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Updated: May 8, 2023 Commentary

Recruiting and retaining an award-winning team

Photo / Courtesy of Wyman's Tony Shurman is the president and CEO of Wyman’s, a 149-year-old family-owned Maine company. Based in Milbridge, Wyman’s is the top- selling brand of frozen fruit in the U.S.

Alarm bells about Maine’s chronic workforce shortage have been on surround sound for decades, and at Wyman’s, like every other business in Maine, the issue is always top of mind. Without our 200 full-time year-round employees for our agricultural, manufacturing, and administrative teams, and 300 seasonal employees, we can’t harvest our crop each summer, keep our processing plant running year-round, or keep nourishing livelihoods in Downeast Maine, just as this family-owned company has done for nearly 150 years.

In recent years, we’ve seen some promising successes in recruitment and retention. The average employee tenure at Wyman’s is nine years, nearly twice the industry average of 5.5. More than one-third of Wyman’s employees have worked for the company for more than a decade, and 15% of our employees have been on board for 20 years or more. A few major initiatives have played a key role in driving that success. And they can be applied to any business of any size in any industry.

Create real pathways for advancement. Many of the people who come to us as seasonal or entry-level workers want to build their careers here, so we’ve developed opportunities for them to do that. In addition to providing tuition reimbursement opportunities, we’ve partnered with Washington County Community College to develop a wide variety of professional development courses, so our employees can pursue more education, whether they want to learn English as a second language, earn a bachelor’s degree, or advance their technical skills to vie for more specialized positions. At our processing plant in Cherryfield, where we clean, freeze and pack wild blueberries, we set up workstations with desks and computers, so employees have a convenient place to study or attend online classes.

Value humans, not just resources. MEMIC recently honored Wyman’s with the 2022 Award for Safety Excellence, recognizing us for building a culture of care and accountability. The award, given to just three other companies in the U.S., centered around benchmarks like on-site training, and employee involvement to prevent on-the-job injuries. We’re particularly proud of that culture of care and accountability; it plays a huge role in what’s driving our high retention rates, and it extends way beyond our efforts to keep our team safe. In the course of day-to-day business, we take pains to give employees the latitude they need to lead fulfilling personal lives, whether they’re raising families or pursuing personal passions. People really feel it when you take values like safety, flexibility and work-life balance seriously. And when you’re just giving those values lip service, they feel that too.

Give your team opportunities to give back. Wyman’s has long been an ardent supporter of the communities where our employees live and work. But most of that support, historically, has come in the form of donations. While financial support is essential, as a company we realized that we can do so much more. Four years ago, we set a goal of spending 2,000 volunteer hours annually giving back to our communities. We launched companywide service days — called Wildly Better Days. On those service days, more than 100 employees participate, doing everything from helping to build stages for the new Gateway Milbridge Theatre and Community Arts Center, to clearing overgrowth from the town of Harrison’s only veterans’ cemetery, to completing carpentry work to fix up the new headquarters of Women for Healthy Rural Living, and planting vegetables in the pick-for-free community garden they operate. This has been such an important initiative for Wyman’s. It’s a true trifecta of benefits: it strengthens connections across our team, enriches the community and is uplifting to all who participate.

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