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3 creative ways to attract skilled food and beverage employees

3.5 min read

Finding and keeping good employees is tough – particularly if those employees need to be proficient in specific skills. A highly competitive job market and chaotic labour pool has led some food and beverage manufacturing operations to succeed through novel approaches.

A range of challenges

Strong competition for skilled employees, transitory labour pools, ever-changing operational restrictions and an overall lack of individuals trained with the right technical skills have provided challenges for many food and beverage manufacturing companies.

The result is uncertainty from entry-level positions to higher management, says Frank Luengo, chief operating officer at Sonora Foods Ltd., a tortilla manufacturer in Ontario. That ambiguity spurs a traffic jam effect where disruptions at one level cause backups throughout the business.

“Instability promotes instability,” Luengo says. “The environment isn’t that good when you come into that situation.”

Labour challenges have no boundaries, and small rural businesses face labour issues like Luengo and his colleagues. Bonnie Bain, FCC’s Winnipeg-based Senior Relationship Manager of corporate and senior accounts, says finding someone to manage office tasks like finances can be particularly tough.

Small businesses often don’t have enough work to warrant a full-time position for financial professionals. And if someone is hired, they generally multitask in areas for which large companies employ different people. The owner can often end up doing the work themselves, which can hinder company growth.

But, despite the challenges, there are a few creative solutions employers can try.

1. Distance services for remote businesses

Food and beverage start-ups and small operations may want to consider using virtual workers – whether it’s someone for accounting, office management, website work or social media management.

According to the Canadian Association of Virtual Assistants, virtual assistants (VAs) take on specific office jobs to support the business operator.

“Outsourcing some of your non-core or 'just can’t get to' projects to a VA gives you more time to concentrate on more important tasks, such as prospecting new customers and generating revenue.”

Bain says since VAs often charge hourly rates, the on-demand services can be an affordable alternative. However, many businesses still don’t know VAs exist.

“It’s new. These companies need to establish a reputation. People want a referral to a trusted person or company, but they also don’t know these services are available,” she says.

“The beauty of it is you have continuity. If the person you have leaves, you still have the firm.”

2. Emphasize team building and training

At Sonora Foods, Luengo made significant investments in training and development at all levels to help the company tackle worker challenges. Luengo says part of the effort involved focusing on the need for functioning and committed teams of people rather than filling as many positions as possible.

The labour shortage is not just about how to find more people, but how to build up different levels of the team.

In practice, that meant finding ways to make the work environment more attractive. Emphasizing communication, training and clear working processes at all levels helps every employee feel involved in the business.

“The labour shortage is not just about how to find more people, but how to build up different levels of the team. It’s really about training and development,” Luengo says, noting it wasn’t a quick fix. “It took us seven months to get to where we wanted to go.”

3. Create your own opportunities

However, internal training alone isn’t the solution. Sonora Foods went further and started a pilot project with an equipment manufacturer and a technical school in Monterrey, Mexico, to develop training programs suited to the company’s technician needs.

After graduating from the program, students come to Ontario for a work term at Sonora. From there, they can choose to return home or stay.

“We need more technical labour to beef up the team, so it’s more stable, and we attract more stability with more people,” says Luengo.

“This is not an easy problem to tackle on our own, so we need to work with other industry participants. I don’t know how well it will turn out, but we have seen interest.”

Bottom line

Proactive training programs, technical skill partnerships and remote services can all play a role in helping food and beverage manufacturers fill empty positions within a company.

Article by: Matt McIntosh

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