Addressing the workforce challenge
Not long ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. You know how it went: One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
One of the biggest lessons was that you can accomplish almost anything if you really set your mind on it. It’s in that spirit that I bring up one of retail’s biggest challenges: workforce.
I would call this a giant challenge, and a bit later I’ll address how an actual retail giant — Giant Food Stores — is addressing workforce hurdles.
But first, what is involved and why is this such a big challenge? The most high-profile hurdles involve recruitment and retention as the competition for talent intensifies. In a recent DSN piece, I outlined how retailers are responding by boosting training, benefits and compensation.
But workforce issues are about more than just hiring and retention. The nature of retail work itself is changing. Many retail jobs still involve decades-old tasks in physical stores, but the reality is that “today’s food retail industry is a collage of full-time employees, gig workers and artificial intelligence performing an ever-widening range of tasks,” as noted in a recent Progressive Grocer piece. Today’s retail goals — from boosting physical stores’ experiential offerings to excelling in omnichannel — require new associate skill sets. An increasingly diverse workforce needs to be comfortable working in an environment that melds humans and robots.
Technology adds complexity but can also make things easier. Walmart and other retailers are adopting the latest workplace technologies that enhance communications, scheduling and efforts to provide flexibility for associates.
The future of retail workforces was spotlighted at the recent Midwinter Executive Conference of FMI – The Food Industry Association. One compelling educational session focused on the need to break down bias barriers to foster a more inclusive workplace for associates.
One of the speakers was Nick Bertram, Giant Food Stores president, who outlined his organization’s efforts. Bertram said he has a personal passion for workplace inclusion and wants his retail organization to be heavily focused on this goal. I had an opportunity to sit down with Bertram for an extensive discussion. Some of the company’s recent initiatives he emphasized include:
- Business Resource Groups: Giant operates affinity groups for everyone from veterans to black and Latino associates. These groups create community and awareness and support employees;
- President’s Inclusion Council: This council is a forum for associates to relay ideas and challenges. For example, recent input led to a new parental leave policy. Bertram said the council is adding some external voices that will help bring new input to widen the perspectives; and
- Inclusion Index: Giant’s parent, Ahold Delhaize, has created an index based on an annual engagement survey. This Inclusion Index is already providing important internal feedback for the company. Meanwhile, parts of the company’s global team are involved in a “reverse mentoring” program to enable employees to help teach leaders.
I give a lot of credit to Bertram, Giant and Ahold Delhaize for their progress is trying to boost inclusion and support workplace environments.
Retailers need to pursue multiple solutions for workforce challenges. Efforts that might seem contradictory — such as empowering people and boosting automation — are actually different parts of the same effort to build more sustainable workplaces.
Success isn’t necessarily a straight line. It took a lot of trial and error to get to the moon, but the Eagle finally landed.