18 Sep A big deal for a small town
In 2014 Peco Foods, Inc., one of the industry’s leading suppliers, announced it would build a 272,000-square-foot, state of the art poultry processing plant and hatchery that would employ more than 1,000 people in Pocahontas, Arkansas.
With a population of 6,469 in 2010, the announcement was a big deal for the small town. As Tim Scott, Randolph County Chamber of Commerce executive director, told Talk Business and Politics, Peco’s plant was “probably the biggest economic development project of our lifetimes.”
But in order for the new plant to run successfully, it needed skilled people with experience.
With the unemployment rate reaching one of its lowest points in a decade at 4.3 percent, finding unskilled labor is difficult, but finding skilled labor is even more so. To make matters worse, the skills shortage is particularly acute in rural areas, with the Federal Reserve noting “a larger number of firms mentioned higher turnover rates and more difficulty retaining workers.”
In other words, it’s a challenging time to recruit anywhere, but Pocahontas is an especially difficult locale.
Ōnin opened its Pocahontas office in 2016 with Market Manager Nathaniel Martinez. Ōnin needed to find experienced employees for Peco, but being able to cut poultry correctly is a skill that can’t be tested with a pen and paper. Nathaniel knew Ōnin would need someone experienced on the ground to find the right people.
He began by placing Karla Delfin as the Office Manager of Ōnin Staffing’s Pocahontas branch. With three years of experience in the poultry business, Karla knew how to identify qualified people.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Nathaniel said. “She trained the Oninites we subsequently hired to identify Teammates with those poultry skills, because it’s not easy. You have to show me how you make these quality, production cuts and what you get rendered from the chickens.”
Because Pocahontas’s small population couldn’t support the plant, Ōnin relocated experienced Teammates to Pocahontas, building an apartment complex to house the newcomers.
“There’s a big issue when you relocate people. They’re uncomfortable. They’re not at home. They’re away from their families,” said Nathaniel. “We resolved it by putting On-Site Oninites on the ground.”
Ōnin’s On-Site program dedicates an Ōnin manager or supervisor to manage the day-to-day servicing of Teammates, facilitating improved efficiency, diminished turnover rates and reduced costs. As an extension of our client’s human resources department, Ōnin’s On-Site managers and supervisors are closely tied to the client’s operations and positioned to address work-site challenges as they arise.
As a long-term client of Ōnin’s, Peco truly has a partnership mentality in addressing hiring issues, which has led to some remarkable employee hiring and retention success stories.Employing the On-Site program at Peco allowed Ōnin to train Teammates using a method developed at other Peco plants by Efrain Gomez, Branch Manager of the Gainesville and Braselton Ōnin Staffing offices and head of Ōnin’s Poultry Operations division.
Efrain had learned the job requirements of every position and all of the different incisions and cuts on the poultry lines, but he noticed many new workers were struggling, resulting in high employee turnover.
In the poultry industry, it’s easy for people’s hands to become sore from handling fairly large portions of birds all day. After beginning a poultry position, many workers are discouraged and worried about the pain in their hands, so they simply leave the job assuming they can’t perform the work.
“Just as your body is sore from running when you’re out of shape, your hands become sore on the line when they’re not used to making the cuts, but once your hands are trained the pain is substantially alleviated,” Efrain said. “My outlook on it was, we’re going to facilitate the initial pain people go through by breaking their hands in at a slower pace, and I realized people were catching on a lot quicker.”
Efrain noticed there was a line that was not being operated, so he asked Peco if he could use it as a training line to help new Teammates adjust to the work and increase their accuracy.
By implementing on-the-job training to develop Teammate’s hands to deal with the large birds, injuries were reduced, retention increased and turnover rates decreased.
With a successful training track record, Ōnin began training Teammates to increase yields as well, giving Teammates 30 days to adjust and learn their role. Once the Teammates speed and yield was where it needed to be, they joined the Peco line.
“From a support standpoint, our relationship has improved one hundred-fold since we started this,” said Peco Plant Manager Alan Risley.
In the most complex hiring environment, multifaceted innovation is key. It’s unlikely the skilled trades gap will go away anytime soon, making it even more imperative for us to find innovative ways deal with current hurdles.
We know that having the right people in our offices who excel at finding qualified Teammates is a necessity and having the ability to create specialized training programs serves as a key aspect of a well-rounded retention program and can help alleviate the pressure in a tight job market, but every market is different, as is every customer. That said, perhaps the most important aspect of finding creative solutions is finding a staffing partner with a genuine partnership mentality and the desire to experiment to find the right solutions.