levels of productivity and keep people motivated. By adding gaming elements to common tasks, it’s possible to highlight targets and progress – and make an otherwise mundane task far more enjoyable.
This could be as simple as adding monitors to the shop floor that display targets and how the company is doing, how close each department is getting to those targets, or how each employee is contributing.
One of our customers recently did this – displaying the best time it took someone to complete a specific task – and found staff were eager to try to beat the record. As an added incentive, if they shipped on time and with the right quality measures, everyone got two weeks’ vacation at Christmas.
As an employer, it’s hugely important to provide clear expectations of what a “win” looks like for a member of staff. Be sure to tell them what would be regarded as a real achievement or a key contribution towards meeting company targets.
Whatever their role, always explain what their objectives are and what success looks like. Congratulate those who go above and beyond and celebrate their successes.
5. Study and Improve Workflows...and Automate
A common frustration amongst workers is wasting time on tasks that could be done far more quickly and easily. Laborious jobs aren’t enjoyable and using time inefficiently is demoralizing.
Implementing “lean” concepts means it’s possible to eliminate wasted time, movement, and effort.
You should always be questioning whether there’s a better way to get things done. As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to talk directly to your employees about their role and ask where they think changes should be made.
As a leader, it pays to monitor workflows and regularly reassess whether new procedures or measures should be introduced. Visual tools such as Value Stream Mapping are ideal for monitoring everything that’s happening on the shop floor, providing data that can be analyzed to see how to make improvements.
Many companies are also realizing the huge potential posed by software solutions, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), to automate and streamline processes, minimize errors, and cut costs.
An effective ERP not only makes you work better with fewer people, it helps to optimize their time, effort, and performance levels. By making their roles easier and more productive, they can instead turn their attention to other tasks that make better use of their skills and abilities.
Working on the production floor in a factory can be a tough sell to those seeking work, while the F&B sector is also arguably lagging behind other industries in terms of offering the type of company culture and benefits.
However, by focusing on proven strategies like those mentioned above, you'll have far greater chance of attracting new employees and keeping them happy and engaged.
Ultimately, don’t wing it. Explain your business’ goals and show that plans are in place to achieve them. Do this and your employees simply won’t want to move on to another position elsewhere.