“Business’ number one problem is finding qualified workers,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement quoted by CNBC. “At the current pace of job growth, if sustained, this problem is set to get much worse.”
The food industry is no exception, according to our survey: More than three-quarters of respondents said the worker shortage is real. This breaks down to 56 percent who see positions going unfilled, and another 21 percent who not only see that, but think “unfilled positions are constraining our capacity or preventing us from expanding.”
Several of our respondents mentioned the worker shortage, and its consequent unfilled positions, as contributing to job dissatisfaction by increasing their workload.
“Required to handle more than one person can handle,” one employee wrote; “too much to do with underqualified staff,” said another.
One man said the so-called worker shortage was simply a matter of his company being cheap. “When we do find a very well-qualified person, we are not allowed to hire them because of money restrictions,” he wrote. “The only shortage is the number of qualified people willing to work for entry-level pay, after spending a career working and perfecting their skills, only to be told they are not worth it. It has become ridiculous!”
Paradoxically, a couple of people found advantages in the worker shortage. One listed “I do many jobs besides my current title” as something she likes. Another credits the worker crunch with inspiring better treatment: “Company has lost people and the competition for new employees has made them take a new approach to the way we are treated.”
Another contemporary issue that has an impact on the food industry is the administration of President Donald Trump. Businesses of all sorts have the potential to be affected by his aggressive approach to global trade. The food industry has special reason for concern, since much of the retaliation from U.S. trading partners has taken the form of tariffs on food, both farm commodities and processed products.
Our survey shows respondents as evenly split on President Trump as it’s possible to get. Exactly as many people say “he’s improved the business climate” as “he’s made things worse”: 23 percent. The remaining 53 percent chose “no change/no opinion/I can't really tell.”
Several respondents mentioned tariffs: “They are hurting us and have already led to lower margins and may have influenced recent layoffs,” one said. However, the poll was taken before finalization of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. If ratified by the legislatures of all three nations, USMCA would mostly preserve, and in some cases expand, America’s access to its neighbors’ food markets.
Trump came in for praise from one respondent: “President Trump has done a lot of great things for our country, including pushing Congress to lower our taxes.”
No time for time off
Of course, some concerns are eternal. One of them is getting enough time off—or, more accurately, getting to take the time off that you’re ostensibly entitled to.
Less than half of our respondents could. Asked if they took all the vacation days they were allotted, only 44 percent said yes. Another 29 percent said “most of my allotment”; 15 percent said about half; 7.0 percent said less than half; and an unfortunate 5.4 percent said they took none.
Perceptions of job security have been consistent for the last few years and, in fact, were nearly unchanged in 2018 vs. 2017. Asked about their level of concern over job security compared with last year at this time, 31 percent said they were more concerned, 21 percent said less concerned, and 48 percent said it was about the same.
For some commenters, job security concerns were bound up with age issues. “The one thing everyone in my age group fears the most is being laid off,” said a man identifying himself as between 58 and 65. “From 45 and up it is extremely difficult to find a job. From 60 and up it is nearly impossible.” Another saw two “big hurdles” as age-based: “The young are starting to enter the workforce later in life, and the older generation will have to work longer in life without pensions and health care.”
On the other hand, experienced, long-tenured workers can be especially grateful—if they experience security.
Said one man, who has been with his company between 26 and 35 years: “I have been here for a long time. My job is challenging and secure. It pays well and it beats working for a living.”