Recruit, Train, Automate: How Grocers are Countering the Labor Shortage

grocery store labor shortage

All hiring managers can identify with the common phrase that “good help is hard to find”. Unfortunately, the growing labor shortage in the U.S. only makes this statement more relevant. The grocery industry is not exempt. Grocers may have thought it was hard to find good help in the past, but that challenge is about to become even greater.

The much-touted labor shortage is expected to hit the grocery industry especially hard, partly because the industry is so dependent on hourly workers  — people who may now be recruited elsewhere.

Analysts are predicting a major labor shortage across industries through at least 2030 as baby boomers retire en masse. This mass exodus of baby boomers means putting quality workers in the driver’s seat for securing attractive salary, benefits and training packages. It’s recommended that grocers start making plans now on how to handle labor shortage challenges.

In the past, the grocery industry has been able to somewhat contain labor costs. The 2.68 million grocery store employees nationwide made an average $24,489 in 2014, but now such employers may have to raise wages, offer more benefits, invest in more training and work harder at recruiting to compete with other industries.

Across the board, retaining employees is already a challenge without the added layer of a labor shortage. One LinkedIn study found the average U.S. millennial switches jobs four times in the decade following college graduation, compared to 1.6 times for those graduating between 1986 and 1990. For better or worse, the average supermarket worker was 37.1 in 2015, placing him squarely in Generation X between millennials and baby boomers.

How can you start to counter this trend if you’re a supermarket executive? Consider the following areas of focus.

Leverage Strategic Recruiting

Analyst suggestions include improving employee access to high-quality education and child care; lowering barriers to female workers; a greater emphasis on diversity in hiring; fighting for wage supports such as the earned-income tax credit and furthering insurance reforms that could put more of the disabled to work.

Publix supermarkets set a high standard in the realm of education opportunities for staff members. As a member of their team, part-time or full-time, you are eligible for tuition reimbursement after just six months of employment. The wide variety of studies that are covered in their education program, open up endless possibilities for any potential or existing employee, making Publix a very attractive place to work.

Others recommend finding ways to attract retirees back to part-time work. “Some employers may also have to settle for hiring workers who are less-qualified, with less-consistent work histories and educational attainment, and may try to provide more on-the-job training,” confirms Mitchell Hartman on

Increase Training Opportunities, Decrease Labor Shortage

Other food-industry companies are combating the labor shortage by funding and supporting better training programs that can funnel workers into areas of greater skill and responsibility in shorter periods of time. Walmart, for example, announced a $1 billion commitment to workforce training in 2015. Some food-chain businesses are working with trade schools and community colleges to beef up training at the post-secondary level. Many food and beverage manufacturers are helping sponsor college courses in electronics, hydraulics, mechanical systems, robotics, PLC, production and other skills important to workers in their industry.

Robotics and automation

The advancement of technology is another possible solution to combat labor shortage. Self-checkout lanes at multiple supermarket chains have already proven wildly popular worldwide; in fact, a recent NCR Corp. study shows 90 percent of consumers throughout the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the UK are users, and 7 percent use self-checkout exclusively.

Could it be that labor shortage could be just the catalyst the grocery industry needs to embrace time-saving and self-service technology, ultimately moving further into the digital age?

“The labor shortage could push the logistics industry to evolve at an unprecedented rate, and present an opportunity for firms to gain a competitive advantage if they are willing to innovate and adapt quickly,” writes Joe Vernon in Industry Week.

The more grocers plan ahead in anticipating the seismic industry shift from the labor shortage, the further ahead they’ll be in remaining profitable into the future. Take time now to consider how your operations will adapt.

To learn more about the cost saving benefits of reusables, click here.

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