Historically, the food industry has enjoyed the ability to select from a large pool of young talent that it can cultivate overtime into leaders who provide company stability. For example, grocery retailers and food service providers have offered generations of teenagers their first jobs and a chance to climb through the ranks from cashier or server to upper management and even C-suite roles.
But the food industry’s long-held ability to tap and retain top talent by promoting from within could be under threat by a generation that wants instant recognition and access to the top, according to new research conducted in partnership between FMI and Saint Joseph’s University released at FMIs Midwinter Executive Conference last week.
Through a series of 30 primary qualitative interviews with Gen Zers, characterized as under 24 years, at East Coast and Midwest undergraduate institutions, lead research Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of food marketing and Gerald Peck Fellow at Haub School of Business at St. Joseph’s University, found Gen Z does not feel innately tied to employers the same way as previous generations.
“This generation doesn’t fear job hopping. They job hop more than any other generation,” and unless employers offer them concrete reasons to stay they would just as soon expedite their ascent up the corporate ladder by moving between employers, Baskin told attendees at FMI’s annual conference Jan. 28.
Gen Z’s lack of loyalty doesn’t stem from a lack of respect or gratitude towards employers that offer opportunities, but rather from growing up during a recession and period of civil and political turmoil that has taught them not to take anything for granted or assume benefits enjoyed by previous generations will extend to them.
As such, Baskin’s research revealed Gen Zers prize financial stability, emotional and professional support from superiors and the feeling they are contributing to the greater good. They also seek diversity, authenticity and brands that promote social activism.
Luckily for the grocery and food service industry, many of these attributes and values are ones they have offered traditionally, Baskin notes.
Clearly communicate benefits, path forward
However, he added, retailers and food service companies likely need to communicate them more overtly to Gen Z staff – underscoring their appreciation for their contributions and clearly showing how they can leverage those contributions to advance.
For example, he notes, “Gen Z is used to winning. So, if you get them a lot of negative feedback they shut down. … If you want them to take the feedback they are given and improve, you need to make the feedback constructive and frame it as ‘this is how you get to the next level.’”
Similarly, he recommends that retailers create development programs, communicate industry potential and promotions from within and emphasize the variety of positions that are available.
One way to do this is to create rotational programs that allow employees to try several jobs to discover which ones best align with their skills and interests. This also can help convince younger employees to move to new locations where a company is headquartered if they know it is only for a limited time – once they are there they might fall in love with community and be more willing to move permanently, Baskin said.
Highlight industry growth, innovation
He also recommends that retailers and employers emphasize the industry’s growth, loyalty to employees and innovation to appeal to Gen Zers’ need for stability. By showcasing innovation, companies also establish stability by illustrating how a job or business can sustain social and political influences reshaping the culture at large.
Finally, Baskin recommends grocery retailers rethink their outreach approach to to better showcase their commitment to hiring and supporting younger employees. To do this, he said, employers need to access new networking tools, including school and community job boards. He explained that unlike previous generations, Gen Z is less likely to visit central job posting cites – preferring to concentrate on their closer network, including alumni and school-sponsored job cites which gives a sense of vetting and validation.
For more details on what drives Gen Z in the workforce, and how to effectively recruit, train and maintain them, read FMI’s full report on Workforce Attractiveness in the Food Retail Industry: How to Recruit Gen Z. The report is the first in a series of three that will be released in coming years.