SAN ANTONIO -- Retailers need to adapt to the new generation of technology workers that are increasingly driving today's business, said speakers in a retailer panel at the Food Marketing Institute's I/T Leadership Forum held here recently.
Talking about the Internet team at Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., Bryan Richards, vice president, advertising and e-commerce, said, "That is definitely a different group of young people. We as an organization may need to change a little bit in terms of the environment that these people like to work in."
They dress differently than others in the corporate structure, they are interested in flexibility, and they prefer a pay structure based on project completion dates rather than annual reviews and incentives, according to Richards. "These young people have a whole different mindset. They look different, they talk different, they act different, and they don't fit in our corporate structure," he said.
"With a few of them now, it is a constant battle, but I think we as an organization need to lighten up a little bit, because these young people are going to be our future in this new environment," Richards said. "They are very creative, very clever, and if you give them the freedom they want, they'll do anything for you. They'll work around the clock."
For example, if assigned to get something ready for the Internet in a week, they'll take the project home and come back in three days and deliver it, said Richards. "It's unbelievable what they will do for you, but it is something we as an industry and as corporations need to make adjustments for, because they are talented, but they also know they can go anywhere they want and get a job nowadays," Richards said.
Robert Loeffler, president, e-commerce and customer marketing, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, outlined three things that are important to the new technology workers:
The job has to be considered "cool."
Quality of life is important. "Flexibility in work schedules so that people get a competitive amount of time off is important in today's world," he said.
People want to feel like they are part of a team, and they want a good team leader.
"So it is most important to make sure that whoever you make the manager is in fact a good leader of people and a team builder," Loeffler said.
Typically this industry will take the best technologist and make them a manager even though their management skills may be questionable. But last year H-E-B surveyed people who had left the company. "We found that the primary reason people left was because of what it felt like to work in a particular work unit, with arbitrary decision making, favoritism and just no people skills on the part of the boss," said Loeffler, adding that teamwork is probably the single most important element in attracting and retaining people.
Last year, the University of Colorado surveyed 15,000 technology workers who had changed jobs, noted Tom Murphy, president, Peak Tech Consulting, Colorado Springs, Colo., and moderator of the panel discussion. "By a factor of 2-to-1, the No. 1 reason for switching jobs was people didn't like who they were working for as a supervisor. The second most often cited reason for leaving was because they found a new 'cool' job to go to," he said.
At Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., Maria Fidelibus, vice president, information technology and administration, said she was recently given the additional responsibility for human resources. "Our organization has a culture that retains people, so we are fortunate."
Still, with the retailer's existing turnover rate and anticipated store growth within the chain, Genuardi's is looking to hire 6,000 people next year. "That's a little overwhelming when you consider that today, our industry just doesn't attract the young and most talented people.
"Even the kids that are looking at part-time jobs would rather go to work at Structure in the mall because they get a discount on their clothes," Fidelibus said. "So we need to be thinking all the time about how we attract young people today because they are the ones that are going to be able to move us into the future from a technical perspective."
The quality of the entry level work force continues to be a challenge, Fidelibus added, and that is affecting the way Genuardi's develops training programs. Those with basic critical thinking skills, customer service skills, as well as basic language skills are coming into Genuardi's "and we need to make sure that we design, train and utilize e-learning tools to enable them to do the jobs that we are asking them to do," she said.
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., tries to provide at least some education for every employee, said Don Reeve, director, information technology, and chief information officer. "We consistently invest a lot of money in education for our folks. We've invested lately in some Internet-driven training."
Reeve mentioned that Wegmans is developing a curriculum for IT personnel across the entire organization. "We know we have to do better at it and we know the education tools that we are providing are very important for our folks to be productive," he said.