Execs Weigh in on Labor Issues at GroceryTech

Recruitment, retention, training and more discussed by panel
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot
GroceryTech Labor Panel
PG Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta (far left) moderated a panel on labor issues featuring (left to right) Victor Vercammen, of Giant Eagle; Rana Schiff, of Kroger; and Michael Criscuolo, of Wakefern Food Corp.

The last session of the second day of GroceryTech (July 12-14), presented by sister publications RIS News and Progressive Grocer, was “Automation, Talent, and Recruiting for a Fruitful Future,” which offered attendees insights on such issues as labor of the future, whether to automate certain tasks, finding the best employees for an organization, and engaging associates for better retention. Moderated by Progressive Grocer Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta, the panel featured Michael Criscuolo, VP, infrastructure and operations at Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp; Rana Schiff, senior director, HR business partner, technology and digital at Cincinnati-based Kroger; and Victor Vercammen, VP of enterprise safety and healthcare compliance at Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle.

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According to Schiff, “we’re in the middle of the Great Reshuffle,” with jobs being added and employees leaving their jobs, but more people being hired elsewhere. “The talent is out there, and acquiring that talent is still possible,” she noted. “It’s making sure you get the right talent.”

All noted that retention was difficult in today’s labor market. To counter this trend, Criscuolo observed that Wakefern was implementing robots, which the company had dubbed “co-bots,” to help associates do their jobs faster and better, and that it was working with Axonify to offer training in easy-to-digest “microbites.”

Vercammen said that Giant Eagle was approaching training in a similar manner by breaking it up into several segments so that employees didn’t feel “stuck in a classroom” and could get out on the floor faster, raising morale and helping with retention. For her part, Schiff spoke of Kroger’s “agile programs” that sped up training in an environment where companies “don’t have the luxury of time.”

When asked about recruitment of Gen Z and Gen Alpha associates, Vercammen noted that those demographics in particular “want their work to matter.” He added that for those workers, implementing technology to free them from low-value, non-customer-facing tasks made sense.

Meanwhile, Schiff brought up the emergence of more cross-functional and diverse panels of interviewers, giving an organization the opportunity “to not only hire the right talent, but do it through a diverse lens.”

When onboarding associates, Giant Eagle pairs new hires with more experienced employees to provide guidance, according to Vercammen, while Wakefern does a lot of recruiting out of schools and internally, Criscuolo said. Schiff noted that the rise of remote work during the pandemic gave rise to “catfish incidents,” in which people appeared one way at an assessment but then were different when actually on the job. To prevent this from happening in future, she offered the opinion that artificial intelligence could help streamline the interview process.

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Ultimately, however, Schiff pointed out that what’s especially important at Kroger when hiring a job candidate is whether the person is “a culture fit.” As she put it, “As many skills as that person could have, we don’t really want them to join the company if that’s not where they want to be and that culture doesn’t resonate for them.”

GroceryTech runs through July 14 in Cincinnati.

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