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The pressing challenge of filling jobs

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Many retail workers saw big changes in their jobs during the pandemic, as stores enacted new sanitation and safety protocols while ramping up services like online shopping and curbside pickup. Now retailers need to think about what kind of employees they will need in the future, and how they will find and keep them.

Deloitte and FMI, the Food Industry Association, explore those questions in a new report, “Future of Work: The State of the Food Industry.” It is based on a survey conducted this year between April and May of more than 150 U.S.-based executives at consumer packaged goods and food manufacturing and processing companies, as well as grocers and other food retailers, in addition to interviews with industry leaders.

One finding: For food retailers, talent availability (cited by 44% of survey respondents) is the foremost challenge, followed by talent retention (40%) and retraining and reskilling employees for new technologies (39%). That was true before the pandemic, as well, and it continued to be a problem even when essential retailers were still operating their stores while restaurants and other businesses were forced to lay off workers.

“At a time when many industries suffered devastating job losses, the grocery industry has served as a source for occupations for hundreds of thousands of Americans,” says Mark Baum, senior vice president of industry relations and chief collaboration officer at FMI. “Yet FMI’s operations data suggest that turnover in food retail was 40% before the pandemic.”

Baum adds that 46% of food retailers said COVID-19 made it harder to recruit and retain people.

“Retailers told us they addressed this tension by focusing on a range of benefits for associates, including higher compensation; bonuses; flextime; training and skills development; employee wellness programs; education programs; and hiring and retention incentives,” Baum says.

Some retailers are getting creative in thinking about ways to develop and retain the talent they need. Walmart recognized before the pandemic that the high cost of college meant that educational opportunity could be a compelling benefit, and last month the retailer announced that it was enhancing its Live Better U (LBU) education benefit, paying 100% of the cost of college tuition and books for associates enrolled in the program, which helps employees boost their skills, including capabilities that Walmart needs in its own workforce.

Recently Target announced its own educational benefit, and CVS Health opened its newest Workforce Innovation and Talent Center, which offers training and other services to underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities, helping to prepare them for retail careers.


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