With historically low unemployment rates and abundant job options available outside the meat-processing industry, many food manufacturing firms are struggling to fill positions with qualified employees. In fact, Bartikoski said it is rare if processors’ employee turnover is less than 20 percent.
Part of the solution to lowering turnover is to motivate current employees to aspire to achieve, said Bartikoski. The challenge, is to “find ways to reach out to our people and engage them to perform at higher levels,” he said.
For Land O’Frost, one of the goals is to reduce its dependence on external hiring, but not at the cost of eliminating jobs. “We can’t grow our workforce fast enough in our environments to keep up with the modest growth, even in our industry,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge to attract talent and if you don’t have an engaged workforce, the battle over replacing turnover is one that is very difficult to get ahead of.”
Additionally, the cost of disengagement includes higher absenteeism, significantly higher accident rates and more errors and product defects. Meanwhile, highly engaged workers are more productive, produce more profits, trigger more job growth and can easily double job applicants, Bartikoski said.
One practice Land O’Frost has adopted to addressing engagement is implementing Lean Manufacturing practices. The peaks and valleys of production trends makes this a challenge at times. “As the volume goes down we look to drive labor out of our business and as the volume goes up we look to bring labor in,” resulting in occasional instabilities and lack of trust among workers. Fortunately, Lean Manufacturing isn’t based on eliminating jobs, rather it is based on controlling the variability in the workforce by eliminating waste and maximizing resources.
One of the company’s core beliefs as part of Lean Manufacturing is “the value of waste will always be higher than the cost of employees,” Bartikoski said. It depends on people being experienced and trained focusing on removing defects and waste from the process.
Increasing engagement requires several elements that must be complimentary, Bartikoski said. When engagement is low, absenteeism is higher, Managers and supervisors benefit from focusing on people, for example. Coaches and supervisors should also set the expectation that they will be present on the processing floor. Other recommendations included:
-Developing a competency model based on the skills needed to lead and manage;
-Utilize training that focuses on those competencies and complementary skills and behaviors;
-Model servant leadership;
-Build a talent development model that helps know where they stand.