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Looking for skilled food and beverage labour? Start thinking long term

  • 3.5 min read

The skilled worker shortage in the food and beverage sector is not news to anyone in the industry. However, for small and medium businesses, a bit of planning will go a long way to attract quality employees.

Labour market research completed by Food Processing Skills Canada in 2020 shows that the industry experienced labour shortages. Of the 740 food and beverage companies surveyed in the FPSC Labour Market Information Survey, 70% reported labour shortages. And future shortages could be as high as 65,000 people by 2025.

The research cites retirement and retention as the primary issues, compounded by a lack of industry awareness with job seekers, poor perception of the job opportunities that exist, and a mismatch between the skills an individual’s skills and what's needed for the job.

Start thinking long term

"Between 2020 and 2030, more people will leave the job market than people who will enter.”

Jennefer Griffith is Executive Director at Food Processing Skills Canada. This national sector organization supports food and beverage manufacturing businesses in developing skilled employees and professionalizing the industry through a national skills strategy. She believes food and beverage companies need to plan for the future.

“The most important thing companies can do is proper onboarding and upscaling - caring about your people and thinking about different ways you can adjust the occupation to today’s workforce,” Griffith says. She cites examples such as improved time flexibility for those with families and access to technology to accommodate the online generation.

Griffith also noted that there are still insufficient programs to support workers entering the sector. For example, a kitchen worker who wants to switch away from the demanding hours that restaurants require. However, there aren’t enough training programs to give them the skills to become a meat cutter or adapt to the technology and automation needed for the dairy sector.

“They think they know what the job will be like, but when they experience it, it may be too cold or too loud or too hot. If they make the two-week mark, there’s usually a good chance they will stay,” she explains.

She adds that this is where employers need to improve their onboarding practices by providing more information on pay, working conditions, required skills and training.

Étienne Claessens owns Soluflex, a human resources optimization consulting company in Quebec, specializing in small and medium-sized businesses. He counts several food enterprises amongst his 500+ clients over the last 12 years and agrees with the long-term prognosis for the food and beverage sector.

“Between 2020 and 2030, more people will leave the job market than people who will enter, and the main reason is that baby boomers are retiring,” Claessens says.

He says the industry must address the perception and skills issues that are contributing to the challenges of finding resources in the sector.

Claessens figures there are three main aspects that managers need to act on to take advantage of both the short-term opportunity and for longer-term planning.

1. Invest in your brand

“Demonstrate how your business is different from others and what makes it more attractive,” he says. What will make future employees choose to go to your enterprise rather than somewhere else?”

He advises not to wait and suggests using social media to promote that your company is a great place to work – interesting work, stable business, opportunities to progress, the long-term outlook, etc.

2. Emphasize job security

Food manufacturing is a growth sector in the long-term, and this offers employment stability. Point this out to potential new employees and new hires.

3. Set new goals for the business

He recommends changing approaches to human resources management, such as looking at things like starting salaries. Claessens suggests making them more attractive to recruit and keep good talent and to be a marketplace leader (linking back to the first objective).

Claessens says he has clients who always want to negotiate the best possible deal. He believes such tactics do not work in the medium term because when people move on to seek employment elsewhere in the food sector, the replacement costs for employees are higher than the savings.

He adds that when his company searches for skilled personnel, they put forward the strengths and advantages of the position and company to attract top talent. He recommends that processors get a plan in place and start marketing their human resource strengths.

“You have to think about the long-term,” Claessens says.

Article by: Hugh Maynard