How the Labor Shortage Has Affected Food Production

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to lay off large swaths of their staff in order to protect their bottom line. The food manufacturing industry, considered as an “essential business” was particularly affected by safety concerns among workers. Close proximity between workers made these companies hotspots during the initial days of the pandemic, and forced many manufactures to install protective barriers for the sake of their workforce.

Food manufacturing organizations have been struggling with staffing for decades – the pandemic only exacerbated these issues. Now that the pandemic is largely under control in the United States, workers are not returning in the numbers that many experts anticipated, mirroring what was seen in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. One major food manufacturer has noted a 50% spike in absentee rates since before the pandemic.

Some criticize government stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment benefits, which workers have responded to with health concerns and child care issues. A lawsuit from the early days of the pandemic illustrates the tensions that have grown between workers and manufacturers – alleging that workers were knowingly put at risk when the virus spread in a manufacturing site.

More than simply an issue of labor is the relationship between workers and companies. Manufacturers are now struggling to rebuild its trust with the workforce to keep up with demand. How should food manufacturing companies respond to the labor shortage as we exit the strictures of the pandemic?

Labor Shortages Are Not New to Food Production

The food manufacturing industry has struggled with hiring and labor shortages since the mid-1970s. This has presented a variety of challenges to the industry at-large for some time – the current labor market is unsustainable, and manufacturers struggle for competitive wages and a good working environment.

With many leaving food manufacturing in droves, manufacturers have a difficult decision to make: offering attractive benefits and wages to new hires, or manage a reduced workforce with the tools that they have.

A large food manufacturer has opted to combat this labor shortage by offering vaccines on-site to workers and their families. Additionally, they have begun raising wages and implementing more flexible scheduling to buttress interest in open positions.

Smaller manufacturers should ask whether pay increases can offset the costs inherent in turnover costs. The labor market is currently situated in a position that has allowed workers to be choosy about where they want to work next. Is your manufacturing plant appealing to workers?

What Laborers Look for in an Employer

The current labor market marks a sharp contrast from Baby Boomers. The emerging labor force’s interests in an employer differ dramatically from those of their parents. Food manufacturers should look towards the top four factors influencing the younger generation’s interest in a job, which include:

  • Fair treatment of all employees
  • Skill acquisition
  • Basic benefits
  • Work/life balance

A food manufacturer that is able to embrace all four of these elements is likely to attract talent far beyond that of competition that can’t match these requirements.

Yet the needs of a food manufacturer don’t always match the desires of Millennial and Gen Z workers. To meet these needs, it may be necessary to invest in tools that allow for enhanced worker satisfaction.

How Automation Benefits Food Production and Manufacturing Plants

If a trend is to be noted in the current labor market, it revolves around worker concerns. Food manufacturers are now strongly considering ways in which they can make their jobs more appealing to a younger generation whose heads are turned towards their phones.

Yet with less of a labor pool to draw from, hiring will always be a challenge. Streamlining efficiency through automation is largely thought to be the best indicator of success for food manufacturers.

Investing in automation offers tremendous long-term benefits to many companies. The labor force must develop skills around machines that they can take with them moving forward. Machines can operate at times and in conditions that aren’t appealing to the labor force. Best of all, it dramatically increases operational efficiency.

Automation in the food manufacturing industry demands a sea change in organizational structure. Rather than hiring people without advanced degrees, food manufacturers that embrace automation may have to redirect their efforts to hiring people with a background in skilled labor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – with an increase in output, less workers are required to get more work done. Food manufacturing laborers who understand automation can be compensated more fairly as a result.

Quantum is a leading expert in providing automation solutions to food manufacturers. With a specialization in frozen foods, pizza, and baked goods manufacturing, our automation offers food manufacturers immediate results at affordable prices. Contact us today for more information regarding our offerings.