Hire and higher

by Joel Crews
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Hiring and retention of line workers and managment level workers are a top priority of processors according to M+P's Processor Confidence Study.
While the unemployment rate may ebb and flow with the health of the economy, opportunities for employment in the meat and poultry industry have historically been plentiful. As the industry continues evolving and technology becomes more sophisticated and expertise in all facets of procuring, processing and marketing products all play more prominent roles for processing companies, managing and maintaining a workforce has perhaps never been a higher priority. In fact, in MEAT+POULTRY’s 2016-2017 Processor Confidence Study, respondents reported that labor issues are among their top business concerns, ranking even higher than food safety. Fifty-nine percent of the 322 respondents, representing 245 companies, reported that “lack of skilled labor” was their top business concern vs. 56 percent citing “food safety” as the top concern. Labor costs too, are a significant worry, with half of the respondents in the survey ranking it as a top concern.

While keeping the funnel full for positions available to current candidates, the industry is looking closely at where to recruit the most eligible employees while looking to universities to do their part to prepare graduating seniors in food science and animal science majors for the job market that awaits them. Meanwhile, HR executives at processing companies constantly are putting feelers out to recruit the best-qualified candidates to fill positions at all levels of operations, from on-floor supervisors to middle managers and executive-level leaders.
Bill Barrows (front, middle) HR director with Deli Star Corp., says technology and the sophistication of the industry has required companies like his to evolve its hiring and retention practices for both the leadership team and line workers. 

Changing times

Bill Barrows, human resource director with Fayetteville, Illinois-based Deli Star Corp. says recruiting for positions with the manufacturer of high-end cooked meats is a moving target and the hiring process in the meat industry has evolved much like it has in many professions.

Technology has played a substantial role in how jobs are posted and how candidates apply for positions. Harkening back to the days when he worked in HR with other firms, Barrows says, “Everything in those days was done by word of mouth and by local newspaper ads,” which has given way to electronic job listing services, social media platforms and employment recruitment companies. Companies also used to spend considerable resources, including months of traveling each year to recruit on the campuses of universities as well.

“Now, the only college recruiting I do is for meat scientists at the Univ. of Illinois,” Barrows says, largely because of the proximity of the school and the fact that Dan Siegel, Deli Star’s founder, his two sons and several members of the executive team were recruited from U of I. Using social media sites, including LinkedIn and Facebook combined with utilizing a job listing service like Zip Recruiter can easily result in receiving 100 applications in the matter of a few days vs. a few weeks or more, which used to be the norm.

Barrows says despite the vehicles available to applicants to apply for jobs in the food industry, including Deli Star, “there is a shortage (of candidates), especially in the managerial, supervisory roles.”

Plant workers, he says, are more plentiful and Deli Star has had success filling many of those roles with the assistance of temporary agencies that provide a steady flow of contingent workers. Given the seasonality of demand for products, Barrows says a lot of companies opt to utilize temporary workers. “Many of Deli Star’s permanent plant workers started out working on a temporary basis and were later hired on full-time when the need warranted it. Fortunately, thanks to minimal turnover, most of the hiring at Deli Star is to accommodate growth.”

Looking ahead, Barrows says management realizes millennials will soon make up more than 50 percent of the workforce. And among this segment of the workforce, “they are looking for that balance between work and home and between professional and personal life, and we’re trying to get ahead of that.” Policies including paid maternity leave for new mothers and leave for new fathers are part of that movement. The family owned company subscribes to a servant leadership role and that mentality resonates throughout its executive team and benefits the entire team.

“Look at what makes the family successful and that’s what defines this place,” Barrows told M+P in a feature story this past July. The company’s commitment to its employees isn’t just lip service as it has committed to programs that include health and wellness (including on-site fitness facilities, yoga classes and even a meditation room).

The strategy is in lockstep with Deli Star’s mission statement: “To improve the health, well-being and quality of life of all Deli Star employees by empowering people to promote and model positive attitudes and behaviors through a lifelong commitment to wellness.”

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