Talent in the food manufacturing industry

By John D’Arcy
It is estimated that the grocery sector needs approximately 100,000 apprentices by 2022. However, a common, but less reported lament from across the gro...

It is estimated that the grocery sector needs approximately 100,000 apprentices by 2022. However, a common, but less reported lament from across the grocery supply chain is the difficulty in attracting and retaining talent at graduate level.

In part, this can be put down to the perception of the industry. When watching a politician visit a food manufacturer, they are usually on the shop floor in a hairnet and white coat, or perhaps in a warehouse wearing a high vis jacket. Neither situations appear to be particularly exciting. Of course, the reality is very different. The grocery industry offers fast-paced, challenging and rewarding careers, but the image of glamour associated with working in law, banking, defence or even car manufacturing bombards us from a young age.

Attracting talent should be easy for grocery; the industry is huge, value add is high, and there is great opportunity for progression within roles that match the strengths of any candidate. In the past, the industry has done a poor job of communicating this. Here at Newton, we have attended many career fairs at top universities in order to talk to potential candidates and grocery businesses are rarely seen, particularly outside the largest retailers and global manufacturers.

However, there are some positive examples of the grocery industry working to recruit the best talent. Part of the attraction for many graduates is the salary and job progression offered, and retailers such as Aldi and Lidl offer unbeatable graduate programmes by paying market leading salaries, offering quick progression paths, world travel opportunities and dedicated training. This winning combination has kept the very best loyal, with 90% of Aldi’s 180 directors joining as graduates.

Aldi is number 2 in the Times Top 100 graduate employers, but this list only features one other of the ‘Big Four’ retailers and not a single UK focused grocery supply chain business. Instead, it is full of law, banking, consulting and technical manufacturing businesses. A further worry for grocery retailers should be Amazon’s position on the list and their current ambition to recruit 500+ graduates.

The grocery industry presents the most complex, interesting and valuable problems that require top talent to solve. In addition, the industry changes rapidly and feedback loops are short, so the cream should rise to the top, with talent being given the opportunity to progress based on ability rather than experience. But this is perhaps the very reason why organisations are not implementing the right culture to attract the best talent. Leaders must embrace new talent and ensure that future careers are built upon talent rather than just experience.

Graduates want to find their niche early on in their careers, so businesses should allow them to rotate around a business to make sure they retain them in the right place. In addition, employees want to make an impact and have exposure to leadership. The gold standard for any talent programme should give graduates significant exposure to a business improvement or internal consulting role. Working on some of the hardest problems in the business is a great testing ground for future leaders as issues are typically cross functional and require significant skill to solve.

Much has been written about the rise of Aldi and Lidl in the UK, is it just possible that Aldi and Lidl’s 15-year policy of offering a market leading graduate programme is the root cause of their competitive advantage?

Competitors and the rest of the supply chain must look at their internal schemes, both for graduates and aspiring apprentices, and sell their businesses as an excellent place for top talent to flourish.

If you don’t someone else will.

By John D’Arcy, Associate Director, Newton


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