While compensation has long been an issue in attracting employees to the produce industry, a more recent but now paramount topic is the need for better work-life balance, such as by offering flexibility in when and where employees work.
“You need a balance of lifestyle; that’s the biggest challenge,” says Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association BB #:153602 in Ottawa, ON. “There’s no hybrid working environment in a warehouse or some other environments that are part of our industry, and that’s what Gen Z wants.”
“Coming from the distribution segment, the traditional hours and warehouse environment are challenges to recruiting new talent,” agrees Jin Ju Wilder, vice president of marketing and business development at Vesta Foodservice BB #:125924 in Santa Fe Springs, CA. “It’s hard to compete with the remote work and flexible hours now expected by many employees.”
Highly successful companies have an advantage, Lemaire says, as they can “provide the most diversity in the working environment, so individuals can come in and feel like they’re contributing, they’re being remunerated fairly, and they have that balance,” Lemaire says.
The desire for flexibility, however, is not limited to young adults early in their careers.
“In every search, more than half of our candidates are asking for some level of flexibility in their schedule,” says Kristen Reid, executive vice president at MIXTEC Group BB #:152072, an executive search and recruiter located in La Crescenta, CA.
“The pandemic gave executives more confidence in their ability to be successful, and they experienced a high degree of flexibility to manage their own schedules—and they hope to maintain that.”
This doesn’t mean jobseekers aren’t willing to work onsite.
“I think there’s a misperception that candidates are always looking for remote or hybrid work—at the executive level, I think what they want is more nuanced,” explains Reid. “They want autonomy to set work schedules that allow them to succeed in their positions and also balance their unique personal circumstances.”
While offering a truly flexible schedule may not be possible in many positions within the industry, remaining competitive with basic employment practices is a must.
“I really think it’s important for each company to make itself an attractive place to work,” says Rex Lawrence, president of Sacramento, CA-based Joe Produce, LLC, BB #:364007. “If most companies provide ten holidays per year, then perhaps it’s time to rethink offering six.”
Further, he says there’s another obstacle in the produce industry versus others—one that may be difficult to address.
“Geography is often one of the biggest challenges,” he says. “Many people would rather live in an urban area than a rural one.”
This is an excerpt from the cover story in the September/October 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.