The story is roughly the same everywhere, though the details may differ. A business is thriving in today’s economy, but it can’t grow any further unless it finds more help, and it can’t locate good employees who want to stick around. Today’s unemployment numbers are historically low, and companies across the country in every sector of the meat industry are facing employee shortages. 

When it comes to attracting employees, wage is obviously an important issue, but it’s not necessarily the only factor. Phil Hayes, SPHR, VP HR Services and Operations for The Arnold Group, a human resources company, reports that 67 percent of Americans says it’s a good time to find a job, an increase of 25 percent from 2016. He also points out that 47 percent of all employees would take another job for less or the same pay.

“It’s not always about pay, but it’s also about the environment and the culture. What is that environment like? Is it welcoming? Are you treated well?” he says. “It’s not just the compensation equation, and it really starts diving down into the culture and the treatment of employees.”

While they don’t have the robust human resources department that larger companies do, the owner/operators of small businesses would have a better sense of what is happening on the floor, Hayes says. Company culture is an important part of any business, and with widespread availability for jobs, workers aren’t going to stay in a place with a bad culture.

Aside from the owner, the rest of the management team is equally responsible for contributing to the culture of a business, be it positive or negative. If a manager is causing problems within an organization, it may come down to a lack of training or aptitude in the role.

“They were great in the previous role they were in, but maybe they don’t have the management or leadership skills to really be in the position,” he says.
Hayes says that management is more like an art than a science, and that a desire to lead has to be present from the start.

“If you have the right person who wants to be in that role, own it and take it on, I think there is an opportunity for them to develop and hone their skills,” he explains.


The next generation of meat industry professionals

Along with recruiting from the general labor pool, the meat and poultry industry also has a yearly influx of meat science and animal science graduates. However, the types of jobs that interest them may not necessarily align with the jobs that are available in the industry.

“Most students with a bachelor’s degree may not be prepared for the drastic changes in workload and hours (10-12 per day in some cases) that the meat industry needs. Most students want a supervisory role (or higher), yet they have never had to ‘supervise’ people,” says Dr. Jonathan Campbell, Extension Meat Specialist and Assistant Professor at Penn State University.

Campbell says that, when students consider employment in the meat industry, they think of the larger meat companies, because they work the hardest at recruitment, starting with summer internships. Those internships can propel a student toward a permanent position, or that can help a student decide what they don’t want to do in their career. Both are valuable pieces of information, he says.

“I think smaller companies should consider networking closely in their own state in conjunction with their land grants or closest meat science/food science/animal science program to assist with the process of recruitment,” Campbell adds. “Smaller companies and students alike could value from the internship model that larger companies do quite well from many perspectives.”