HR exec: ‘Competition for talent across virtually all disciplines is as intense as I have seen it during my career’

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© PeopleImages / Getty Images
© PeopleImages / Getty Images

Related tags: HR, Recruitment, staffing, diversity

Turnover of employees across the US is increasing, presenting companies with the challenge of recruiting. In the second of our two articles on the changing HR landscape, NutraIngredients-USA explores the challenges of recruiting good people in a competitive market, and how the pandemic has changed the conversation between employers and employees.

There has been much talk over the years of the challenges of recruiting qualified people for the dietary supplements industry, particularly for quality assurance and quality control roles and manufacturing operations.

Indeed, Michael McGuffin, President of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), told us he has heard for several years that manufacturing operations have experienced a dearth of talent and experience to fill senior management positions.

“I have understood this to be almost entirely related to the steady year-over-year growth in the industry over the past several years, and I assume this has now been compounded by the big sales increases in 2020. But it didn’t start in 2020,” ​he said.

“Our industry is growing like the weed it took under its wings 10 years ago,” ​added Elan Sudberg, CEO, Alkemist Labs. “As a result, it is in fact more challenging to find and recruit talented individuals to populate our work force.

“And as we (hopefully) near the end of the pandemic during which people took stock of their job options and many decided on a new direction, it will be more challenging for a while.”

Maggie Yontz, Vice President of Human Resources for Van Drunen Farms/ FutureCeuticals (VDF/FC), confirmed that recruiting for manufacturing roles is a challenge, but beyond those VDF/FC is not experiencing any significant recruitment challenges. 

“To the contrary, what we’re finding is that prospective candidates who may not have been interested in exploring new opportunities are now more willing to engage,” ​she said. “It seems for many people in the labor market, the pandemic has prompted re-evaluation of priorities and a greater openness to change.”

Competition for talent

The search for quality recruits is only intensifying as we emerge from the pandemic, said Brent Tignor, Chief Human Resources Officer, Balchem Corporation. “Competition for talent across virtually all disciplines is as intense as I have seen it during my career,”​ he said. “Effectively and efficiently communicating the company’s purpose and value proposition is critical to convincing the best candidates that Balchem is the place for them to achieve their personal and career objectives. 

“However, no company is right for everyone, and it is essential that it’s the right fit for both the individual and the company. Companies need to be self-aware of their true culture and expectations and transparently communicate that reality to candidates. That genuine approach will ensure that an open role is not only filled but filled right the first time.”

A focus on diversity

Another factor that might affect how companies (in our trade and elsewhere) address hiring and retention practices is the new and significant emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, said AHPA’s McGuffin.

“I understand that some multi-national firms are at least signaling that they take this seriously, not just at the stage of hiring but by building company cultures that embrace these ideals,”​ he added. “If this can be done successfully there may be a resultant increase in retention if employees value the opportunity to be in such a work environment as an added employment benefit.”

Remote vs on-site working

The working environment is increasingly part of any potential conversation between employers and new recruits, with a lot of focus on in-office versus remote working for office workers. Indeed, a recent post from PepsiCo stated that 78% of employees say they would change jobs in favor of one that offers them the option of working from home.

“We learned it was possible to work remotely and not only survive, but in many cases, thrive,”​ said Tignor. “However, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that for many manufacturers, like Balchem, most employees continued to report to a manufacturing or R&D site on a daily basis, without which our industry could not have continued supplying our essential products to people around the world.

“Now, the conversation is dominated by a discussion of the value of being in the office and how companies will utilize remote working going forward,” ​he added.

While digital connectivity has allowed many businesses to weather the COVID-19 storm, there will be a push to get people back into the office, at least some of the time.

“The physical office remains a very important component of successfully operating the business,” ​said Yontz. “Many of the things we do require employees to be in-person at times:  tasting, smelling, feeling, seeing.  And things like coaching, team building, and brainstorming are often more effective when done in person.  Additionally, several employees have reported that the office can often serve as a reprieve from busy, energetic households!” 

Also factoring into the conversation for some companies is the relationship between in-office work and the associated climate impacts of commuting, said AHPA’s McGuffin.

“Most prominently in my reading, PepsiCo has announced it is “reimaging the office” and measuring the impact of shifting to more work-from-home staffing in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions,”​ he said.

Indeed, according PepsiCo, employers who offer flexible work see a 15% increase in productivity, 31% less absenteeism and 10% less turnover, while the company has been able to reduce its real estate footprint and save on waste and energy.

“A flexible workforce is a more sustainable one, too,” stated PepsiCo. “With roughly 50% of corporate associates working remotely at any given time, pollution from driving will be dramatically reduced. In fact, for every 100 employees who work from home twice a week, PepsiCo will save 70 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.”

A changing conversation between employers and employees

“Communication, flexibility in thought and policy, as well as leading during a time of high anxiety has been a significant change in how HR has operated the last 18 months.  HR has had to lead with empathy and courage in a time of uncertainty.  Many times, restrictive policies to keep employees safe have been unpopular.  We are in a major recovery period and need to continue to hire more staff, automate equipment, and retain the great staff we have.  I don’t see this changing any time soon.”
- Michelle Canada, Vice President of Human Resources, NOW Health Group, Inc.

The past 12 months have seen a shift in how employers and employees interact, and the conversations between manager and worker has changed. Many of those conversations may have already been happening internally at a company, said Tignor, and the pandemic accelerated those discussions.“The employment landscape has been forever changed as a result of the pandemic,” ​said Alkemist Labs’ Sudberg. “Between new flexibilities for working remotely, to wellness checks (including mental health), the conversations in prudent companies have grown to be more inclusive, more considerate, and more caring for their people.”

Indeed, according to VDF/FC’s Yontz, “It seems there’s an increased mutual respect and understanding between employers and employees—in a very positive way. 

“In today’s market, many employees are more cognizant of the value they add to the company and are expecting us to recognize the same.  Employees know they have other opportunities, and we know they have them, too.  We want to do everything we can to offer opportunities to our employees that they may not be able to find elsewhere, and the current market is holding accountable to that,”​ she said.  

Yontz added that she thinks the conversations between employer and employee have become “more transparent, trusting, supportive, and empathetic.”

“I think we look at vulnerability differently,” ​said Sudberg, “and what was once annoying drama may be viewed with greater tolerance and more compassion today.”

Part 1 was published July 12. Click here to read, “HR exec: ‘In 20+ years, I’ve never experienced a labor market as fluid & as unpredictable as the current market’​”

 

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