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4 Ways Food Manufacturers Can Ease their Labor Shortage (without Spending Money)

April 22, 2021 - minute read

In the food and beverage production industry, labor shortages are a chronic challenge—one that’s only become more pressing since the pandemic. Experts have offered a number of solutions, from accelerating factory automation to initiating wage hikes. The problem: these ideas often come with big, unfeasible price tags. Are there solutions that won’t cost a fortune—and can be implemented relatively easily?

Yes, there are, and to a large degree, they can be handled by HR. These solutions require just two things: an open mind and up-to-date HR software—both necessities in today’s volatile business environment.

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Similarly, the best way to tackle your labor crunch is to break it down into components—inadequate hiring, high turnover, flagging performance—and address them one at a time. Here’s four ways to do just that, using just your HR software and an open mind. 

1. Rethink Your Hiring Criteria

Everyone prefers candidates with direct industry experience, especially when it comes to equipment operation and sophisticated procedures. But now’s the time to ask: is direct experience a true prerequisite for each position or a nice-to-have? The reality is, these are learned skills. Even your most experienced operators started out as beginners.

In that vein, reevaluate your job requirements and descriptions. Do qualities like aptitude and work ethic deserve more weight in your hiring equation? Furthermore, if you’ve avoided actively recruiting certain populations—say, those with criminal records—give those practices a second look. In numerous studies, ex-cons performed as well or better than their coworkers and created no problems. When it comes to hiring, never say never.

2. Expand Your Online Learning Offerings

Last year, online learning came into its own. Even some food manufacturers turned more heavily to online training, if only for COVID training and mandated safety training conducted during onboarding.

Now, think bigger. Expanding your online learning program can be a powerful retention tool. For example, in one LinkedIn Learning survey, 94% of workers said they were more likely to stay with employers that invested in their development.

And in addition to cross-training and upskilling programs, don’t overlook classes geared to personal development. For example, Tyson Foods offers its workers a range of personally-helpful courses, including English as a Second Language and a GED program. If you’re competing with other local employers for labor, this can be a differentiator.

3. Add Flexibility to Your Scheduling Practices

It’s hard to visualize “flex scheduling” in a food plant environment. But if you’re struggling to cover all of your shifts, you may benefit from loosening your scheduling practices where you can.

Perhaps it’s time to designate more part-time and job-sharing positions part of your permanent line-ups. While such flexible hours have always held appeal for parents of young children, it’s never been more so, given on-and-off school and day care closings.

Furthermore, empowering workers to swap shifts and bid on open slots is not only very popular with employees, it can keep production lines humming. See if your scheduling software supports bidding and swapping. It can help you attract and retain two types of workers: those who need flexibility in their hours and those who are always eager to pick up more.

4. Use HR Analytics to Monitor Labor Activity

Chances are, you already use an OEE system to measure the efficiency of your plant equipment. HR analytics—which may be available through your HCM software—offers similar insights, only as it pertains to hiring, turnover, and other labor-related activities.

For example, if you were using HR analytics to help manage your labor shortage, you could be tracking:

  • How long it takes to hire a new employee—and where the hold ups are.
  • Where your best new hires are coming from.
  • How long it takes new hires to complete onboarding.
  • Workforce absenteeism and tardiness rates, organized by shift, line, manager, etc.
  • Turnover rates and length of tenure, also displayed by various criteria.
  • Turnover rates and employment duration for new hires—even by hiring source.

Obviously, once you can know these factors and what’s behind them, you can begin to improve them.

In summary, the industry labor crunch isn’t going to solve itself. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is crucial to business survival—and that there are always better ways to more fully leverage technology.

That said, if your HCM system isn’t up to the tasks described here, it’s undoubtedly holding you back in other ways as well. After all, not all HR software is designed for the food manufacturing industry or workforce. See what a complete, affordable HCM system can do for you.

Filed Under: Applicant Tracking & Hiring Manufacturing Scheduling Food Manufacturing