In 2018, the United States saw unemployment figures dip to 3.7% in the months of September through November. Those numbers hadn’t been seen since December 1969, when the nation was still in a full-fledged space race, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Today, we sit at 3.8% unemployment. With a labor market this rigid, foodservice providers across all channels might feel like it’d be easier to launch astronauts into space than fill empty positions.
As it is in noncommercial foodservice, convenience-store operators across the country are having a difficult time hiring for available positions. Helping convenience stores reach for the stars, human resources experts from Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum and Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores shared their best recruiting tips with FSD sister publication CSP.
1. Invigorate stale referral programs
For Nichole Upshaw, executive director of human resources for RaceTrac, Naples, Fla., is a tough labor market. When RaceTrac’s referral program in that market ran dry, Upshaw upped the ante by doubling her normal incentives. Employees who referred associates for a position could earn $200, plus $400 for manager recommendations. “It’s great because you’re not increasing the expense for every location—you can pull back when you don’t need it anymore,” she said.
2. Launch internship programs
People do not always realize all the opportunities available in the c-store industry, said Marcella Burkheimer, director of human resources for Casey’s. Internships can help retailers cast a net with college students, Burkheimer said; however, the key to a successful internship program is foresight. “They’re looking to fill internships earlier and earlier,” she said. “Think August, September and October, if you’re looking to fill the role next summer.” Partnering with community colleges and tech schools can make the process more manageable, she said.
3. Open doors to boomerang employees
Although it can be difficult to remain cool when employees cross the street for an extra 10 cents at another job, Upshaw said it’s important not to get too emotional. “You’ve heard the saying ‘If you love them, let them go,’” she said. “Love them, let them go and let them come back.” When managers tell employees that they will welcome them back with a hug, retailers not only get to retain those “boomerang employees,” but the returning staff members also often share a full report about why their previous employers were not as good as RaceTrac, she said.
4. Go back to school
Reaching out to high schools and even middle schools can also help fill labor gaps, Burkheimer said. When launching career fairs for these younger demographics, however, it’s important to employ a team member who has an outgoing personality. “You need a go-getter representing,” she said.
5. Find the right time and place
Capturing third-shift candidates can be tough, because they’re often sleeping during normal recruiting hours. “You have to get out and meet them where they are,” Upshaw said. RaceTrac sticks flyers on cars at third-shift workplaces. “After they get some sleep, they might give you a call,” she said.
6. Tap into government programs
Each state has free workforce development resources, Burkheimer said. These programs can help with marketing and staffing new stores. Casey’s has partnered with 18 local workforce programs, and some states such as Indiana have 40 local programs, she said. “With these employees that you’re hiring, you can get incentives and tax breaks,” she said.
Federal programs that help employ veterans or people with disabilities can also be a great source of talent, she said. “They help them with resumes, they help them apply, they often give them job coaches,” she said. “This is a great way to get more involved with a community.” Burkheimer recommended reaching out to a member of the HR department who is trained on how to work with these agencies to help operators navigate the process.
7. Make some moves
Posting recruitment ads around local apartment complexes can help c-stores reach recent transplants. “What people who just moved into a new apartment need more than those 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupons is a job,” Upshaw said. Seeking out nearby housing developments also ensures candidates will not have transportation hurdles, she said.
8. Get involved
Becoming ingrained in the community can help get the word out about open positions. Joining organizations such as the local chamber of congress, driving a float in town parades and hosting the high school car wash at stores can all increase visibility, Burkheimer said.
9. Leave a calling card
Every single employee should be recruiting for c-stores, Upshaw said. Arming team members with cards that contain recruiting messaging can empower them to do just that. Upshaw has a trick when drafting workers from quick-service restaurants. “QSRs put the very best employees on the drive-thru,” she said. “If you want to find candidates, that is the best employee in the restaurant.”
10. Stay flexible
Accommodating more nontraditional shifts can also help operators fill scheduling holes. Actively recruiting bus drivers, stay-at-home parents, farmers, construction workers and other groups that can work only limited hours can bring in long-term team members, Burkheimer said.
11. Leverage the retail apocalypse
RaceTrac has had success finding talent from retailers that are going out of business. Upshaw recommended going into the store in its last few weeks, talking to the manager and asking to chat with staff about job opportunities. Clarify that you are not trying to poach staff before the store is fully shuttered, she said. “We are generally well-received when we do this, because those managers care and want them to find a job,” she said.
12. Show off
Casey’s sends a shout-out to team members and shows how they appreciate workers on LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. “The important thing to do is show what you have going on behind the scenes,” Burkheimer said. On the company’s career page, Casey’s posted day-in-the-life videos of cashier, gasoline driver and pizza delivery associates. “It’s not a professional cameraman; they use cellphones,” she said. “We’re letting people know what we have out there, how we care about people. Nothing is rehearsed.”
13. Partner up for job fairs
Companies should start hosting employment events, Upshaw said. When doing so, it’s important to rotate the times of the events, because people often have several jobs, she said. Additionally, partnering with online job sites can help increase turnout. RaceTrac saw hundreds of job applicants at a recent event it launched with the help of Indeed.
14. Say it loud
Posting signage around the store and at the register can also help let potential applicants know about opportunities. If customers leave with a bag, make sure there’s a flyer in there, Upshaw said. “As long as that flyer makes it out of your store, it could get into someone’s hands that needs a job,” she said.
When c-stores do post recruitment signage, Burkheimer said it must to be clean and polished. Faded postings reflect poorly on the brand. It should also be specific; for instance, call out specific positions available.