Right to left Tracy Mercier Mouskondis and Zatina Photo Sean KilcarrFleet Owner

Right to left: Tracy, Mercier, Mouskondis, and Zatina. (Photo: Sean Kilcarr/Fleet Owner)

Talent shortage affects truckers, non-truckers alike

Foodservice executives say finding and keeping talented workers is becoming an “uphill battle.”

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. Being a good company with strong values offering good pay and great benefits is no longer enough to recruit and retain employees, now and in the future, according to a panel discussion of executives here at the 2017 International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) conference at the Gaylord Convention Center.

“The elephant in the room is that, years ago, if you just built a good company, people would line up out the door to come work for you,” explained John Tracy, executive chairman of Dot Foods, who served as the moderator of the discussion.

“But now the single biggest issue we face is the talent shortage – nothing limits our businesses more than that,” he stressed. “We can’t seem to attract and retain top talent like we once did. Things are very different today.”

Nicole Mouskondis, co-CEO of Nicholas & Company, added that what’s partly driving this difficultly is that the overall U.S. labor pool is undergoing a generational shift just as the concept of work itself is changing. On top of that, the technology required to conduct what used to be basic work is requiring a more skilled workforce as well, she said.

“By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials and they have a very different view of work,” Mouskondis explained. “For example, we’ve always had a group of workers willing to step in and work overtime. Now we have more workers wanting just part-time; they don’t want a full 40-hour week. This is why Uber and Lyft are successful; it’s due to the rise of the ‘independent worker.’ That means we have to set work schedules for how they best fits their needs, not ours.”

John Tracy, Dot Foods.

“The big difference from 10 years ago is that out industry is just not sexy enough; it’s manual-labor intensive and today’s kids want less-intensive work,” noted Andy Mercier, president & CEO of Merchants Foodservice. “Delivering food to restaurants is not easy; neither is warehouse storage work.”

The manual labor required by Merchants’ truck drivers in terms of unloading straight trucks and trailers is one area Mercier said is ripe for improvement – particularly as it could help extend the careers of his truck driver workforce.

“Improving the unloading experience so it is not so hard might give them five more years with us,” he stressed. “Staying in that job and doing it longer – that retention aspect is the biggest challenge we face right now.”

Another challenge in that vein comes from the “disruption” caused by technology, added Mouskondis. “Technology is creating a skills gap; it’s requiring more training and changing the nature of the jobs we offer,” she noted. “It all requires a higher-level of employee now.”

However, Tom Zatina, president of McLane Foodservice Distribution, pointed out that despite the rise of technology and need of “traditional” companies such as those in the food distribution business to use it and become more efficient, the basic format of supply-chain transport – be it for food or other goods – will not change that much in the future.

“I don’t believe we’ll be delivering cases of sour cream by drone anytime soon,” he said. “So we are still going to need people to move food in a safe, efficient, and dependable manner. That being said, if we keep doing things the old way, we’re going to miss out on opportunities.”

To that end, Zatina believes food distributors need to focus on three trends: the rise of mobile technology and what roles it will play in the supply chain; the speed of delivery, as customers “keep compressing wait times” for their goods to travel from order to delivery; and access to more data in order to generate more efficiencies and “figure out where the customer wants to go.”

A final point Zatina made on finding talent: firms in “traditional” business sectors need to diversify their workforce more.

“What a mistake it is if we feel [in foodservice] that the only place we can go for talent is men; that limits the labor pool,” he stressed. “We need a rich mix of folks who want to work in our industry.”

Mouskondis added that “diversity” is also critical when it comes to customer relations as well.

“We need to understand our customer demographics; we need to be able to represent the ‘face’ of the customer so we can relate to them and align better with their needs,” she said. “This is not just about gender; it’s about ethnicity, too.”

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