With COVID-19 disrupting the workforce and younger generations entering the field with new needs and perspectives, the way we work, and our workforce needs are changing. In this week’s Virtual Town Hall, The Center for Growing Talent’s Director of Programs, Megan Nash was joined by two industry members with years of experience in the changing workforce, both within our industry and outside of it. Heather Siddle Kinney, Corporate Counsel/Director of HR, Tome Lange and Colleen Moore, Recruitment manager, Four Seasons Produce, Inc. shared their perspective on top talent trends, how produce companies will need to adapt and how these changes will affect the way we recruit and retain talent.
Trends and Challenges
To start off the session Siddle Kinney and Moore shared what trends and needs they are currently seeing in the workplace. While many were trends can be applied across industries, some were specific to produce:
- Due to higher consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, the industry is seeing a need to hire more personnel.
- There is a desire for more flexibility in the workforce to allow for virtual or remote work, or flex schedules. This is especially prevalent among parents as schools shut down and children spend more time at home.
- For those roles that cannot go completely virtual there is a preference for a more virtual hiring process before people come in for in-person interviews. This means a longer hiring process with more interviews.
- For both remote and in-person roles there is a need for logistic support when onboarding new hires.
In addition to these trends throughout the workplace and hiring process, participants also outlined challenges they are having to overcome:
- What does a more virtual hiring process look like?
- How can companies keep people safe in roles that cannot be done virtually or remotely?
- How do you keep relationships strong in the remote/virtual environment?
Flexible Work Environments
Throughout COVID-19 one thing that has become apparent is that a flexible work environment is likely not going away. Siddle Kinney and Moore have been faced with the challenge of adapting to and creating a more flexible work environment throughout the pandemic. While it may have been a challenge for those companies not already functioning on a flexible/remote schedule, with the right infrastructure and technology in place many companies can thrive with a flexible work environment. Specific to the produce industry, when looking at those roles that cannot work remotely, like the field workers of those in the distribution center, Siddle Kinney and Moore highlighted the need for a split schedule, which keeps fewer people in the workplace through a rotation schedule and focuses on keeping workers safe.
Knowing that people won’t return to the office in the same manner as prior to COVID, a flexible work schedule has become a benefit that companies highlight during the recruiting office. Those who specifically want remote work will look for it during their search, and so companies should be prepared to highlight it and discuss their process and infrastructure in interviews.
Connectivity and Strengthening Relationships Virtually
A major challenge with shifting to a flexible/remote work schedule is maintaining strong relationships and keeping your team connected in a virtual environment. This can particularly be a challenge with the independent high performers on your team who may not need outreach to get the job done. The key to staying connected in a virtual world is to be intentional about reaching out and keeping in touch. Siddle Kinney and Moore highlighted some things their companies have been doing to keep people connected throughout COVID-19:
- Weekly/monthly/every other month happy hours
- Weekly corporate Zoom calls
- A weekly highlight of different offices or teams on the company’s social media platforms
- Quarterly happy hour goodie bags
- Mandatory “camera on” meetings
When recruiting new talent in a virtual environment culture has become a bigger focus during the hiring process. It is more important than ever to make sure that the recruit will either fit into the company culture or help grow the company culture. The same can be said about the company for the recruit. With employees no longer coming together in person, understanding the candidate’s history and their passion/interest in the industry are also key. The candidate should not only fit well with the company culture but have a passion for the role that will help drive them to be productive from home.
The Big Issues
Social issues always have a way of breaking into the workplace. Two social issues that employees have been focused on in recent years are highlighting the importance of mental health and safety, and putting an emphasis on the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Both Siddle Kinney and Moore have seen their companies focus on these topics in the past year.
When it comes to the mental health and safety of employees, companies are making an effort to recognize and discuss it. There has been an effort to communicate more around what is being done to keep employees safe, what changes are being made and sharing tips and resources for employees in this space.
For diversity, equity and inclusion, there is a lot of room to grow and improve. Both participants stated that while there is more of a push to create a diverse workplace, that is just the first step. Companies are beginning to ask questions and research how to attract different demographics, however there is much work to be done past that in equity and inclusion. The industry is beginning to recognize this and is making strides.
With a changing workforce and shifting social priorities, companies need to remain nimble and continue to look ahead at what trends are coming and how they can continue to leverage and support current talent while recruiting new, innovative talent.