Employment Rises in Food-Manufacturing Industry

By Toni Vranjes

April 18, 2012

The employment picture in the food industry has brightened, according to executive recruiters.

Following the 2008 economic collapse, many food manufacturers cut their workforce gradually through attrition. For a few years, the general strategy was not to replace employees who quit or retired, as I noted in a recent guest post for cpgjobs.com.

However, the improving economy has spurred companies to resume hiring, 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 March, the food-manufacturing industry added 4,000 jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Labor Department.

Food manufacturing wasn’t as hard hit as some other industries, because people can cut back only so far on food, Stern notes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis did cause some pain in the industry, and attrition was one strategy that companies used to protect the bottom line.

Things started to get better 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.”

Meanwhile, another force continues to reshape the industry. Employers are still focusing on efficiency, which sometimes leads to reorganizations and layoffs. For instance, Kraft Foods Inc. plans to split its snacks and grocery businesses later this year, a move expected to eliminate 1,600 jobs.

With so many forces at work, job seekers need to show that their skills are up-to-date. Workers in this industry must adapt to new food-safety procedures and ongoing technological advances.

If you’re searching for a job in the food industry, keep in mind the following tips:

  • A Bachelor of Science degree is extremely valuable, and an MBA degree can give you a competitive edge, according to Greven.
  • Strong computer skills are essential. You should be proficient in Excel and PowerPoint, Stern says. He also recommends using LinkedIn for professional networking.
  • Greven notes that employers are seeking very specialized skills, including expertise in “lean manufacturing.” Companies also value expertise in “TPM” (Total Productive Maintenance), which is a proactive approach to equipment maintenance.

It’s also useful to know the types of jobs that are in demand:

  • Some of the hot jobs are in quality control and quality assurance, Greven says. These positions are crucial, because food makers must comply with many new safety programs, according to the Labor Department.
  • Another job that’s in demand is project engineer, Greven adds. According to the Labor Department, engineers are becoming more important because of new automation and food-safety processes.
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