By Mark Baum, Senior Vice President, Industry Relations, and Chief Collaboration Officer, Food Marketing Institute
strategic plan

One of the most talked about issues in our industry is the future of the workforce. In the U.S., automation adoption will continue to increase, potentially up to 23 percent by 2030. (Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation, McKinsey, 2017) What are the implications? How do we best prepare for this? The answer is nuanced. Certain job sectors will be more affected than others—tasks with high repetition, or easily transferred to some form of automation, will likely see more seismic shifts in upcoming years. Other sectors will see more incorporation of technology into existing work functions designed to help employees do their jobs better and more efficiently. Many are now seeking what we are calling the “missing middle”; the interface between humans and machines. It turns out – we need both!

We hear from our members all the time that the hiring and retention of employees is top of mind. That, combined with the complexities new technologies are bringing to the future of workforce, is why FMI has identified the future of work as the highest priority in a pillar of our revised strategic plan, in which we address the most pressing and emerging issues confronting the industry. But it doesn’t stop there.         

To prepare for workforce changes, we must focus on the skills shift. Vast opportunities lie in mid-career job training. According to the recent World Bank study, The Changing Nature of Work, workers will need to be good at complex problem-solving, teamwork and adaptability. These are core focus areas that FMI trains future leaders to address at the annual Future Leaders eXperience event in May. Learning to cross-collaborate while understanding the special nature of the food retail industry sits at the forefront of this event.

One thing to consider in preparing for this shift in skills requirements is that maintaining and improving your current workforce is much more cost effective than it is to hire a new team, although companies will likely employ a blend of existing and new employees. Both McKinsey and Jyve, a platform that matches retail merchandising needs with skilled talent, will be sharing their insights into the future of labor at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, coming up at the end of January. Their highly anticipated breakout sessions will delve into immediate next steps grocery retailers can take to set themselves up for success. On the Midwinter keynote stage, Zeynep Ton, adjunct associate professor of operations management, MIT Sloan School of Management, will talk about how investing in a motivated and capable workforce can lead to more satisfied and loyal customers and increased financial performance.

While this is indeed a time of change, embracing the emerging issue of workforce early will lead to healthy outcomes. Don’t let others upset your apple carts on their terms, because we’ve got choices. Explore fresh ideas and solutions in partnership with our technology counterparts to create a more agile marketplace. Join us at FMI Midwinter Executive Conference at the end of January and send your promising leaders to Future Leaders eXperience this May.