Help wanted! The signs are posted, advertisements populate various media outlets, recruiters are engaged and temporary employment agencies are active. Even with resources focused on filling vacant positions, fully staffed processing facilities are becoming rarities. A phrase made popular by Jim Collins in his book, “From Good to Great,” was “getting the right people on the bus.” Our industry continually is challenged with getting people on the bus. So, what is one of the biggest challenges facing the meat industry? Labor. Multiple factors face our industry, but a looming tipping point may indicate increasing availability of willing labor to meet increasing demands of production and support positions. The focus of this article will be on hourly jobs such as: production, warehousing, maintenance and quality assurance.

What inhibits processors from finding, training and retaining employees? A plethora of reasons can be identified, including wages, benefits, work environment, misperception of the industry, reputation, etc. This article will highlight issues of orienting, training and retaining employees, which we should consider tangible assets. Concluding the article will present some some ways to provide incentives for employees to build long-lasting relationships with organizations.


Anyone who starts a new job is exposed to a load of forms to sign and potentially days of training. Orientation is a vital step to establishing a relationship with employees. Not only is orientation a way to provide instructions on policies and procedures, but an opportunity to engage the employees in the culture of the organization. An individual can determine the commitment of a company based on actions reflected in the orientation.

For example, if an employer commits time and resources to proper training, a message is sent regarding the serious commitment the company has regarding policies, procedures and training. Conversely, if the employees are rushed through obligatory signoffs on federal or state regulatory training, a different tone is set for employees. Either scenario shows a part of the organizational structure. Training cannot be done solely in orientation and is not limited to only new hires.


“Not enough time and not enough trainers.”  This phrase is common in many facilities I have encountered over the last several decades. Little has changed in that time except wishing there were more time or a better structured training process. Some companies have dedicated trainers and solid training programs to provide tools to these new hires. Those companies have figured it out: Investing in training programs benefits their organizations’ strategic plans.

One aspect of training that is overlooked is the opportunity to help employees understand how their job affects the entire facility and organization. Yes, some individuals may be indifferent about their job, but providing the training at an early stage can improve retention rates. Some facilities share production information and other key performance metrics (KPIs) to their workers in an attempt to improve performance. Observing these meetings, the data seems to overwhelm a majority of the audience or it doesn’t relate to their specific tasks. “How can I affect downtime?”  “I’m not in charge of shipping or a delayed truck.” “I can’t make others work better.” These comments and questions can and should be addressed early in the onboarding process.

Key Performance Indicators

KPIs, metrics, drivers or any type of measurement needs to be valid, reliable and controllable. One may see performance charts or whiteboards in lunchrooms or hallways reflecting past performances. As we know, these lagging indicators show what happened, not what to address or the cause of the performance. Cause-and-effect is a method in which managers and supervisors can engage their departments to dig into the drivers of the reported performances. More detail to KPIs and incentive programs will be addressed in a future article. 


For now, getting people on the bus is critical for our industry. Once we can secure good workers, organizations should engage them with training and tools to make them successful as well as the company. Increasing turnover rates is not a strategy for success. To reduce turnover rates and improve retention, organizations can provide structured training and processes to keep the best employees on the bus. NP