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4 ways to make your employees feel valued

4 min read

Canada’s food and beverage processors, like so many industries, struggle to attract and retain employees.

7 in 10 of Canada’s food processors face staffing challenges – an average of six vacancies per processor.

Food Processing Skills Canada (FPSC) says seven in 10 of the country’s approximately 7,600 processors face staffing challenges. That’s an average of six vacancies per processor. An average loss of $190 per day per company per unfilled position adds up to $3.1 billion in lost revenue each year.

“These figures underscore that this is not a human resource issue alone,” says the FPSC. “It’s actually the most critical business challenge for the industry.”

Kevin Elder, FPSC’s project manager of labour market information, says the challenges can be tackled through a combination of forethought and creative decision-making.

1. Training programs

Be aware of the various training programs offered by provincial food processing groups and groups servicing specific sectors such as dairy or brewing.

It can be easy for small processors to overlook skills programs because they’re often wearing multiple hats within the business – accounting, human resources, and tech support.

While it’s one more task to complete, it’s highly useful to reach out to local groups to inquire about any training programs, Elder says.

Skills Training Atlantic Canada, for example, launched a skills program in 2020 that provides competency-based online training across three key streams — new hires/seasonal workers, frontline workers and supervisors — that address key areas like oral communications, thinking skills and working with others.

FPSC also offers a successful program called Succeeding at Work, where 82% of employers say their participation increased productivity, and 78% say it helped with job retention.

“One of the big areas that we've seen a lot of improvement is in communication skills and emotional intelligence,” Elder says.

He says it’s important for business owners and managers to gain a deeper understanding of their staff, how they react to situations in the workplace and how to get their point and instructions across to employees, and training in these areas can go a long way to improving employee satisfaction.

2. Recognition/certification

Recognizing and acknowledging skills specific to a role within the company can show employees they are prized and valued for their contribution.

There’s a lot of skill that goes into these jobs,” Elder says. “And so, when employers recognize it, people feel valued.”

If, for example, the best worker at operating a tomato slicer is given acknowledgement and they are recognized with an award, that worker knows their worth. It also helps with retention.

“If you give them a certificate that acknowledges their skill at slicing tomatoes, they’re less likely to go join the brewing industry because they say, ‘how am I going to use my official skill?’” Elder says.

He adds that a financial reward can also be key to employee retention.

3. Non-financial perks

Retain staff by offering them perks beyond their usual pay.

“If you think you have a cool perk for attracting people to work in your place of business, that’s something you should offer to people already there,” Elder points out. “It’s really important that your employees feel valued.”

He says one processor recruited prospective employees by offering bus drives of approximately 25 kilometres from their homes in the city centre to the processing plant on the city’s outskirts.

After existing staff went to the human resources manager and asked why they had to pay for gas to drive to work when the recruits didn’t, the practice changed.

“That led to the processor adding a second bus, which became an attractive retention tool, particularly amid rising fuel costs,” Elder says.

While the cost of running two buses might be a deterrent to some employers, Elder says such programs can be offset, such as applying for any carbon tax credits since a significant number of cars were taken off the road.

4. Remember life outside of work

Many employers tend to forget that employees have a personal life that can sometimes be upended and interrupted by the demands of their job. That can be particularly true in a sector like food and beverage processing.

In the seafood processing industry, for example, many employees don’t know the hours they’re working much in advance since it depends on that day’s catch and what needs to be processed. One employer gave employees a two-hour break to get essentials like groceries, realizing it was important for them to have food in the house when they got home and that traditional stores might be closed when their shift ended.

Overall, investing time to find ways to acknowledge and value employees — both long-time and new — is time very well spent.

“It’s important to find ways to keep people’s spirits up and have them engaged,” says Elder, especially when, in most of the country, there are many available opportunities.

Article by: Chris Powell

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