Viewpoints

FutureConnect Put on Hold, but Theme Resonates

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It's hard to predict the future. That's why no one could forecast that Future-Connect, the long-awaited event from Food Marketing Institute scheduled for this week in Dallas, would be postponed indefinitely because of travel concerns related to the Swine Flu crisis.

This development, which also impacted MarkeTechnics, is highly disappointing, and FMI is mulling its options to reschedule these activities. You'll note that some pages in this issue of SN went to press too early to reflect the news.

The Swine Flu scare may have impacted FutureConnect, but it has no power to reduce the importance of the event's central message. That is, the imperative for companies to focus on workforce issues such as building exceptional leaders.

True, the recession has made hiring and retention easier, but this state of affairs won't last long once jobs begin to open up across the economy. Companies will again be challenged to attract and hold onto the best people. That's a look into the future, but you don't need to be a futurist to realize the imperative for companies to position their organizations now before the upturn.

That point is underscored in this week's SN, a theme issue with stories devoted to workforce topics impacting the full range of positions, from entry-level to executive.

So what are the smartest companies doing now? Some are hiring even before they have ideal places to put employees, given the rare opportunity to find a glut of talent in the marketplace. Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, is selectively doing this for the parts of its business likely to have enhanced needs in the future, explained Dick King, vice president.

Collecting good people is part of the battle, but just as important is grooming them.

Consider the consequences of not adequately training employees. A story in this week's issue describes the job of wine department associates at Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, who are charged with being the consumer's point of contact for some 2,800 to 5,000 wine SKUS, depending on store location. These associates are indeed properly trained, but if they weren't, imagine the negative impact on customers and on the unprepared associates.

In fact, when you analyze the performance differences between average and outperforming retailers, the amount of employee training is one of the biggest drivers. The average training for new supermarket employees is eight hours, but the top chains offer about 20, according to one consultant. Meanwhile, retailers consistently rated as top national employers, including Wegmans and Publix, far exceed the others in terms of ongoing training.

This week's SN shows some innovative paths.

Supervalu's existing educational program called Supervalu University has been enhanced through collaboration with a local university. A new program now offers college credits and gears its coursework specifically to the needs of the supermarket industry.

Save Mart engaged consultant Harold Lloyd to conduct a series of leadership seminars focused on next steps for the company's progress.

The industry was looking forward to learning lessons from FutureConnect this week, but FMI will surely relay that information in other ways. Even if these lessons are delayed in getting out, it shouldn't mean the industry waits to act. That would be the most unfortunate development of all.

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Contributors

Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

Mark Hamstra

Mark Hamstra is the editor of the Retail/Financial section of Supermarket News covering mergers and acquisitions, quarterly earnings reports, executive changes and other significant events and trends...
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