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Employment Update: Finding Good People in the Wine Industry


Job seekers look for more as the pandemic’s
curb on jobs lingers.

By Laurie Wachter

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives and livelihoods across industries and countries. Across the globe, hospitality and sales jobs disappeared, and other jobs shifted home to dining room tables and spare rooms. Schools and daycare centers closed, further destabilizing the work-life balance of many. The socially distanced global community shared a dramatic shift that left us frustrated, isolated and searching for a new normal. For many, that meant reevaluating their relationship to their job.

The tight labor market loosens

“The year 2020 was dead,” says Norm Mitroff, owner of St. Helena, Calif.-based executive search firm Mitroff Consulting & Associates. “Wine industry searches were via Zoom and not in hospitality because it was zero. Now that people have the vaccines, wear masks and understand the virus, things are returning to normal for the senior positions we recruit.”

Farmworker scarcity was already a growing issue pre-pandemic, with “labor” gaining the top negative sentiment in Silicon Valley Bank’s annual survey in the years 2016 through 2019. A recent analysis of the global labor market during the COVID crisis found employment rates in the United States declined more during 2020 than in any other high-income country (except Chile). Even for the rebounding roles paying $100,000 or more annually, mergers and acquisitions have been pushing people out of the workforce over the past 10 years.

“COVID was scary, and everything came to a halt,” says Margaret Baez, business manager at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Recruiting Associates Network. She continues, “while sales positions disappeared, wineries will always need barrels and labels, and suppliers will always need people for supply chain, logistics and operations. But there wasn’t much recruiting going on then. Now, it’s like a busy highway.”

“It’s still a tight labor market,” adds Golbou Ghassemieh, operations manager/senior consultant at The Personnel Perspective in Santa Rosa, Calif. “Turnover and labor costs are higher than before the pandemic, and more than 1 million people died who might otherwise have been in the labor force. Immigration has [also] had an impact. Wineries are right now relying more on interns; it gives them exposure to the wine industry. People are also freelancing more, and a significant number of women who left the labor force may not come back, because child care is still a problem.”

Mitroff points out that hiring for lower-level staff positions and jobs paying $17 to $20 per hour is challenging. A recent study showed that women are more prevalent in hospitality, where jobs fall into these wage ranges. Women are also more vulnerable to pandemic layoffs and more likely to delay returning to work. Balancing day care costs with the value of work is another long standing problem exacerbated by the pandemic. The Center for American Progress estimated daycare costs at $12,000 to $38,000 per year in California; that means paying for the lowest quality daycare for one child would take fully one-third out of $17 per hour wages.

COVID shifted how people think about work

Compensation is critical, but it’s no longer just about wages; employees also want comprehensive benefits plans — and are searching for meaning in their lives and work.

“People are looking for more,” Ghassemieh observes. “It’s about ‘What can I have in my life and how does it fit into my lifestyle,’ not just ‘How can I get a job.'”

Baez agrees, “Anytime there is a life [altering] event, people think about what kind of work environment they want. Some want to continue working from home, and those who didn’t make a change during COVID may be ready to do so now.”

What can wineries and suppliers do to make their open positions more attractive to prospective employees?

Experts advise thinking outside the box by looking beyond candidates already in the wine industry, looking instead for candidates with the right personality, attitude and soft skills that can crossover.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a chef, a pilot, a winemaker or whatever,” Mitroff explains, “there are a limited number of A+ players. Look for traits like intellectual curiosity, flexibility and an understanding of the roles’ demands and how [the potential candidate] can meet or exceed them.”

It’s also important to remember that the younger workforce is more diverse and they seek similar diversity in the workplace. Meanwhile, semi-retired employees can help train inexperienced new hires. Many people also want to work for a company that’s part of something bigger than themselves — they’re attracted by a company mission or a drive to give back to the community.

Although the labor market has eased since 2020/2021, hiring and retaining good talent is still hard work. Take a cue from the job-seekers who are reevaluating what’s important to them and refresh your approach to hiring.


Laurie Wachter
Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter brings her expertise in consumer behavior, food & beverage marketing and direct-to-consumer sales to writing about innovation and challenges in the consumer packaged goods industry. She works with a global client base from her Northern California Wine Country home.


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