Donna BerryCHICAGO — Like much of the food and beverage industry, dairy product processing and marketing have become more sophisticated through automation, advanced technologies and digital media. While the idea of hands-on manufacturing and local marketing speaks to todays’ consumers who want authenticity and transparency in the products they purchase, the reality is manufacturers need employees educated and trained to operate sophisticated equipment and execute targeted, granular programs. Companies want more from the people they hire.

Technology is driving the recruitment and hiring process. At Pack Expo 2018, held Oct. 14-17 in Chicago, Simutech Multimedia, Ottawa, Canada, showcased how its electrical maintenance training simulation software may be used in the recruitment process. The company’s multimedia troubleshooting training system may be used during the interview process to evaluate a candidate’s critical problem-solving skills.

“The system incorporates the same technologies used by the video gaming industry,” said Samer Forzley, chief executive officer. “The technology was originally used to create compelling training experiences through our simulation-based system. This helps reduce equipment downtime and increase safety on factory floors. We’ve learned that our customers use the system to also evaluate candidates, as it provides insight to how a person would approach a problem.”

This is just one of many new tactics used by human resources to evaluate potential employees. To learn more about what skills are required in the varied levels of the modern dairy industry’s workforce, Food Business News spoke with Therese Seefeldt, vice-president of national dairy accounts, Management Recruiters of Boise, Boise, Idaho. 

Food Business News: Experience comes over time. But sometimes time is not an option. How can young adults who want to pursue a dairy industry career best invest in their education and proficiencies?

Therese Seefeldt: The first step is to choose an industry-reputable university or trade school. Internships are also a great way to gain specific skills prior to graduation and often can provide a head start for a successful dairy industry career. Soft skills are in high demand, too. These are those personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and collaborate with cross-functional partners, be it on the farm, in the manufacturing plant or in the board room. Any activities that demonstrate leadership, problem solving, collaboration and communication are of high regard.

You’ve been a recruiter in the dairy space for nine years. How has the job placement process changed during this time?

Ms. Seefeldt: The landscape has moved from being employer driven to now often having the candidate in charge, especially for niche skills. Urgency and timeliness is a high priority to attract and land top talent. Below market offers will often be turned down by even mediocre candidates because they have other options to consider. Technology has impacted recruitment and effects both sides of the hiring process. The employer now has to be acutely aware of its reputation in the marketplace due to online company reviews and other social media outlets.

The employer may also receive an unmanageable number of resumes through online submission processes. Several of these applications will not measure up to the skills required so it becomes labor intensive to touch each one and not miss the ones that are aligned. That’s where working with a recruiter really helps. The recruiter can vet all candidates ahead of time and only present qualified applicants to the employer.

Another way the industry has changed is that today savvy employers may gain potential candidate insight that was not available in past years. Candidates need to be aware of social media postings and their personal reputation in the marketplace. Remember once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Offering skills development throughout the industry is critical to attracting and keeping employees. What should potential candidates look for in an employer in terms of continuing education?

Ms. Seefeldt: Like I mentioned, often the candidate is viewed as being in the driver’s seat as long as they are respectful, skilled and reasonable. There are key elements to look for and inquire about. These include tuition reimbursement programs, mentorship options and industry certification support. The dairy industry is complex and unique, with specific technical certifications critical for technical roles such as quality assurance, engineering, and research and development. In many rural areas, companies will offer scholarships for employee’s children who enroll in post-high school agriculture programs.

For what positions are dairy companies most likely to use a recruiter and why?

Ms. Seefeldt: Technical and trade-type positions are consistently in demand. Companies are looking for well-skilled degreed individuals in engineering, maintenance, operations, quality assurance, and research and development. There’s also a need for business-degreed persons in accounting and finance.

It’s not easy to attract urban professionals to rural businesses. But the jobs are there and need to be filled. That’s how recruiters may assist. A successful recruiter will have a broad reach and often bring attractive passive candidates to the table that might otherwise not be approachable. Recruiters develop strong relationships and maintain a database of extensive industry contacts. They will have confidential professionals they can reach out to quickly when a critical position opens up at a company. They operate as strategic business partners, sharing industry insight to allow the recruiting company a competitive edge.

What are the issues candidates should consider when looking at a small company vs. a large company?

Ms. Seefeldt: The disparity between the compensation packages that larger companies have historically offered, as compared to smaller ones, has lessened significantly as the industry has become much more competitive for the right talent. Larger companies, for example, that once offered the 30-year employee a bright retirement have had to cut costs, including health benefits, retirement plans, profit sharing and more.

One of the biggest risks with smaller companies, however, is the longevity of the company. Will the company be around in 10 years or even next year? There’s this uncertainty from the start. But sometimes it does not matter to the candidate. When a candidate is able to identify his or her professional passions and engage those unique skills and strengths in a positive environment, it is a recipe for a successful career. In today’s environment, it’s more about career goals and putting your strengths into action than longevity at a company.

With the barriers to entry in the market so low, there are now a lot of companies that fall outside of being a start-up but are not considered a major player scale-wise. What opportunities do these companies offer candidates?

Ms. Seefeldt: There is a home for everyone who wants to work and be a positive contributor and these “mid-size” companies often offer just as many opportunities as the well-established larger players. This includes options to expand skills and take on leadership rolls, positions that might not be available at the small/start-up level and off the table at a larger employer who requires the more typical “check the box” type of criteria. What’s exciting about the marketplace today is that both the candidate and the employer can write their own script for success.