Grocers’ Most Pressing Labor Issues: Attracting, Retaining Talent
Which labor issues will be the most urgent for grocers in 2019 and beyond? Progressive Grocer asked experts for their insights, and their responses were similar: getting the right people for the jobs that need to be done, and then keeping them at the company.
“While attracting, developing and retaining talent are all important, attracting talent will be the most pressing issue,” stresses Margi Prueitt, executive director of the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent, in Newark, Del. “Baby Boomers are retiring in droves, and it will take an aggressive recruiting effort to replace them. And bringing three-plus generations together in the workplace is even more complex!”
Aside from the fact that older employees are exiting the workforce en masse, “employers have done little to transfer their institutional knowledge from Boomers to the next generations,” says Prueitt, who goes on to note that the multidimensional makeup of the workplace leads to “different expectations that will test any employer’s skills.”
Another talent-related issue is what she refers to as “passive job seekers,” explaining, “Much of your workforce is waiting for a better offer to come along – and it’s going to cost you to replace them.”
This ties into the second most important labor issue for grocers, according to Prueitt: “retaining the talent you’ve already got, so that you don’t lose anyone else you don’t absolutely have to,” an imperative she likens to “retaining your customers.”
“Finding the right people is the most pressing labor issue,” agrees Carol Leaman, CEO of Waterloo, Ontario-based Axonify, a B2B software-as-a-service company and provider of microlearning solutions. “With the unemployment rate in the U.S. officially below 4 percent, it’s increasingly difficult to find and retain associates. So grocers must offer a competitive associate experience in every way — from compensation to benefits to professional development.”
Therefore, adds Leaman: “Working in the store shouldn’t always be seen as a temporary job. Rather, it should be viewed as an opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that will prove valuable as an associate’s career continues, with the organization or elsewhere. Grocers also must have a training strategy that can efficiently engage and develop associates to meet ongoing labor demands. Investing in front-line associates, giving them a positive experience from the start, and equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to keep growing in their roles, is the best retention strategy of all.”
A key reason for this increased focus on employees is the rise of retail rivals that are stealing share from traditional grocers.
“According to a 2018 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, consumers are searching out experiences more so than products,” notes Amanda Nichols, senior manager, industry marketing, retail and hospitality at Lowell, Mass.-based Kronos Inc., a provider of workforce management and HCM cloud software solutions. “As of 2016 – for the first time – people are spending less on groceries and more on food away from home. For grocers, this means increased competition. Beyond competing with each other for consumer spending, they have to compete with restaurants, meal-kit providers, food delivery services, grab-and-go options, and more.”
By recruiting the best candidates, accommodating their work-life balance needs and providing them with the resources to do their jobs well, however, grocers can boost their ability to compete effectively.
According to Nichols, “Grocery organizations that pursue operational excellence by investing in the moments that matter to employees and empowering store managers to build a highly engaged workforce have a tendency to outperform the market. It’s simple: Investing in your people leads to measurable business results.”