Brighter Economic Outlook Drives Hiring by Food Makers

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Toni Vranjes

Brighter Economic TimesThe economy is continuing to show signs of life, and the rosier outlook is spurring food manufacturers to hire again, according to executive recruiters.

Following the economic collapse in 2008, many companies reduced their workforce gradually through attrition. For a few years, the general strategy was not to replace workers who quit or retired. However, they have resumed hiring because of the improving economy, according to recruiters who place candidates nationwide at companies of all sizes.

“I think consumer confidence is returning, and companies are seeing that and anticipating increased demand, and are hiring strategically,” says Peter Stern, vice president of Los Angeles-based Bristol Associates.

In February, the food-manufacturing industry added 1,200 jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

It’s worth noting that food manufacturing is less sensitive to economic downturns than many other industries. People can cut back only so far on food, so the industry didn’t crater like some others did, Stern says.

However, the financial crisis did cause some pain in the industry, and attrition was one strategy used by employers to protect the bottom line.

Things started to turn around in 2011, says Gregg Greven, president of Gregg Greven & Associates, based in Terre Haute, Ind.

“Ever since the middle of last year, things have started to improve,” he says. “A large number of clients are opening up new positions.”

In recent months, surveys generally have been showing increased consumer confidence. Although one indicator of consumer confidence dropped slightly in mid-March because of rising gas prices, the recruiters still have a positive outlook for hiring. It’s a temporary issue, as long as gas prices don’t remain high through the summer, Greven says.

Meanwhile, another force is at work in the industry. Companies are continuing to focus on efficiency – and that sometimes leads to reorganizations and layoffs. For instance, Kraft Foods Inc. plans to split its snacks and grocery businesses this year, a move expected to eliminate 1,600 jobs. The cuts are set to occur as the company reorganizes its sales structure and consolidates its management centers.

With so many forces at work, how can job seekers stand out?

A Bachelor of Science degree is extremely valuable, and an MBA degree can give candidates a competitive edge, Greven notes.

They also should have strong computer skills. Stern says that candidates should be proficient in Excel and PowerPoint, and he also suggests using LinkedIn for professional networking.

“People need to be adept at building their own personal networks,” he says.

Greven says that employers are seeking very specialized skills, such as expertise in “lean manufacturing.” They also value expertise in “TPM” (Total Productive Maintenance), which is a proactive approach to equipment maintenance.

Some of the hot jobs in the industry today are in quality control and quality assurance, Greven says. According to the Labor Department, these jobs are crucial, because employers must comply with many new food-safety programs.

Another job that’s in demand is project engineer, according to Greven. The Labor Department notes that engineers are becoming more important because of new automation and food-safety processes.

 

Toni Vranjes is editor-in-chief of Revive My Career, a resource for job seekers. The site provides employment news and career tips.

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