LAS VEGAS — Supermarkets looking to recruit college graduates to the industry need to sell students on the rewards, responsibilities and relevancy of a career in retail, according to a panel of experts speaking at FMI 2010 here.
Two retail recruiters on the panel said that participation in school curriculum and well-structured internship programs can also help influence top young talent to choose their organizations. Once there, retailers must make sure workers are being challenged and given opportunities to rise in the ranks.“Companies have to work diligently, year-round, year after year, doing more than just going to career fairs,” said Robert Gordon, vice president of human resources and recruiting for Kroger's Fred Meyer division. “You need to be involved in the classroom and be available for presentations. It's about building a presence and visibility on campus.”
According to Gordon, “students want to see how their work applies to real work.” An internship program at Fred Meyer “puts their education to the test,” giving students “real work that they can see.” To make sure the student knows he is getting credit for that work, Gordon said he invites family and friends of students to a farewell presentation at the end of program.
George Lutzlow, director of education for Acme Markets, said his organization works closely with its Philadelphia neighbors at St. Joseph's University, likening the relationship to a marriage based on common understanding and communication.
“When you have a quality relationship, you get the residuals,” Lutzlow said.
The industry still needs to do more to sell itself to young people, however, overcoming perceptions that food retail jobs are low-paying, offer little opportunity for advancement and involve long hours and difficult schedules.
“It's clear that teenagers don't dream about working for a supermarket,” Tom Gilpatrick, director of the Food Industry Leadership Center at Portland State University, said. “There's a whole side of the food industry that they don't know. Their perceptions are influenced from the point of view of a consumer or that of someone with a part-time job.”
Gilpatrick noted that his students tend to be drawn toward organizations that they perceive to be progressive and can offer opportunities for advancement.
The panelists agreed that the supermarket industry can do a better job of selling its benefits to students, not only through compensation but through the testimony of its own employees, particularly those who are still young themselves.
“We have opportunity for bright minds who are willing to take on responsibility,” said Lutzlow, speaking for Acme and its parent company, Supervalu. “We have a lot of stores and need individuals who can run them. If you think of an individual just coming out of school, how many places are they going to find the opportunity to be able to lead a team of people in the hundreds, to have responsibility to grow sales of $20, $30, $40 or $50 million a year, have P&L responsibility, all without risking their own money? That can be very appealing.”
Having recent alumni recruits address students considering an opportunity in retail can be an effective recruiting tool, Gordon added.