Everything moves at a break-neck pace in the meat processing industry. Unfortunately, the people who often suffer the most from this fast-track environment are new hires. After receiving a rather quick orientation focused on company rules, policies and job requirements, new hires at many companies – both veteran employees and newcomers – are generally pushed into the “Here’s your desk, here’s your phone, you’re on your own” training regimen. Not exactly a recipe for success or a way to groom prospective company leaders.

To avoid this, Chicago Meat Authority has developed a six-month Leadership Development Initiative program, and launched it last year. Jordan Dorfman, president, founder and owner, explains he learned the meat business from the ground-up, but he wanted to create a new employee training program with a more structured approach.

CMA’s program was designed to attract young professionals and provide them with a six-month period to learn as much as possible about all aspects of CMA’s business. Once participants complete their training, they are able to step into any open position, assist any existing department when needed – and be on the path to becoming the future leaders of CMA.

“We need bright and motivated young people who want to come into an industry – but may not necessarily know where they want to be,” Dorfman says. He modeled the program after the orientation used in the banking industry. Banks often start new workers working first in the credit department, followed by a few weeks working in marketing and on through the ranks. They experience all of the different stages and functions of what it takes to run a banking business.

Dorfman decided that grooming CMA’s own talent through a more formalized structure was more advantageous to the company than hiring experienced folks or novices from the outside.

Sensible approach

Participants start out with senior employee mentors who volunteer to walk them through the early stages of a particular job and meet with them weekly to address issues or answer questions. Each LDI participant works two to three weeks on the loading dock and are monitored by a warehouse and logistics mentor. As CMA operates two plants (located across the street from each other), program participants work in receiving, shipping and then warehousing in both plants. They next move into dry storage and the other segments throughout the processing business.

By the time they’re finished, LDI participants will have worked in finance, marketing, order entry, logistics – all of CMA’s different processing areas. “It’s a six-month total commitment on our part to take them through,” Dorfman says.

Each prospective worker is rated by their supervisor mentors within the various disciplines. Mentors point out areas needing improvement and development plans are ultimately created.

“Once participants complete the LDI program, they enter the pool of people who are looking to fill positions at CMA,” Dorfman says. “Our first two LDIs completed their program in March. We already have a sense of where they will go. Bill Duncan will become a production planner, which is an open position we could have filled from the outside. But thanks to this program, we have somebody who’s very interested in operations who has spent so much time in our operations, who understands our business and all of its nuances. To be able to hire our own trained-and-developed person is ideal.”

Keely Sibbald also completed the LDI program in March and will work in sales and marketing. She’ll start in an administratiive role within CMA’s sales department, but will ultimately end up with her own sales territory. Two other young men – Matt Cyr and Joe Welnhofer – will complete the program around May. “They’re still figuring out what their calling is, while we continue to assess our needs,” Dorfman says. Two more candidates were entered the program in March.

Four people each year will complete the LDI program to ensure CMA has a constant pool of well-trained people to fill its wide range of staffing needs, he adds. “By the end of six months, we know a lot about these LDI participants ... and they know a lot about us.”

Recruiting candidates

LDI program recruiting involves getting tips for candidates from CMA’s friends and family, plus using LinkedIn and placing ads in Craigslist and Careers in Food on Facebook. Some university campus recruiting is also done.

“We’re active at Purdue Univ.,” Dorfman says “We set up a table and recruit out of Purdue fairly extensively. We’ve also been to Kansas State Univ.”

When assessing the level of compensation candidates receuive during their six-month training program, Dorfman says his firm, indeed, pays them “very well.”

Karen Gates, CMA’s director of human resources and organizational development, who has been with the company for approximately six months, manages the LDI program. One of her first projects was creating the program curriculum. All LDI participants report to her and take directions from her. Once participants get through the program, they’ll report to the appropriate supervisor within their area of discipline.

“We realize we may turn some people over with our expectations, but we really want to grow our people,” Dorfman says. “We want ‘A-players.’ We’re very committed to building a platform where ‘they are rewarded and stick with us, so we’re able to hook our sled to great teams...that’s really the key.”

Although the LDI program is still in its early stages, Dorfman is confident it will pay dividends to CMA, for years to come.