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Food industry turns to AI hiring platform to fill 1M jobs

The food industry is hungry for employees. It has a shopping list of occupations it needs filled to keep essential food producers and grocers stocked with workers.

Food retailers and wholesalers have more than one million jobs. The work isn't sexy, just essential. It includes delivering food, stocking shelves, sanitizing stores and workplaces, as well as staffing distribution centers and warehouses. How these essential workers are hired is changing.

A new service gives employers downsizing their workforce an ability to upload, in bulk, lists of laid-off and furloughed workers to an AI hiring platform. The platform matches workers' skills to potential jobs.

The service is being sponsored by an industry group whose members are hungry for employees, FMI (formerly the Food Marketing Institute). The trade group is based in Arlington, Va., and includes firms such as The Hershey Co., Walmart, The Kroger Co., Safeway Inc. and grocers of all sizes. Many of its member firms are hiring.

Mark BaumMark Baum

The system was soft-launched last weekend. The intent is to try to fill jobs as quickly as possible, said Mark Baum, chief collaboration officer at FMI.

"We have a tremendous need for speed," Baum said. He said the industry job needs are "well north" of one million.

We have a tremendous need for speed.
Mark BaumChief collaboration officer, FMI

The AI hiring platform is from Eightfold AI Inc., an HR software firm based in Mountain View, Calif., which is working with FMI.

The dramatic economics of the pandemic are shaping the AI hiring platform. Some industries are shutting down, while other firms -- many in the food industry -- are adding workers and shifts to meet production, stocking and delivery demand, according to the people involved in this effort.

HR managers at firms that are laying off or furloughing workers will help to populate the AI hiring platform. 

How it works

The AI hiring platform works like this: An employer that is laying off or furloughing workers sends an email or SMS invite to an affected employee to join the exchange. Or an employer can share a URL and reference code, enabling an employee to sign up directly, according to Kamal Ahluwalia, president of Eightfold.

Kamal AhluwaliaKamal Ahluwalia

Those looking for a job answer a short set of questions and start to build a profile. Although employers can upload names, workers can also add themselves to the exchange on their own.

The matching engine then uses the available evidence, such as prior employment, job titles and location, to determine if an individual can do a particular job, Ahluwalia said.

Firms have started uploading jobs, about 600,000 so far, that they want to fill, Ahluwalia said.

The AI hiring platform, which uses deep learning, "actually matches those hiring companies with the individuals seeking work -- and [does so] literally in a matter of seconds," Baum said.

Speed depends on employer

How quickly someone is hired depends on the employer. The information from the exchange may be enough for an employer to make a job offer. Other employers may choose to direct prospects to their own employment sites to fill out an application, Baum said.

It's too early to know if the talent exchange is meeting expectations, but it is clearly part of a trend to match suddenly displaced workers to industries that have hiring needs. The trend includes a range of efforts from very sophisticated to simple job boards.

In California, for instance, a just-launched effort called is intended to match state residents displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic to emergency resources, training programs and general job matching. The service was recently promoted by the state's governor, universities and several technology firms.

Onfleet Inc., a San Francisco-based logistics firm, has taken a simpler approach. The company makes a software platform that enables businesses to manage delivery services. Although its business does not involve hiring drivers, it recently set up a job board to connect employers with drivers, said Liz Hawkins Tahawi, marketing director at Onfleet.

There are aspects of the pandemic that may bring about some permanent changes in the job market, and that includes increasing demand for delivery, Tahawi said. The pandemic "is not going to have a finite end, even if we found a vaccine tomorrow," she said.

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