SOURCE | Winter 2023 17 institutions to identify potential employees .
• Intercompany labor sharing ( retail ) – what opportunities might exist to share labor across geographies ?
• Workforce flexibility - this effort is focused on evaluating different approaches to using our workforce that provide more opportunities for employee flexibility .
• Automation / Technology – identify and adopt more automation and technology to reduce the amount of human labor needed to run the business .
One final pursuit : bringing in foreign labor through various visa work programs . There are federal programs currently in place with a pool of workers , like the H2A program . It ’ s possible these workers could fill operational roles at many locations , Swearingen said .
As with any government program , there is a learning curve . To better understand the petition process and costs associated with a larger number of H2A workers , and to see if employing H2A workers would help meet the customer demands of the System , GROWMARK launched its H2A pilot program .
Two workers at GROWMARK FS- MIDWEST were the first workers under the program . In 2022 , 11 H2A workers were employed across three Iowa retail divisions .
H2A workers are temporary ( up to 10 months ) and are employed full-time of 35 + hours / week with a guarantee of ¾ of that time . The employer must provide housing and furnishings , vehicle , and transportation to / from country of origin .
Ehler and Swearingen said there are some challenges , including the original intent of the H2A program being for farmers . Farmers employ H2A workers as farmhands , helping with planting and harvesting crops , or help with livestock . “ Petitioning for H2A workers is more complex as a business when guidance and process was written for a different audience ,” they said .
What started with two workers at GROWMARK FS-MIDWEST will grow to more than 50 workers this year . GROWMARK hired Heather Bustle to fill the role of Work Visa Specialist and work closely with our agency to petition workers . She also works with HR managers at retail divisions on the petition process and other details associated with employing H2A workers . All GROWMARK retail divisions in Illinois , Iowa , and Wisconsin will have workers starting in March .
Swearingen said the pilot has been well-received by workers and the local employees . “ The H2A workers have very positive attitudes and are eager to learn . Retail division employees are grateful to have assistance , and know the intent is not to replace them ,” he said .
Swearingen said the labor initiatives flowed out of GROWMARK ’ s Strategic Innovation Accelerator ( SIA ) group last summer . Led by GROWMARK Director of Innovation , Heather Thompson , SIA is composed of GROWMARK staff who meet regularly to brainstorm potential resolutions to company challenges .