Appealing to the Millennial Workforce

Attracting younger members of the workforce to a career in the grocery industry requires engagement, transparency and the building of strong relationships, according to a panel discussion, “Recruiting Tomorrow’s Leaders – Best Practices,” hosted by Retail Feedback Group’s Brian Numainville on Tuesday during the 2014 NGA Show in Las Vegas.

The panel spoke on the results of a recent survey conducted by NGA designed to gauge college students’ perceptions of food retailing, the obstacles to recruitment currently facing the industry, as well as opportunities to overcome them.

According to panel member Alexis Putzel, talent management, Keene, N.H.-based C&S Wholesale Grocers, recruitment is about laying a framework. Putzel stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with university career centers, athletic groups, professors and counselors, which allows her to serve in more than a recruiting role, but in an educational one as well.

The recruitment process is more than “selling” your company or industry; retailers should gauge students’ interest, and identify those who would be a good fit and have the necessary motivation, added Marcel Zondag, assistant professor of marketing for the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University.

Responses to the survey also indicated a spectrum of salary expectations for a career in food retail, but according to Frank Ray, VP, human resources, Springdale, Ark.-based Harps Food Stores, the perception among younger people is that “it takes a long time to move up in retail,” but when employees engage with a growing company, “it can happen much faster than they’ve been told.”

The key to setting proper salary expectations, however, is transparency. Based upon the mixed perceptions across schools, Putzel stressed the significance of communicating a realistic income but also the potential of future opportunities. “It’s important to be honest, but also show long-term growth,” she added.

The most important job factors to the younger generation, the survey found, are long-term career advancement (89 percent), salary and benefits (79 percent) and work-life balance (78 percent).

The younger generation is “looking for a good fit overall, a company that shares values with them,” said Tom Gillpatrick, executive director, Center for Retail Leadership, Portland State University School of Business Admin. “Millennials are different, and we need to address them differently.”

One way to do this, said Putzel, is to brand the company at the forefront of technology and innovation – including automation, robotics, etc. – initiatives not traditionally associated with the world of grocery.

Zondag agreed: “We’re circling the issue of perception.” He urged retailers to show the younger market that “you can be educated; you can have a business or technology background and be successful.”

“People say I’m going to college because I don’t want to flip burgers,” added Gillpatrick. “Do a better job of engagement to show the prestige and opportunities available.”

The panel urged retailers to align their businesses with growing food trends that are popular among Millennials, such as at-home cooking, social responsibility and environmental sustainability. “It comes down to passion,” Putzel said. “That’s what I talk to people on campuses about, in terms of challenges as well as opportunities. We want a broad range of experience, and passion is no. 1.”

“I’ve heard people refer to the grocery industry as ‘not sexy,’” said Ray. “I believe it’s much more exciting than people realize.”

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