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Fostering Grocery Talent

By Andrew Harig, Senior Director for Sustainability, Tax and Trade, Food Marketing Institute

20151208-FMI-221r-WEBIf the Fed was looking for an indicator that the U.S. economy was ready for a rate hike, the August job numbers weren’t any help. After two spectacular months of employment gains, August’s disappointing numbers made one thing clear – we desperately need to pick up the pace of job creation and put more people back to work. In the grocery business, this is sometimes easier said than done.

Talent retention and recruitment is always a concern for the industry, but it becomes especially pressing with the busy holiday season looming. We average a 40 percent annual employee turnover rates across grocery employers, and this number is significantly higher among part-time workers, per FMI’s U.S. Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2015 analysis. While turnover among corporate staff remains below 10 percent, we see a disturbing trend that part-time associates are starting to turn over more rapidly, particularly among larger chains that reported part-time turnover at 66 percent.

Fortunately, good talent isn’t as hard to find thanks to a new initiative and tax credit we’re supporting through the iFoster Jobs Program. iFoster  is a non-profit that matches employers with entry-level positions to foster youth who are specifically trained, appropriately resourced, and effectively supported to succeed in their jobs. Notably, iFoster touts that among the 150 youth hired in its first year (2015), the program witnessed a 90 percent retention rate after six months on the job compared to a 30 percent average industry retention rate.

There are both societal and business benefits to piloting the iFoster program. Last week, the Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act of 2015 (H.R. 5947) was introduced in the House thanks to Congressmen Jim McDermott (D-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Tom Reed (R-NY), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). A Senate companion is expected in the next few weeks. This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include transition age foster care youth as categorically eligible for purposes of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). Employers may also be eligible to receive a credit of up to $2,400 annually for hiring transitioning foster youth.

As community ambassadors, grocery stores pride themselves on offering opportunities for youth to get a leg-up in the working world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard executives in the industry tell how he or she started as a bagger or clerk at the store level decades prior to taking leadership roles in their companies. It’s encouraging to think that youth just entering the professional world will also have the opportunity to influence the long-term trajectory of FMI’s member companies.

Some of our food retailer members are already regionally piloting the iFoster program, and we’ve encouraged them to share their success stories along the way. As the co-founder of the iFoster told me, this is not charity; this is an opportunity for employers to invest in the future of their companies. I am confident we’ll see a new generation of grocery industry leaders emerge thanks to great programs like iFoster. Learn more at

Distribution channels: Food & Beverage Industry