WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The food industry is losing out on the people talent pool.
A panel discussion during the recent Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association Executive Conference concluded that the food industry could do more in selling the sizzle to young people considering a career in the industry, especially if it is in retail.
Robert Higgins, executive director of the center for food marketing, St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, said there is no reason for the industry to settle for second best in hiring students from universities. “Why not go after the best and the brightest,” he said.
Too often the industry sells itself short by emphasizing the hard work and long hours required, the panelists agreed.
“Don't talk about the first job they'll take when they come to your organization. Don't talk about the resetting they have to do for CPG companies or the long hours in a retail operation. It's important that they learn that and do it. It's where the rubber meets the highway. However, they need a broader view of their future and where they will fit in that future,” Higgins said. Compared to other industries, the food industry starts recruiting too late, he added. Successful companies begin recruitment in the spring semester of a student's junior year. Jobs are offered in the fall semester before the student graduates in May. Higgins also noted that a lot of companies have recruiters on campus year-round.
“We can get the best but you have to set your sights higher. You have to be aggressive and make sure all the prerequisites are right,” he told the gathering.
Ray Steward, executive vice president of Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, also believes the industry can do better in explaining that food retailing can be exciting. “We are a viable option for young people. We want the brightest and best regardless of what the grade point is,” he said.
Steward was startled recently to learn that the $28,000-$30,000 Hy-Vee pays new recruits out of college might not be enough. He asked 28 new hires attending Hy-Vee University to put together a report on their living expenses. After all expenses, including taxes and living costs, were deducted from the paycheck, the average new hire only had $39 left each month to spend on leisure activities. “People can't live on that. You take great people and make them dishonest,” said Steward.
Higgins added that students going into the food industry from St. Joseph's start at $40,000-$50,000 and one recent graduate was offer $70,000 with a consumer product company.
Sonny King, chairman and chief executive officer, Advantage Sales & Marketing, Irvine, Calif., said they try to expose interested prospects and interns to all aspects of the organization. “I tell them we are a sales company first, and it's time to sell. Second, we are a marketing company and need the brightest people we can find to do marketing. Third, we are a technology company that manages lots of data. When you start talking about all these other things you get their attention. They want interesting jobs,” said King.
As the head of a national sales organization, King said the most important thing he does is to attract and recruit good talent. “If I don't get those two things right nothing else matters because people aren't our most important asset. They are our only asset.”