It’s impossible to have a conversation about the industry these days without the topic of labor shortages becoming a theme. When it comes to recruiting skilled labor, most food companies benefit from establishing relationships with local colleges and universities as they valiently attempt to identify and pursue the brightest up-and-coming graduates and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Positioning a couple of brochure-toting company recruiters behind a skirted table on campuses a couple of times a year isn’t cutting it. Resources are better spent pursuing students still contemplating their educational journey and career paths. Just ask someone who knows.

Joel CrewsFor the better part of three decades John Flood made a career of leading teams in the food industry, most recently with Wayne Farms, based in Oakwood, Georgia. Flood retired from Wayne Farms in 2017, where he was vice president and general manager of prepared foods. He is remembered by his colleagues as a savvy businessman and by his team members as an inspirational and insightful boss. After stepping away, Flood wasn’t destined for a quiet retirement in a rocking chair. “I never said I was going to retire. I told everybody I was going to rewire.” He recognized an opportunity to pursue an encore career as a consultant to the food industry and began building a company focused on helping firms maximize their business performance. He founded Elevate, about a year ago and hit the ground running. One way he knew to elevate performance of food companies was to address the widespread shortage of skilled labor. The problem is an awareness and engagement issue, Flood says. Based on research of new college students, Flood learned that almost half have decided by the end of their freshman year what industry they want to pursue as a career, “and many have already decided on the companies they want to be a part of.

“Unless we, as an industry are reaching out and engaging these students early, guess what – we’re ending up with graduates who are still wondering what they want to do.” Investing in a graduate whose zeal is tempered by just wanting to get some kind of job after school is not a long-term solution, but more common than you might think.

“And we wonder why we don’t get the best and the brightest and why we have attrition in our industry,” Flood says. “It’s because we’re bringing a lot of people into the industry that simply don’t have a passion or an understanding of what we do.”

To reach these prime employment targets, Flood is working with universities to build committees focused specifically on recruitment for food industry jobs. He insists the committees include only the true influencers representing both the companies and the universities. “Our preference is to engage the chief HR officers, the vice president of HR representing the member companies as well as recruiting professionals and representatives from the colleges and universities,” Flood says. “The goal is to find the best and most willing colleges and universities that want to come alongside our industry; endow some classes that are specific to give students the awareness and information so they can make their (career) decisions early.”

The challenge for food companies, is filling positions in finance, accounting, marketing and human resources while food science and animal science students tend to require less recruitng. “If these students are in a business school and you throw out the words ‘foodservice’ or ‘food manufacturing’ their eyes glaze over,” and most assume the opportunities include low pay and long hours with limited advancement. “When we start creating awareness we are going to find those students that say, ‘Wow, I never knew,’ and ‘I really want to be a part of this industry.’”