BOCA RATON, Fla -- Supermarkets and other industries need to create "career ladders" if they are to retain employees at a time of high turnover, according to Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration.
Reich, speaking here to an audience of food industry executives, said economic trends are putting a squeeze on labor that hasn't been seen in many years.
"There's a tight labor market and pressure is building on wages, which is leading to turnover problems for your indusry and others," Reich said.
"My advice for you is to create career ladders, which enable advancement opportunities that reduce turnover in retail, food and other industries. That way employees can learn, get additional skills and move upward on the ladder. This helps low-wage industries to drop turnover and attract people. And it's not just verbalizing, it's showing that people get promoted."
Reich spoke as a panelist in a business session called "A Glimpse into America's Future," which was held during The Lipton Experience 2000. The event was sponsored by Lipton, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., an operating unit of the Anglo-Dutch consumer-goods company Unilever. The program was co-produced by Business Week.
Another panelist, Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, stressed that retention begins with the practices of the supervisory ranks of a company. "Employees quit managers; they don't quit companies," he said.
Nicholas Negroponte, a founder and director of MIT's Media Laboratory and an author and speaker on the implications of information technology, said companies need to take a new approach to employee education.
"The key is learning, not teaching," he said. "Are we stuck with an Industrial-Age way of teaching, which is learning by being told? Young children today will have more interactive learning in school, which will lead to a more flexible work force. In the long term we will have a different labor force and a different mentality. But until then we have a generation of people in their 30s and above who missed the computer age."