(Click here to read the Independent Processor of the Year feature on Jensen Meat.)

With low unemployment, meat processors across the country are finding difficulties in filling their available positions. Jensen Meat, located in San Diego just a few blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, has been developing successful strategies to find employees and retain the best ones.

Jensen employs about 480 workers, including about 180 temporary employees. Those are what the company calls “floaters,” who spell the permanent employees so that people get to have days off, even during the busiest times.

Because the Jensen facility is so close to the U.S.-Mexican border, about 85 percent of the company’s employees come from Mexico. Fortunately for the company, the current political issues concerning the border have not affected employment.

“Because they cross the border every day, you don't have any problems with legality,” explains Jose Valencia Sr., vice president of human resources. There is also a large base of potential workers.

Jensen Meat solicits very few workers directly. For the most part, the company works with various temporary staffing agencies. When there are job openings, Jensen arranges for prospective employees to show up to the facility for a tour. Those potential workers get a full understanding of what Jensen is and what would be expected of them as employees, starting with a video presentation.

“After that, we take them into production, and we have them aware of the GMPs of all procedures, like how to wash your hands,” Valencia explains. “Then we take them through a tour of the plant itself. Once we finish that, we bring them back to the training room. One of the questions that we ask, which has been helpful, is ‘Will you want to be doing that job?’ You saw what it takes, so decide if it would be a job that you would accept.”

Valencia says that turnover has been reduced by showing people exactly what the job entails, from the food safety policies to the actual work conditions. Nobody can be surprised to show up on their first day to find out that it’s is on a cold production floor. Since Jensen has had a long relationship with its employment services, they know to tell the prospective hires in advance about the conditions.

“Some of the people even laugh and say, ‘It's not that cold as I was told,’ but at least it's not a surprise,” he adds.

After three months, those temporary hires have the opportunity of becoming fully fledged Jensen Meat employees. That introductory 90-day period gives the employee a chance to get to know Jensen, and it gives the company a chance to know the employee. If it feels like a good fit, then that relationship can become a long-term one.

Once there, the Jensen executive team works hard to make sure the employees feel valued. Valencia cooks lunch for the team once a month, and every birthday is celebrated. Hard-working team members also get the chance to earn Jensen Bucks, an instant-gratification incentive program.

“If you do something that goes above and beyond your call of duty, we will give you Jensen Bucks,” Valencia explains. “Jensen Bucks are exchanged with the accounting department for actual cash.”

Any manager can give Jensen Bucks to any employee; it doesn’t have to come from just a direct supervisor. Those awards, if possible are presented in front of their peers. Valencia explains that they want the employees being awarded to be proud of their accomplishments. At the same time, their co-workers see that hard work is rewarded, and it gives them something to try and achieve for themselves.