The Human Factor

Today the challenges that food manufacturers face with regards to human resources (HR) is as diverse as the products they produce. A unique world within its own, human resources is much more than making sure that all of the Ts and Is are properly crossed and dotted on W-4 and I-9 forms.

HR’s expansive breadth of responsibilities in the food manufacturing industry involves such issues as bridging language and cultural barriers, developing, implementing and supporting both existing and new company policies and procedures, battling turnover rates, eschewing worker injuries and keeping abreast with labor laws including their amendments. To be truly effective, HR personnel must also understand the wide world of food and employee safety, be preferably bilingual and have a solid grip on all pertinent regulatory agencies.

Human resources are just that. It is finding, focusing and cultivating the resources that are available for the benefit of the company as well as the employees themselves. Regardless if companies are union or non-union, there is a proven pathway for all of these “sources for humans” that will lead to unearthing each person’s inherent and unique qualities, aptitudes and ultimate potential.

This antidote’s common denominator smoothly glides over geographic borders, language barriers, deep-seated cultural differences and seemingly draconian labor and regulatory laws. It’s merely respecting, hearing, listening, training and persistently educating the people that you’ve elected to employ.

A rather large segment of workers in the food industry is generally regarded as low skilled and has had no experience involving quality control/assurance, including the more intricate systems of HACCP and SSOPs.

Neophyte workers will only do what there are instructed to do, and in some instances, even less. Unless otherwise trained, apprentice employees will quickly adapt and skew to the unfavorable working habits that may already be in existence which will undoubtedly be mimicked by the next wave of newly hired workers.

Depending on the specific food segment involved, newly hired and existing employees are consigned to competently and dexterously manufacture, package and ship a vast kaleidoscope of cooked, frozen, perishable and/or fresh foods and beverages.

Foundation of GMPs: People

It’s an established norm in the food processing sector that science-based HACCP and SSOP systems are supported by a melting pot of good manufacturing practices (GMPs). But what foundation do GMPs rely on?

People, not just from the production line, but also those in sanitation, shipping and receiving and maintenance, prepare and ship the product, clean the facility and apply repairs to the equipment on a quotidian basis. If people are the foundation for a company’s success, then well planned hiring, training and educating practices need to be in place and working.

Educating workers will help promote self worth. Increased self worth amplifies individual morale that naturally manifests itself into improved productivity and augmented longevity with employers. However, not all companies recognize these basic, timeless and perpetual human principles.

Depending on specific food sectors, high employee turnover rates of 80 to 120 percent continue to plague the food manufacturing industry. Whenever an employee quits, management should ask itself, “why did this employee terminate us?”

Exit interviews should be held and documented for an objective management analysis in order to identify any trends that may warrant correction. There’s a general lack of management commitment in the triad areas of hiring practices, training and education, which have resulted in incorrigible problems.

Training is educating employees on how to do assigned jobs properly, efficiently and safely. Proper instructions make employees proficient, qualified and knowledgeable.

How people are treated, how they are trained, how management listens to them and how management recognizes, rewards and values them has more to do with a company’s success than any other single facet. Most people innately want to improve themselves. It’s up to management to provide the positive environment and the correct resources necessary to guide them through appropriate training, and to help them succeed for the growth of the company as well as for themselves.

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