Business Leaders' Forum

Top tips from Business Leaders Forum #2: How to increase retention and entice a new generation

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture explored the industry's problem with hiring and retaining young talent at the Business Leaders' Forum
Food Manufacture explored the industry's problem with hiring and retaining young talent at the Business Leaders' Forum

Related tags Young people People & Skills

Last week’s Business Leaders’ Forum saw captains of industry discuss the challenges surrounding attracting young talent into the sector, but what steps can be taken to entice a new generation of young people to consider a career in the food and drink industry?

Many in the room agreed that schools weren’t doing enough to promote careers in the food and drink industry, and that they had a responsibility to make roles in the sector more visible.

There was also a wide acceptance, at this Columbus-sponsored event, that manufacturers weren’t doing their bit to improve the image of the sector, with calls made for food firms to open their doors to work experience placements.

More work could also be done to attract young people seeking careers in industries adjacent to the food and drink sector.

“Look at avenues you wouldn’t normally recruit in, look at untapped areas of labour,”​ suggested one delegate. “I think we should be bringing in talent in from other industries and be more open-minded.”

Greater challenge

While it was agreed that there was a challenge in attracting younger people into the industry, the greater challenge of retention was brought to the attention of the room.

It was noted that the lack of engagement offered to new starters – bright and brilliant sparks fresh from higher learning – and how they would often be saddled with ‘mind numbing’ roles did little to incentivise them to stay.

“These are intelligent people, put them in more interesting roles that challenge them,” ​said one captain of industry. “So often it’s a case of you have to do this in order to get to the more interesting stuff. It’s boring and they’ll be off.”

One solution would be to provide these potential leaders of the future a clear path of career progression. Most important of all, they need to be listened to and can more often than not provide great insight into how things can change in the factory for the better.

“In manufacturing environments, you recruit two hands and you get a free brain. The line managers know the issues, they engage with the line. Start talking to them because they will have the solutions.

Engage with them

“Engage, be friendly, know their names – absolutely fundamentals. If there is a problem, ask them their thoughts, what changes would they make. Very often they are simple fixes. Don’t be afraid of giving new recruits big challenges – don’t throw them into the deep end, but you can challenge them if you give them support. It’s common sense but unfortunately not common practice.”

Of course pay was a major consideration in any talk about retaining staff, but real engagement with them is key to driving retention. This advice extended to inviting them to meetings and rotating them out of repetitive and boring tasks.

Still, the question circles back around to how food and drink manufacturers can improve their public image? One delegate suggested that the solution might lie in social media, who advocated the use of these digital platforms to create engagement with a younger demographic.

“We are an unknown industry to the younger generation,” they explained. “Tik Tok, Instagram, influencers, that’s who the teenagers are going to listen to. I think that has power.”

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