Retaining employees

by Emily Wilson
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Recognizing, rewarding and respecting employees are imperative to recruiting and retention in the milling industry, according to panelists at the 105th annual technical conference and trade show of the Association of Operative Millers, held earlier this year at Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

As part of the panel discussion, representatives of several milling companies related their experiences and offered suggestions on possible ways to recruit and retain the 21st century mill employee.

"People are the most important asset that we have," according to Pat Hicks, general manager, Harvest States Milling, Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.

Hicks noted that employee retention begins the moment that an individual is hired — not when an employee is walking out the door.

"The employee’s first year is the most critical period of learning and establishing relationships that contribute to a positive attitude," Hicks said. "This is where we grab the individual. And hopefully they will get excited about milling like we’re excited about milling and we can really grow that individual in the first year."

In laying out a foundation of a strong employee retention program, he mentioned several strategies to keep in mind to make employees feel wanted and secure in their jobs.

• Create higher goal standards for the employee.

Doing so, Hicks said, will ensure a positive attitude among employees.

• Communication is critical to keeping your talent.

Hicks noted that by getting to know employees, a supervisor can develop an employer-employee relationship based on respect and understanding.


"Everybody wants it, everybody needs it," Hicks said. He added that a meaningful job assessment report relates to an employee exactly what is expected of them and whether or not their assessment of their own job performance is in line with that of a supervisor.

"As managers and as supervisors, we need to control the employee as far as attitude, as far as what their needs are, in order to make them stay," he said. He added that employees who don’t like their boss are not likely to stick around.

One of the most important aspects to retaining female employees in the milling industry is understanding the balance needed between the professional and personal life, according to Fran Churchill, plant manager, General Mills, Inc., Johnson City, Tennessee, U.S.

While Churchill stressed that balance also is extremely important to men in the industry, she drew on her own experiences to illustrate how striking the balance between career and family as a female in a male-dominated industry has challenges unique all its own.

In an industry that requires long and irregular hours such as milling, there is not as much time to devote to raising a family in the traditional sense. The main problem for women, she said, is overcoming the stereotype that they should be the caretakers of the home. Churchill said she has been told point blank by a plant manager that a supervisor did not think women should be in the milling industry.

Churchill said the key for women in the industry is to not to be discouraged and to exercise perseverance to achieve their professional goals.

Also, she said, it is important as a plant manager or supervisor to provide a number of different schedules that would allow for the diversification in the workplace.

Another challenge to recruitment and retention of employees in the milling industry has to do with the influx of "Generation X" ( a U.S. term to describe the population born between 1961 and1981) into the mainstream work force, according to Trey Grant, facility manager, Cargill, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.

Grant, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 1997, explained that the desire of recent graduates to actively seek out jobs, particularly in the milling industry, has waned in recent years, making the recruitment and retention process even more difficult.

"The generation of kids that I grew up with never had to work when they were in school," he said. "As a result, they never had a lot of the problems earlier generations had to deal with. The question has now become ‘How do you motivate them?’ ‘How do you get them to realize that not everything is handed to them on a silver platter?’"

Grant said that Generation X is primarily made up of two different types of employee: the employee who is motivated by money, and the employee who is motivated by opportunity.

In order for milling companies to draw the interest of the employee motivated by money, there needs to be a focus on great pay and excellent benefits, Grant said. Anything else will not serve to motivate this type of employee.

Milling companies stand a better chance of retaining the employee that is motivated by opportunity, he said. But in order to do so, Grant said, the company constantly must present the employee with challenges and offer the opportunity to take chances, even at the risk of failing.

"Sure they are going to fail," Grant said. "Sure they are going to make mistakes at different times, but you coach them through it and you allow them to make it more their own way and they will be better off for it."

Grant noted that rewarding good work is imperative to retaining both types of employees.

When Rudy Phillips took the job as director of diversity programs at Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Illinois, U.S., he said he felt that as a minority, recruiting minorities to work at ADM would be a piece of cake. What he found was that recruiting is a challenge.

Phillips said that while most companies expect students to come to them, most students believe companies should approach them.

A key for recruiters is to be honest with potential employees right from the start, Phillips said. This ensures that the employee is aware of exactly what was expected from him or her and establishes some framework for future growth within the company.

"Good employee retention has to start with a strong senior management committee," Phillips explained.