NEW YORK -- Seeking to improve a high employee turnover rate that cost it $80 million last year, Kroger, Cincinnati, is piloting an electronic application process designed to predict a prospective employee's retention probability, according to company officials.
Jim McLaughlin, director, training and organizational development, Kroger, said the retailer is testing a system provided by Unicru, Beaverton, Ore. The system allows job seekers to fill out applications either online or in computer-equipped kiosks set up in stores.
The computer model Unicru uses predicts the probable retention rate of the prospective employee by analyzing the way the applicant answers certain questions, McLaughlin said.
"It asks a question like, 'What was the last name of your supervisor from two jobs ago?"' he explained. "If the applicant can answer that, it is one indication of an expected higher length of retention."
The system also performs routine prehiring screening tasks as well, like performing background checks, McLaughlin said.
Kroger has the Unicru kiosks set up in stores participating in the pilot and it may be launching a full rollout sometime later this year, McLaughlin said.
He declined to reveal how many stores are in the pilot.
The move to use this application screening process is just one of several Kroger plans to establish this year as it moves to improve its employee retention rate, he said.
"We have a huge turnover rate we are trying to wrestle with," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin spoke to SN about Kroger's human resource initiatives following his participation in a panel discussion at the National Retail Federation Expo here earlier this month. Some of his comments were also made during the panel discussion.
He said since Kroger has HR offices in 18 locations throughout the chain, there is a need to streamline and consolidate.
The company is working on reducing the amount of duplicated efforts among all of the HR offices, he added.
In this regard, McLaughlin said the retailer is hoping to build a more unified employee-orientation program.
Kroger hopes to establish a core orientation program that will be used throughout the chain, he said.
"If we do a good job of orienting our employees and distribute it throughout the chain, it will be an effective tool for reducing turnover," McLaughlin said.
The program will have some flexibility built in so it could be tailored to different job positions, he added.
It costs the typical employer anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 each time it loses an employee and it has to hire and train another, industry observers said.
Kroger will also be making sure new hires have the needed basic skills to perform their job duties, McLaughlin said.
"We need to find out if our [job] training works," McLaughlin said. "Fewer than 15% [of all companies] measure if their employees are learning the skills they need in training, and even fewer determine if the skills learned find their way back to the job."
Moreover, Kroger intends on revamping its training processes to include more electronic learning via the Internet, McLaughlin said.
He explained that currently Kroger uses a lot of classroom training that makes use of videotaped presentations as learning tools.
He said this process is costly and time consuming.
"We spent $75 million to $100 million in classroom training last year and $12 million just in travel to get the employees to the classroom," McLaughlin said.