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CEO panel addresses industry labour shortage

Empire's Michael Medline, Longo's Anthony Longo and Calgary Co-op's Ken Keelor share thoughts on recruiting and retaining staff during Canadian Grocer’s GroceryConnex conference

COVID-19 has accentuated labour shortages and skills gaps within the grocery industry over the last 18 months and now companies are examining how they recruit and retain talent as life returns to “normal.”

The demand for workers remains high as Canadians re-evaluate their careers in a post-pandemic world, younger generations start entering the workforce and immigration levels remain low, among other factors.

“We did have a labour shortage just before COVID in 2019, especially in Quebec and British Columbia, so we've gone back to that labor shortage and it's been exacerbated by a number of factors including very little immigration over the last two years and some other societal things going on,” said Empire CEO Michael Medline during Canadian Grocer's virtual Grocery Connex conference held November 22.

Medline was joined by Calgary Co-op CEO Ken Keelor and Longo’s president and CEO Anthony Longo for a panel discussion that touched on some of the industry’s most pressing issues including labour issues, in-store technology, e-commerce and staying relevant to today’s consumers.

The three CEOs shared their thoughts on what grocers need to do today to attract and maintain good talent. For Longo’s, this means providing employees with meaningful work and stressing a significant sense of purpose.

“In our case, our purpose is to fuel happier and healthier lives, and our vision is to be the most trusted and relied upon food partner,” said Longo. “It's ensuring that people understand it's beyond putting product on the shelf. It's how do we help customers bring joy back to food and have food help them bring that joy to the kitchen table, as an example.”

It’s also about focusing on the skills of employees, making good use of those skills and fostering growth within the company, said Longo. “We have a responsibility to provide opportunities for our teams to learn new skills,” he said. “We've got to be investing in their education, investing in how they learn and give them the opportunity to grow and do cool things, not just keep the lights on kind of work.”

Keelor, meanwhile, suggested keeping an open mind when it comes to generation Z—a cohort that is very values-driven, craves flexibility and a work-life balance.

“I think that there's this challenging the norm dramatically, and ‘I can get it done in two hours, so why do I need to do an eight-hour shift or why do I need to be here 8 to 5?’, said Keelor of the younger workforce. “We really have to be more flexible in how we think about them and the hours that we offer them and how we treat them.”

In this job market, employees have a little more cushion and leverage to be picky. So it’s important that companies clearly communicate their values to attract good people, said Medline.

“I think people today, to their credit, are choosier and they want to work for companies like our three companies, which have value and that have cultures that they want to work in,” he said. “They should be choosey and not work at places that aren't good places that don't fit their values.”

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