The COVID-19 pandemic left a profound and lasting impact on labour shortages within the poultry processing industry. Even as the pandemic subsides, the repercussions persist. During the height of the pandemic, many workers exited the industry and have not returned. Today, processing plants find themselves in fierce competition with other sectors to secure the manual labour they rely on. This labour scarcity presents a barrier to the growth of businesses within the poultry processing sector.
The challenge is twofold. Firstly, the industry grapples with a scarcity of workers for tasks ranging from bird catching on the farms to processing within the plants. Secondly, retaining a stable workforce has grown increasingly challenging due to the physically demanding nature of the work and often undesirable working conditions. These factors have led to elevated employee turnover rates and have made it difficult to find and retain skilled labour, giving rise to concerns about the future availability of a skilled workforce.
The continuously rising line speeds necessitate increased automation, as the tasks are becoming progressively more complex for human operators to manage efficiently and consistently. To tackle the challenge of sustaining a workforce, the industry is actively exploring automation as a potential remedy to alleviate the labor-intensive nature of processing tasks. Automation in the poultry processing industry can encompass a wide range of processes, each aimed at improving productivity, consistency, and product quality. Automation is currently applied to a range of crucial processes, including live bird catching, evisceration, giblet harvesting, portioning, deboning, and packaging. BAADER is continually advancing the frontier of automation through the creation of both modest and extensive initiatives. These include developments like fully automatic giblet harvesting and intelligent meat deboning, but also automated pasteurization of scalding water, automated solutions for unblocking the Head Puller, and even the integration of automation in maintenance tasks, such as automatic lubrication systems for the reception system.
The most cutting-edge technology employs AI-powered vision systems, allowing for efficient quality control at high processing speeds without necessitating additional labour in the process. The implementation of automation is not only a means to address labour shortages but also a pathway to elevate the efficiency and competitiveness of the industry.
The younger generation is tech-savvy and appreciates workplaces that incorporate modern technology. They may prefer companies that use automation and digital tools to streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and provide opportunities for skill development in tech-related areas. As a result, this demographic is apt to wholeheartedly embrace innovative processing technologies and efficiently navigate automated equipment, as well as the human-machine interfaces integral to these solutions.
Training and educational programs are also being developed to enhance the skills of workers and make the industry more appealing to the younger generation. Younger workers prioritize their health and safety, and they look for poultry processing facilities that offer a secure working environment with strong safety protocols, comprehensive training, and easy access to personal protective equipment. While the use of sharp tools and machinery, as well as repetitive tasks, can pose challenges related to injuries and health risks for employees, the implementation of adequate safety measures and training programs will address these concerns effectively.
Younger workers prioritize both job security and opportunities for career advancement. They seek employers that provide a sense of stability and avenues for professional growth, including possibilities for promotions, skill development initiatives, and educational support. When given the opportunity to explore various roles within the organization, they are more likely to commit to longer-term employment.
Understanding and catering to the expectations of the younger generation is crucial for the poultry processing industry as it seeks to attract and retain a skilled and motivated workforce. By adapting to these preferences and providing a positive workplace environment, poultry processing companies can position themselves as desirable employers for the younger generation, ensuring the industry's long-term sustainability.
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Labour Challenges in Poultry Processing