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On the challenges facing the food industry in recruitment

1 April 2016  •  Author(s): Nicole Gallace, FoodGrads

The food industry employs millions of people worldwide but with a global population expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050—that’s a lot of mouths to feed— there is increasing pressure on the industry to perform.

food industry

A brief recap of what ‘Food Industry’ actually encompasses; Agriculture, Manufacturing and Processing, Food service and Culinary, Retail, Education and Research, Marketing and Advertising, Wholesale and Distribution and Regulations. Recruitment is an area that poses some major challenges to the industry.  Due to advances in technology and innovation, the skills required are unique and specialised and not enough young people are pursuing a career in food, therefore there is a shortage of the skills the industry needs to thrive.

Lack of awareness and skills

It seems people think they need to become a chef when they think of jobs in the sector, or that farming is all about throwing on some wellies and milking cows.  The majority of young people that pursue food as a career have a family member or friend in the profession, otherwise they just don’t think about it.  A spotlight on the different professions within all areas of the Food Industry is well overdue.  When teens start thinking about work in the future, food needs to be part of the discussion.

Food Scientists, Food Technologists, Engineers, Quality Assurance, Production Management  Process Engineers, Line Operators etc. are all in-demand and will definitely provide graduates with employment opportunities.  The skills shortage is growing and noticeable in the food industry, across all sectors.  We need millennials to embrace the industry—taking pictures of food is great—but the interest needs to extend further and deeper than that!

“We need specific skills in Product Development & Innovation (ideally in baking). We can find Food Science but the mix of culinary PDI is difficult” Suzanne Pottinger, VP Employee Experience, The Original Cakerie

Industry trends, innovation and workplace expectations.

Trends in food play a role in how much attention a food employer gets.  Steve MacIntyre, HR Director at Gardein shared “Due to our reputation as a good employer and the ‘on trend’ market we’re in (plant based products) Food Science grads come to us regularly”.  Employers who are not willing to innovate from a product and technology perspective limit themselves; recruiting talented young people will be even harder.  Studies on millennials, who within the next 5 years will make up half the workforce, have highlighted the changes that organisations need to make in order to compete.

food industry

“When you factor in that our employees are asked to work shifts that start as early as 4:30 am and finish as late as 2:00 am, in a refrigerated environment, well it just makes things more difficult” Steve MacIntyre, HR Director, Gardein

Without attempting to meet some of the demands millennials have voiced, recruitment will remain a huge and ongoing challenge.  Employers need to move forward and create an industry that young people are attracted to. Millennials have expressed a desire for ongoing training and development, however, it’s widely discussed that employers are reluctant to invest in training for fear of losing employees once they have made that investment, but this attitude quite frankly means the industry is shooting itself in the foot.

“Not investing in training and development means that not enough people have the skills and experience the food industry needs to be competitive” Luis Garcia, Conestoga College

Time

It takes months (and countless highs and lows) to source, interview, hire and train new employees. Recruitment is a huge challenge for small to medium food industry employers especially—and there are a ton of them in this sector—who do not have designated HR/recruiters.  Not only is this a specialised process that not everyone has experience and training in, but hiring mistakes are extremely expensive. Investing in new talent and having enough people to ensure productivity is crucial to the success of the business, but the time it takes to recruit remains an enormous challenge and requires a juggling act of priorities.

“There is no time to review lots of resumes (especially unqualified candidates), matching of skills to job requirements and cultural fit are our biggest challenges” Shawn Boodhram, General Manager, Marsia Foods

Graduate recruitment strategies, internships and co-op programmes take time to develop and implement but their importance cannot be stressed enough.  Increased ‘hands on’ experience is key for developing necessary skills and knowledge, plus grads are much more employable if they have some experience under their belts.  Unfortunately, unless you are one of the ‘big guys’ in the industry, the benefits of a graduate recruitment programme are not on the cards.

food industry

Skill shortages and time are challenges facing the food industry

From a global perspective the industry can do better to address these issues–it’s a powerful industry and has a voice–but is it being used effectively with regards to recruitment?  Working in silos, competing for market share without an attitude of collaboration regarding the bigger issue of attracting people to pursue a career in food, simply means everyone suffers, from hiring managers to consumers.

There has never been a more exciting and important time to pursue a career in food, the future of food depends on it.

About the author

Nicole Gallace moved from the UK to Canada 15 years ago, has been a recruiter in the Food Industry for almost 10 years and recently Co-Founded a start-up called FoodGrads. Because of the need to attract young people to the food industry and support them as they start their career in food this exclusive community for food educated professionals was born. Visit FoodGrads for more information. Check out our initiative to increase awareness and attract people to careers in food #MyFoodJobRocks!

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