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NGA Student Case Study Competition: Leveraging Emerging Leaders

by Jim Dudlicek / NGA Director, Communications and External Affairs

Employee recruitment and retention remains a top issue facing the independent retail industry. According to many industry and academic research studies, at least 58 percent of U.S. retailers said that over the past two years, they have experienced hiring challenges that have negatively impacted their business.

During this time, most of these retailers increased wages and benefits for full-time employees, yet they still saw a significant increase in their employee turnover rate.

Independent grocery retailers must assess how they should structure their financial plans and team activities to increase recruiting and retention. How can companies develop a comprehensive strategy that delivers the best combination of internal benefits with competitive corporate positioning?

As part of the NGA Student Case Study Competition this past February, 11 colleges worked on strategies and tactics for marketing and implementation of this program. Emerging as champion was Alabama’s Auburn University.

The National Grocers Association and the NGA Foundation hosted a recent webinar to explain more about how this program can benefit independent grocery retailers. Moderated by Kelly Hanson, the foundation’s senior project manager, the discussion included Erica Campbell, director of talent management at St. Louis-based grocery retailer Dierbergs (the retailer at the center of this year’s case study contest), and Jarrett Prizel, a supply chain management student at Auburn University and a member of Auburn’s winning case study team.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

The contest promotes industry leadership and innovative thinking. The competition provides college students considering careers in the grocery industry with hands-on, real-world experience​, exposure to the independent grocery sector and a chance to develop solutions that can impact the industry, amid a spirit of fair competition and good sportsmanship​. After researching, developing and finalizing solutions presented during three rounds at the NGA Show, the winning school receives $4,000, with each student team member taking home $1,000.

Students were uniquely equipped to address this year’s topic. Grocers are seeking to enhance their employee recruitment and retention, and students are of the age group representing the industry’s emerging work force. So, teams could bring personal perspectives to these questions: What can grocery retail do to improve the connection points with employees of all ages and reduce turnover rates?​ How can individual grocers position themselves as a top potential employer for younger generations seeking fulfillment beyond financial in their career​? How should independent grocers restructure their team to support employees’ needs during the hiring and training process?​ What are unique offerings independent grocers can offer both full-time and part-time employees that will encourage retention.

The contest offered students a real-life challenge. In Prizel’s case, his team brainstormed for about a month​ and created a network of professors to assist in developing his team’s skills in different business areas, including finance, supply chain management, entrepreneurship and consulting. Students tackled how to fit solutions to case requirements and company culture;​ structure teaching while allowing for worker autonomy; identify industry-leading strategies; and explain how their solution worked financially and strategically​.

Auburn’s winning solution. The team impressed Dierbergs and contest judges with its three-phase plan that encompassed employee education, recognition, gamification of work processes, career coaching, employee retreats and networking groups.

Retailer takeaways from the contest? Dierbergs aims to focus on digital marketing to enhance its recruitment and culture; establish a mentoring program; increase its investment in scholarships, SAT/ACT prep courses and GED programs; and invest in learning and leadership development.

I’m a retailer and want to participate – what do I have to do? Dierbergs was asked to collect and provide data that would support the student’s research and solutions; coordinate with the NGA Foundation to answer student questions; and participate in the judging of the competition at the NGA Show. Additionally, Dierbergs sent a delegation of seven senior leaders to attend the NGA Show, sponsored a lunch for students at the show and hosted two of the competing teams, one to participate in a share group and another to spend a day with the management team in St. Louis.​

Engagement opportunities for next year’s contest: a retailer partner, sponsorship partner​, topic ideas​ and contest judge​s.

To view a recording of this webinar with additional exclusive insights, visit https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/5881705943823698689.

Learn more about the NGA Foundation’s student programs at https://www.nationalgrocers.org/foundation/student-case-study-competition/ and https://www.nationalgrocers.org/foundation/food-industry-university-coalition/, or contact [email protected].

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