Store associates play a pivotal role in the success of supermarket operations, with most retailers finding it difficult to prosper without a hardworking, knowledgeable and dedicated staff. This is especially true in fresh departments, particularly deli and bakery. Despite the increasing number of omnichannel and online shopping options, many shoppers seek face-to-face engagement, which can help brick-and-mortar supermarkets stand out in the evolving landscape of alternative food channels. In essence, employees give our stores a face, a personality and the emotional connection to food that resonates with our shoppers.
Like many industries, food retail faces challenges in attracting, growing and retaining energetic and committed talent. Perception may lie at the core of this challenge. For store associates, employment at a supermarket may be just a paycheck, not a career. In the case of recent college graduates or employees new to the supermarket business, they are likely unaware of the countless opportunities and possibilities that exist to utilize their education and professional skills.
We’re a part of a $638 billion industry, one that employs 3.4 million people and provides essential products and services. Our industry is also on the forefront of food trends — both in terms of products and food preparation — and appeals to a growing number of individuals who have a fascination with food. We offer tremendous career opportunities and advancement for high potential, enthusiastic candidates. Career opportunities run the gamut, from overseeing in-store departments, to managing complex supply chains, to working as an in-store chef or nutritionist to develop a healthy prepared foods menu, to developing creative advertising and marketing campaigns. As supermarket owners, managers and professionals who know firsthand just how rewarding a career in the grocery industry can be, it’s up to us to be proactive.
So, where to start? Above all, a strong employee onboarding program that offers assistance, guidance, training and opportunities for advancement from the individual’s first day and continuing throughout his or her employment can be paramount for building a strong team of skilled professionals who enjoy their jobs. It can help build loyalty and commitment among staff, resulting in lower turnover rates and creating a work environment that attracts talent.
One way to build retention is to offer an employee a firsthand look at the ins and outs of supermarket operations or food manufacturing is through a mentorship program. There’s no job description or career manual that can take the place of real life experiences and engagement, which is what a mentor program achieves: It’s a guided journey that can help the mentee realize the possibilities of a career in food retail. And it can provide fantastic results. A Verstrics study cited by Heather R. Huhman in Forbes revealed that employee retention rates rose 69% for mentors and 72% for mentees at Sun Microsystems because of its mentorship program.
IDDBA believes this approach can be a valuable addition to existing company career programs, which is why we developed our IDDBA Mentor Grant Scholarship Program, launched in late 2015, that encourages seasoned professionals to share their experiences with a mentee, such as attending industry trade shows, participating in workshops, seminars, and networking events, and job shadowing.
When it comes to building our companies and store teams for success in the present and the future, we must take proactive steps to ensure the supermarket industry continues to grow and is viewed as a viable and dynamic career path.
How is your chain or store attracting and retaining talent? What types of employee career growth programs do you have in place to assist employees and new hires on their career path?