FMI'S HUMAN RESOURCES/TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE

SAN DIEGO -- The ongoing national labor shortage is forcing retailers to become more sophisticated in the way they train managers, according to a panel discussion at the Food Marketing Institute's Human Resources/Training and Development Conference here last week.Executives at companies including Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa; Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa.; and Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said the

SAN DIEGO -- The ongoing national labor shortage is forcing retailers to become more sophisticated in the way they train managers, according to a panel discussion at the Food Marketing Institute's Human Resources/Training and Development Conference here last week.

Executives at companies including Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa; Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa.; and Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said the imperative of improving employee retention has sparked a rethinking of management education programs in the industry.

Hy-Vee, for example, is getting ready to establish Hy-Vee University next February, a training program that will be "more of a process than actual bricks-and-mortars," said Rose Kleyweg Mitchell, vice president, government affairs and education. The program will focus on basics like pricing and how to arrive at a gross margin, as well as computer and math skills, so trainers "won't have to mess with things they expect the employees to already know," she said.

The training program will eventually be part of the company wide intranet Hy-Vee will launch in October, Mitchell said. "We will begin with forms and applications and things like that, and it will grow -- the possibilities are endless. Our company publications will be on there. Every store in our company is receiving a computer kiosk where all employees will have access to the Hy-Vee Net. There are a lot of opportunities, such as links with manufacturers, down the road," she said.

Part of Hy-Vee's management training is to require people to take the Dale Carnegie course, which is consistent across the retailer's seven-state operating area. Hy-Vee has spent over $1 million on Dale Carnegie training in the last four years and has a contract with that organization, she said.

A successful element in Hy-Vee's recruitment efforts is to focus on college students already working for the company and who plan to get "real jobs" after graduation. They are brought in for a career day where top executives meet with the students in small groups, Mitchell said. "We change a lot of minds. It is very effective in retain a certain few college kids that we weren't retaining before," she said.

Increased turnover in the department manager ranks forced Clemens Markets to start a comprehensive training program, said Sue Cunningham, manager, learning and development. "For a long time, our department management was the most stable part of our organization. But unfortunately, in the last two years, we began to see a lot of turnover and had a lot of vacancies. We started putting people into positions based on desperation versus qualification, and we knew we needed to do something about it," she said.

Another impetus was the company's growth plan, which calls for adding two or three stores per year to current base of 19. "We had a problem not having enough people to fill current positions and now we were going to grow exponentially and create more positions," she said.

In designing the program, the operations and merchandising divisions joined human resources and training to increase buy in. "We wanted everyone to have a vested interest in this, because if we lost one of those components, the training was not going to succeed," Cunningham said.

"One of the ultimate objectives for training at this point is not only to train to get somebody to understand the job, but it is training to retain. It's great to have a training program so people know what they have to do. But we need to look bigger picture: no organization at this point can afford to lose employees," she said.

Kroger has a career "roadmap" it presents to all employees, said Reuben Shaffer, vice president, administration. "Everyone has the same roadmap, but those who go above and beyond the roadmap are the ones who are rewarded," he said.

"We firmly believe in promotion from within," Shaffer said. "The majority of managers within our organization have started out in a management training program. The reason for that is because it is a very good, solid foundation for our business. For them to supervise and direct the workforce, they must know what these individuals do on a day-to-day basis." The program is so comprehensive, it even includes a session cleaning floors, he noted.