Recruiting and Retaining Labor

kitchen worker preparing a recipe

An aging workforce may have you rethinking ways you refresh your team or retain valued employees.

A tighter labor market is putting the squeeze on foodservice directors across the healthcare spectrum. Recruiting and retaining workers has become as big a challenge as getting meals out on time every day. 

At the moment, Argentum reports 16- to 30-year-old workers make up nearly half of senior living foodservice occupations. But these workers are less likely to be replaced by younger workers in the future—the number of workers aged 16-24 is expected to decline steadily through 2024. At the same time, older workers are expected to work longer. 

These changes may affect how you look at the workforce of the future, putting an emphasis on how you advertise to recruit older workers or how you retain valued workers as they gain experience. Here are some tips: 

Make a plan

“Most operators think, ‘I have to fill a job opening,’” says Florida-based Dan Longton, CEO of TraitSet, a workforce-management service provider. “But what they need is a recruiting strategy. What age group are you going to recruit? Where? How do you reach them?”

The recruitment strategy should be built around SMART criteria. The plan must be:

  • The SMART criteria for recruitment and retentionProven productive across all industries, the SMART method defines what success looks like, gains buy-in from all involved and provides accountability. This greatly increases the likelihood of action and execution.

Get the word out online

“Only putting out help-wanted signs puts you behind the curve,” Longton says.
“Use every tool available.”

The most effective tool these days can be social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Focus on building an identity as an employer of choice in addition to posting job openings.

That means incorporating regular “we’re a great place to work” posts into your social media strategy. These can include mini employee profiles, awards and recognition, community service work, cool benefits, and photos and videos of employees on and off the job. Do this well, and your social media followers will be more likely to share your job openings with people in their networks. 

Consider listing your positions on job search sites. Third-party recruiting resources, such as TraitSet, can place, refresh and manage job postings. Does your organization have a careers page on its website? If so, see if you can insert foodservice-specific information there. 

Ask for referrals

Ask current employees to recommend people who may be a good fit, and reward them. A referral bonus must be valuable enough to prompt action. Consider offering the bonus in two stages: one for the initial hire, and a second after the employee stays on board for a certain period of time.

Carry calling cards

Your job pitch should fit on a business card. Include instructions on how to apply and who to call or email. Highlight what sets you apart, such as above average starting rates or flexible schedules. Hand cards to anyone with potential—at job fairs, favorite restaurants and wherever else you encounter a worthy prospect.

Define a path to advancement

The healthcare sector may be able to provide greater potential for upward mobility than other foodservice operations. That can be a competitive advantage when recruiting ambitious new employees.

Spectrum Health, an integrated health system in West Michigan, has developed a Workforce Initiative that offers entry-level employees clearly defined opportunities for advancement, both inside and outside the Nutrition Services Department. The initiative identifies the work levels, education, training and quality expectations needed to climb the career ladder—and helps employees attain them.

This approach is grounded in research showing that career development opportunities entice potential employees and engage those who join the workforce, says Kevin Vos, Spectrum Health’s Director of Nutrition Services.

Hire the right people

TraitSet offers an online behavioral assessment that evaluates job candidates for traits and abilities critical to foodservice success. It can uncover issues you may not pick up on in a face-to-face interview—and prevent you from making a costly personnel mistake.

Make onboarding and training easy

Technology can simplify and accelerate the process of joining your organization. TraitSet, for example, handles all the paperwork details in as little as 10 minutes. That’s appealing to any new employee and can be a deciding factor for someone juggling multiple offers.

Technology can also be an efficient and cost-effective way of training new employees, reducing the time you and your staff must spend on in-person instruction.

Use scheduling software

Automated scheduling solutions can aid recruitment and retention. Current and potential employees will appreciate the convenience of going online to view schedules, clock in and out, pick up open shifts and request time off. Such software also greatly reduces the time an employer spends drafting, rearranging and editing schedules.

Solutions include TraitSet and When I Work, a program free to use for up to 75 employees.

Engage your team

“Employee engagement is the hot topic in human resources today,” says Gordon Food Service Recruiter Brad McCosh. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and loyal to their workplace. 

How do you foster engagement? Spend one-on-one time with workers to discuss their career goals and how you can help achieve them. Involve them in decisions. Recognize their accomplishments. Emphasize their role in your organization’s mission to provide top-quality care.

Prepare for turnover

Turnover coping strategiesDoing all of this will improve recruiting and retention, but it won’t eliminate turnover—it’s just the nature of this industry. So you’ll want to develop ways to cope with labor shortages. 

One method is cross-training. Not only does it engage employees by teaching them multiple parts of the business, it makes them capable of filling in when other team members call in sick or leave.

Using value-added products is another avenue to explore. Gordon Food Service Registered Dietitian Ann-Marie Gagne was recently asked to create a ready-to-serve menu for an Ontario-based retirement-home operator. This has reduced the need for kitchen labor and allows much of the work to be done by lower-skilled employees.

Similar results can be realized by using Cycle Menu Management®, a Gordon Food Service-exclusive program that, among other things, creates detailed production worksheets virtually anyone can follow. 

Finding and keeping labor requires a multifaceted strategy. It takes effort, but it will pay off.

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