Joan O’Brien is human resources (HR) manager for Ribworld and Callan Bacon, which were acquired by the Eight Fifty Food Group in July 2020.

During the pandemic, the company increased its head count and, today, Ribworld employs 230 staff, while Callan Bacon employs 280.

The majority of the staff across the two companies are at operative level but O’Brien also recruits for roles in their technical, health and safety, engineering, HR, operations, supply chain and finance divisions.

She admits that no less than other companies in the meat processing business, they are finding it difficult to fill roles at entry-level grades for “operatives along with quality, maintenance and for the warehouse. Finding people with experience at that level is very hard to come by.”

During COVID-19, a lot of people returned home and didn’t come back

Initially, they thought that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was a factor but even when the PUP reduced it didn’t make any substantive difference.

“During COVID-19, a lot of people returned home and didn’t come back.

“We weren’t getting the same volume of applications from Europe as before, although we are starting to see an increase now.”

Employees have been essential workers throughout the pandemic and with mostly site-based roles, there is no option to work from home.

From interviews, we see mixed reviews on blended working anyway – not everyone wants it

She says: “Given the nature of our business – a manufacturing site – most support functions are also required to come on-site on certain days.

“From interviews, we see mixed reviews on blended working anyway – not everyone wants it. Different candidates have different needs.”

Candidate’s market

Since things started to open up again, people have been moving more and O’Brien doesn’t see any sign of this changing due to the current labour shortage in the economy.

It is definitely a candidate’s market

“People who were reluctant to move because they were unsure what the fallout of COVID-19 would be are braver now. Candidates are being approached directly by various recruitment sources. The salaries that are being put before them are in many cases, very lucrative.

“It is definitely a candidate’s market,” she asserts.

“For instance, in the past, pharma would have looked for specific pharma experience but now due to the shortage they are open to looking at other industries such as food and can offer very competitive packages.”

Currently, secondary processing does not qualify for work permits.

As an industry, they are lobbying to get permits but there has been no change. A change here, O’Brien says, would be a step in the right direction for the industry.

As for retention, in terms of what Government could do, she says that incentivising people to work by increasing the supports in comparison to social welfare unemployment benefits would go a long way, along with increased childcare supports.

Career paths

“They [staff] want career paths. They want to see that there are opportunities for them within the business.

“Advice that I would give to people thinking about a move is to not just look at the bottom line, but also at what other opportunities the company can provide, especially at graduate or that middle management level. This could be in terms of training, learning and development, career progression and job satisfaction. Agri food is a diverse industry that has a lot to offer.”

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