How To Adapt To The New Labor Force

Apr 6, 2022

Food and beverage store jobs grew by over 400 percent in March amidst a nearly record low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And while hiring is rapid in the grocery industry, labor shortages abound. "Our belief is that labor shortages are here to stay," said Dana Peterson, EVP and chief economist for The Conference Board, at FMI–The Food Industry Association's Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando last week. 

So what can independent retailers do to revamp their hiring strategies? They must examine what has changed in the labor force, and adapt to job seekers' needs. 

"In our industries—grocery, wholesale, transportation, and manufacturing—we have to see the world through the lens of a worker who has lots of choices," IGA CEO John Ross said. "And what they want is clear. They want flexibility. They want meaningful work, and they want to feel like they are improving themselves and their community. They want a fun work environment and a good boss. If we can’t offer it, they will go somewhere else."

Rethink Your Benefits

As seen in the Independent Grocers Alliance labor study, pay is important, but not the primary factor to choosing a job. "In trying new tactics, our members are finding it isn’t all about pay," Ross said. "For example, many retailers have learned that time off is often more valuable to workers than wages. They are giving an extra day off for perfect attendance or giving 3-day weekends to workers who hit performance milestones."

From paid time off and flexible schedules to training opportunities and insurance, benefits are what attract and retain employees. In fact, both Meijer and PepsiCo CEOs told the audience at FMI's Midwinter Conference that their recent change to offering access to benefits on Day 1 of employment, instead of 30-60 days later, has been helpful. "It is a difference-maker," PepsiCo Foods North America CEO Steven Williams said. That option could be the reason a qualified person chooses your store over a national chain.

Ditch The Modesty—Show Off Your Assets

"Our independent retailers do so much for their communities, but they never talk about it," Ross said. "They'll never turn down a request to help the Little League or fundraise for someone in need. What they need to realize is that being a staple in the community is a huge asset to attracting talent. Gen Z and Millennials want to work for a company that makes a difference, and who does that better than the local independent grocer?"

Helping community organizations is just the tip of the iceberg. Independent retailers employ local farmers and artisans for everything from meat, produce, and eggs to jams and pastries, which puts money back into the community. Just look at Geissler's Supermarkets' digital ad, where this week the Northeast chain of seven stores has offers on local ice cream, honey, and eggs, to name a few. 

Rick Keyes, president and CEO of Meijer, echoed Ross' sentiments in a panel at Midwinter Conference. "I think we're not really good at talking about [the initiatives]," he said. 

Look at what your store has done over the past year to support the community, from fundraisers to partnerships with other local businesses or producers. Include a list of those efforts in your job descriptions and recruitment materials, and start telling people about them in your weekly social media marketing. It not only helps the causes, but also boosts awareness so that shoppers want to give you their business and job-seekers want to join your business.

We're IGA | Join the team, join the mission

Offer An Education

As Ross said, job seekers want to improve themselves, so give employees the opportunity to train up. Start with IGA Coca-Cola Institute classes on the basics, like food safety and sanitation, SNAP training, and more. Along with on-the-job training, associates will start with a good foundation. When they're ready, offer training opportunities to expand their career and industry knowledge.

A stock person with an outgoing personality might enjoy training for a shopper-facing position in deli, customer service, or at the register. Budding brewers or cake decorators can get their start at your store if you have a strong offering like Lake Region IGA's The Beer Store, which has over 50 square feet of coolers filled with craft beers, or Adams Hometown Markets' bakeries, which could be featured in a cake competition. 

Adams Hometown Markets St. Patrick's Day cakes

Tailor your recruitment language to these passions—from a desire to learn to getting their start in a specific part of the industry, employment at your store can provide skills for them to build upon!

Have Fun 

Job seekers want to enjoy their jobs. That means, as Ross said, "a fun work environment and a good boss." Promote the fun parts of working for your store: first looks at new products; creative opportunities for visual merchandising; interacting with friends, family, and neighbors; not being behind a desk all day. 

Promoting that positive work environment won't just attract strong employment candidates—it will also attract shoppers. "Happy employees make happy customers," Ross said. Dr. Paulo Goelzer, president of the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, agrees. “When we do surveys of IGA shoppers, we find that customer service and employee satisfaction go together,” he said. “When we train store management, customer satisfaction goes up, sales go up, and those stores attract and retain more employees.”

Use IGA's Way to Care program to assess and improve store culture, and then talk about it in—you guessed it—your job descriptions and on social media. With hiring in food and beverage stores on the rise, there is proof that selective job seekers are finding the right roles for them within the industry. Independents can attract those job seekers by stepping out of their comfort zone to promote the good things they're already doing, which is exactly what the workforce is looking for right now.  

Want more labor resources, including "now hiring" signage? Visit our Labor Solutions page.

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