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Lack of skilled workers in the beverage industry

HR & Personnel Management
The War for Talent

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The beverage industry is lacking in highly skilled staff. Complaints of a lack of skilled workers are heard very often, but complaints from small and medium-sized companies are especially loud. HR consultant Jochen Etter explains what needs to be done.

It may seem a little contradictory at first. According to the statistics and market research portal Statista, in 2018 there were 62,300 people employed in the two core areas of the beverage industry: in the alcoholic beverages sector (beer, spirits, wine and sparkling wine) and in non-alcoholic soft drinks and mineral water. That figure represented a few more people than in the previous year, but overall the number of employees is declining – with fluctuations. The reasons for this are digitalisation, automation and operational structural adjustments (outsourcing, restructuring, etc.). There are simply fewer jobs for people, as machines are being used to replace a good proportion of them.  

On the other hand though, the industry is getting to feel what politicians have been vaguely talking about for years already: there is a shortage of skilled workers in breweries, mineral water companies and in the non-alcoholic drinks sector. In other words, there is a lack of people. “Overall, one in three SMEs has already had to turn down orders because of this, and more than 60% of all SMEs cannot fill their open positions due to a shortage in candidates,” says Jochen Etter, founder of Etter & Partner (, an HR consultancy practice specialised in recruiting specialists and managers for the beverage industry. 


Fewer jobs, fewer candidates


One reason for this is that the jobs that still exist often require new and different skills. Traditional training as a brewer, malting expert, industry trader, etc. urgently needs to be adapted to the latest technological developments in the world of beverages. The demand for technical specialists is increasing – and there simply isn’t enough of them. 

If there aren’t additional measures to recruit staff, things will get even tighter – especially for the middle classes – when the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age in 2024. In large corporations, the problem is being countered with large, dazzling recruitment campaigns as well as internal training and development programmes. Jochen Etter explains in an interview how even small and medium-sized companies can get the best people on board.  


Mr Etter, how important is good HR management for entrepreneurs in the beverage industry right now?

The competition to recruit skilled workers, and to recruit the best of them, is actually becoming the decisive factor on the market. If I haven’t been able to fill my vacant positions, I have to turn down orders, as mentioned above. If I can’t attract the best employees to my company, I will not be able to offer the best products or services.

Money alone isn’t everything


Does this mean that if I want to attract the best employees, I need to pay higher salaries?

Many companies have tried to achieve this with higher salaries, but it has become much more complex. Candidates, especially the highly qualified ones, are making decisions differently today because their values and priorities have changed over the past decades: work-life balance and personal environment are regarded with a completely different significance than in the past, and people are no longer prepared to move house just for a good job. Individual values and individual needs have become more important, while professional status is now no longer as important as it once was. When asked about priorities, employees rank having their own home significantly higher than money and a career. Today, the focus lies more on what employers are actually like and whether employees can identify with them, in addition to the working atmosphere at the company.

In this regard, there are certainly some fields in which employers can have an influence.

There are a great many areas that companies can work on to become more attractive to skilled workers and retain their employees. There’s a good reason why we’re increasingly talking about ‘employer branding’ and why companies are putting in more and more effort, for example, to be recognised with a ‘Great Place To Work’ award. They are investing in their company in the process. But all of that doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.

Can you give a few examples that don’t cost too much?

A lot of it has to do with the values and culture of the company, but the crucial factor here is that they are both lived and put into practice: not just displayed in the entrance hall and meeting rooms, however nicely worded and printed they may be. To name a few, some examples are: recognition and appreciation, pride, responsibility, feedback, management style, working environment and atmosphere, integration, etc. These are things that are important to skilled employees today. Others that are becoming increasingly important include models for balancing work and family life, job security, social benefits and solutions that allow employees to work from home. Of course, the latter in particular is very much dependent on the type of work and job role.


A remedy for the lack of skilled workers: employer branding
But these are measures that a company can implement to benefit its existing employees.


The main problem lies in recruiting new employees. What kind of approaches can help with this?

As a company, I first need to create the necessary foundations – without which I can’t successfully recruit new employees. I need to position and brand my company as an attractive employer. This is achieved through employer branding, as already mentioned. And I need a clear and sound HR strategy.

And what about for the recruitment process itself?

Having a clear and specific description of the job role and applicant requirements is fundamentally important for succeeding in recruitment searches. Many companies tend to list everything that could be useful for the job role – but this is the wrong approach. On the one hand, good candidates will think they aren’t suitable for an ‘over-defined’ job description like that, and they won’t even apply for the role. On the other hand, in some extreme cases, a company may discount certain applicants because it seems like they don’t meet a significant number of the defined requirements. A clear-cut description of the position is important. It should detail the real, essential requirements and anything else should be listed as ‘nice to have’. 

In addition, a great many companies miss out on the potential of female specialists and managers because their job advertisements are formulated in a too ‘masculine’ way. Many women choose not to apply for some jobs because they feel that the job doesn’t fit with their ideas and preferences. Women read job advertisements very differently from men, but very few companies address this. When designing and formulating a job description, I’m able to massively increase the rate of applications from female specialists and managers if I consider and implement a few specific points.

So, what’s the best way to go about a recruitment search? 

In terms of how to go about a recruitment search, through which channels and which measures to take in order to have the best chance of success, it obviously depends on the respective industry, position, level and other general and environmental conditions. Fundamentally, I would emphasise the importance of conducting the search as broadly as possible. If you only place one advertisement on a few select online job boards, hardly anyone will see it. Especially if you’re looking for skilled specialists, you can no longer afford to avoid intensive ‘active sourcing’. This is where an HR consultant can help, especially if they know the industry well. They bring skills and structures with them, as well as access to networks that medium-sized companies – usually at least – aren’t able to build up themselves.


Interchanging roles in the beverage industry


And then you need to convince a candidate to accept an offer.

Yes, and that’s not quite so easy. Today, companies still often think in classic terms of allocating roles, i.e. they see the candidate as an applicant. But in a situation where there is a shortage of skilled workers, this way of thinking is outdated. Increasingly, as a company, I have to be the one to apply for the best candidates. This doesn’t mean that I have to or ought to categorically meet all candidates’ demands. Throughout the entire process, from the first contact to onboarding, mistakes are unfortunately made at many points: reaction times are too long, insufficient information is provided, there may be a lack of feedback for the candidate, it might be the way the interview is conducted, etc. 

How does an entrepreneur know when they have found the best candidate?

In my opinion, companies still often place too much emphasis on technical skills and experience when they’re selecting and evaluating candidates. Other fields of competence, on the other hand, are paid less attention. Of course, a candidate does need to have certain technical skills, and there are positions or circumstances where the focus must clearly be on their technical skills. However, I would like to appeal to companies to place a stronger focus on methodological, social and personal skills. After all, specialist knowledge and skills are the easiest to learn; other types of skills can be much more difficult or even impossible to acquire. Regardless of the fact that companies have no other chance at all of filling vacancies in the future, it is my view that a candidate who already has the appropriate methodological skills and personality, but who still needs to acquire one or two specific technical skills, provides a greater long-term benefit to a company than a candidate with the opposite constellation of skills. 


Jochen Etter has had a long and successful career in the beverage industry, climbing the ranks all the way up to managing director. Since 2014, he has worked as an HR consultant specialised exclusively in the beverage industry.