The formula for solving the labor shortage problem

Posted on: October 19, 2022Updated on: April 18, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

The Great Resignation. The Great Realignment. The Great Opportunity Shift. Whatever you call it, one thing remains true: organizations are struggling to attract and retain talent and it’s getting worse. In fact, 42% of frontline workers currently want to quit, up from 36% in 2021 according to our Deskless Report. And these staggering numbers are causing GREAT problems on the frontline—especially in the retail and hospitality sectors where existing gaps will only get more pronounced as the busy holiday season quickly approaches.

To overcome staffing challenges, learning and development leaders have to be willing to adapt their strategies to address changing market realities and better suit what today’s employees really want out of their jobs. But it’s easier said than done.

JD Dillon, Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect and host of our bi-weekly series “In The Know,” recently welcomed Tom Rudar (Talent Manager) and Jeff Berquist (Training & Development Manager) from Heinen’s Grocery Store to learn how they’ve approached the labor shortage in their workplace. The formula they use for getting associates on the job faster and developing skills? Attract + enable + engage = retain.

We’re breaking down the key points of their lively discussion focused on talent acquisition, enablement and retention that actually drives business results.

Grocery Associate Using Tablet


Dillon: How has the profile of a new hire changed and how have you adapted your talent acquisition strategy to attract the right people to your workplace?

Rudar: In full transparency, we have our labor challenges like a lot of other businesses. We’ve looked at our [talent] strategy and there are parts that have not changed, in the sense that we’re very intentional about finding the right cultural fit for our organization.

But there are things that have evolved, meaning we’ve asked our Operations managers to put their HR hats on and do their hiring, orientating and interviewing at their own locations. We’ve talked about being flexible in that approach. We’ve really tried to stay connected to what [employees] are seeing out in the market, share best practices and be unafraid when it comes to trying different types of screening whether on-site or virtually. When they come to the locations in person, it takes the form of more of a tour. They see where they’ll be working and who they’ll be working with.

Then we look for the best fit—even if it’s not for the job they originally applied for. We lay out all the open roles at the location and give the candidate the information they need about schedule, wages and cross-training opportunities because we’ve found that people don’t want to do the same thing every day anymore.

For our talent acquisition strategy, we’ve really looked inward at what we’re doing more than externally. Highlighting the benefits of what the company offers, teaching managers what selling points they should be talking about and equipping them with the proper resources in-stores as support. We also looked at how we tell Heinen’s story to candidates that might be finding us for the first time.

Dillon: Flexibility has been a big driving factor in changes in the workplace over the past few years. But when you can’t work from home or work different types of hours in your field, how do you think of flexibility in your workplace to make things more attractive?

Rudar: We’ve taken a look at our schedules in general. We have a labor software that we use for projections and labor models which has features that offer more of a “gig” approach to how our associates can work. They can bid on, swap and forfeit shifts. They can request time off. They’re even eventually able to work across other locations that need the help. This is the approach we’ve been piloting, and it’s been working well.

The flexibility applies to managers, too. They’ve gone from a 45-hour workweek to 40 with rotating weekends off. We’ve worked hard to break down the traditional retail grocery schedule walls.


Dillon: Once you get them through the door, you have to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to confidently do the job, which is another challenge a lot of organizations face when it comes to hiring people with less experience. How have you designed your onboarding so it gets people on the job quickly and ensures they have the confidence to do the job?

Berquist: Through all the different challenges that we’re facing right now, we need to redefine what a win looks like. Our company has always taken pride in having high expectations, creating a great service experience, cultivating an associate-first culture and delivering quality product. None of those things are changing. But we need to be realistic about how we can achieve those things. The world has changed, people’s expectations have, too. So we’ve had to look at onboarding to see what the priorities were. We learned that we really need to sell our culture and talk through what makes Heinen’s unique and special. Because the reality is that associates today have a lot of options and now you’ve got to convince them that they can build a career with you in a limited amount of time.

When an associate comes onboard, we immediately want to start promoting who we are and emphasizing the fact that we’re a family business and a community. And then to get them up and running quickly, they have to be ready to deliver value right away. We work with Operations to identify what key tasks associates need to be able to do within their first 10 days and then look at the longer journey after that. It allows us to put them on the schedule earlier—which is what managers really need right now.

We never focused on that before so this is a new shift and an exercise to think differently, but we spent a lot of time listening to their needs and what they really wanted at the end of the day.

Learn more about how to foster engaged, motivated and capable frontline teams.


Dillon: How do you make cross-training a priority and help it come to life so people have the chance to experience the variety and flexibility they want, despite labor shortages?

Berquist: The reality is, working in silos isn’t what leads to successful organizations today—with the grocery industry especially.

We look at it in two ways: cross-training within the department to understand different roles and functions, and then cross-training outside of the department to help where there are labor shortages. There are lots of advantages to it. The newer generations are excited about coming in every day to try something new, but they have to be properly trained to do it. That’s where we leverage Axonify to teach the key 5 or 6 tasks employees need to know in any given role to help in a pinch, through features like self-directed learning, assigned paths and opportunities, job aids, resources and more. There are lots of advantages, but it also creates a team atmosphere where it’s all-hands-on-deck to grow in very positive and productive ways that’ll help us long-term. They’re very welcome challenges.


Dillon: From an employee lifecycle perspective, how has your thinking process changed over the past couple of years as the needs of the workforce and your business have evolved?

Rudar: When we first started coming up in the industry, the path forward wasn’t always clear. It was a long wait and you had to be in the right place at the right time, and hope that you’d be noticed if you were working hard.

Heinen’s view on this has never really changed. We’ve always thought that retail grocery is a space where you can make a career. We’ve worked hard to make that path clear, whether associates can grow within their own departments or through formal programs, like our future leaders program at the store level. Just give them the options to see what their path forward is.

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Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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