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Independent Grocers Tackling Workforce Issues Head On

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Greg Ferrara

by Greg Ferrara / president and CEO, National Grocers Association

With the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel visible at last, grocers are emerging having demonstrated that they are – without a doubt – “supermarket superheroes.” After more than 15 months, grocery stores provided some stability in a world of uncertainty.

As restrictions lift, more folks return to restaurant dining and vaccinations expand, consumers keep embracing supermarkets for a continuing desire for safe and comforting meals at home.

Unfortunately, at a time when grocers need help the most, they’re finding it difficult to fill all the positions needed to deliver on their promise of good service to loyal shoppers. To be sure, NGA members name labor as the biggest challenge they’re facing. 

In a recent NGA member survey, 100 percent of respondents reported workforce and labor access challenges, with problems becoming more acute in the months since President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan.

NGA is tackling this issue in a variety of ways. From a policy standpoint, we’re asking the Biden administration to support policies more amenable to getting people back to work and providing resources to businesses in need of help.

The pandemic was a challenging time for many on the job front. We appreciate the need for a safety net for unemployed Americans as they get back on their feet. However, the benefits of combined unemployment and stimulus policies should not meet or exceed prior compensation. 

In essence, it puts businesses in direct competition with the government for labor. Congress and the administration, as well as state governors, must focus their efforts on fixing the broken unemployment insurance program to ensure it does not discourage recipients from finding work.

Independent community grocers are doing everything within their power to attract talented associates to accommodate historic levels of consumer demand. The industry has responded by increasing employee pay, providing additional overtime opportunities and offering bonuses.

Still, the industry is at a crisis point in its struggle to find qualified employees and keep grocery stores and supporting operations running to serve hungry consumers. It is impossible for grocers who exist on razor-thin profit margins to compete for work when the government is essentially paying workers to stay home.

Meanwhile, the NGA Foundation’s online career center (grocerycareer.org) has expanded efforts to help address recruiting needs in the industry, with a multichannel campaign that includes recruitment ads, social media and music-streaming ads in key markets, shared information on job fairs and hiring initiatives, and providing services to job seekers such as resume writing and interview tips.

Easing of pandemic restrictions on restaurant dining means that the foodservice sector is restoring its workforce numbers, creating more fierce competition for grocers in search of new talent to join their ranks.

Employers and job seekers alike will find grocerycareer.org to be a great resource for information on new careers in grocery retail and employment opportunities at all levels of the grocery industry. 

The campaign aims to drive traffic to and increase awareness of the site, which connects users to the top jobs and candidates available with independent supermarkets throughout the country.

Job exposure and views in the Career Center have increased since the start of the campaign. As Maggie White, director of the NGA Foundation, noted, “AB testing has shown that the ‘You can be essential’ messaging is resonating with job seekers. The Career Center website is a great place to learn more about the grocery industry and the many jobs that are available at a crucial juncture in the nation’s economy.” 

The website includes information about grocery careers, listings of job opportunities from operators across the country and descriptions of the fulfilling and potentially lucrative career tracks that exist with independent grocery retailers, wholesalers and distributors.

Through these efforts, independent community grocers hope to attract and nurture a new generation of “supermarket superheroes.”

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