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HR Professionals Focus on Labor, Disruptive Demographics

NACS HR Forum participants kick-off day one with labor issues, industry benchmarks and key demographic trends.
March 2, 2016

​CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The NACS Human Resource Forum kicked off yesterday, welcoming more than 80 HR professionals to the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s premier human resources program. Since 1992, highly engaged HR professionals have gathered annually at this NACS event to network, gain new ideas and expand their knowledge and skills. This year, NACS has expanded the curriculum to offer attendees the latest educational content in their field, and more than 40 attendees are participating in their first HR Forum.

Throughout the event, taking place March 1–3 in Charlotte, participants are honing in on several, results-driven objectives:

  • Taking actions that drive higher levels of business performance
  • Connecting with HR colleagues and gaining business insights
  • Building skills and HR competencies that support their professional development

Event moderator Joanne Loce, president of Loce Consulting LLC, opened the HR Forum on Tuesday with a nod to the indispensable role HR professionals provide in balancing day-to-day operations and anticipating what’s coming down the pike. HR roles today are far more diverse and complex than they were a decade ago, she said. Skills such as adapting to change and having strong business acumen are essential for success in the HR field. This comes into play particularly among the chaos of shifting laws and regulations including health care, wage and hour and the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the complexities of the convenience store landscape like managing turnover and foodservice operations.

Tuesday morning focused on labor issues, beginning with a wage legal update from John Thompson, partner of Fisher & Phillips LLP. Notably he shared that the Department of Labor is attempting to leave its legacy along with the outgoing Obama administration. “What’s coming this year will affect your organizations from top to bottom,” he said in respect to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) changes coming as early as this spring or as late as July. In a nutshell, expect a rocky year as DOL continues to aggressively enforce the FLSA.

The legislative arena doesn’t appear to be much brighter for labor regulations, suggested Jon Taets, director of government relations for NACS. For example, the Obama administration is actively pushing for new labor regulations, including a proposed new rule to update regulations that govern which employees are eligible for overtime pay. Also, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division interpretation of joint employment identifies scenarios in which two or more companies jointly employ a worker and are therefore jointly liable for labor violations. The DOL's interpretation makes more businesses subject to obligations and liability under the National Labor Relations Act—particularly franchises.

Given the upcoming presidential elections, Taets noted that even with a Republican president in the White House, it would still be unlikely for a full reversal of the overtime threshold increase. The joint employer definition, however, may be ripe for reversal, which would take time to formally occur.

Shifting gears to a big picture industry outlook, Stephan Mecklenburg, research coordinator at NACS, discussed trends that have transpired from recent NACS State of the Industry data. For one, the drop in gas prices since mid-2014 has had a profound impact on the c-store industry, with both gallons sold and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increasing. In terms of industry challenges, there is one many retailers have identified: direct store operating expenses (DSOE) are outpacing inside gross profit dollars. He pointed out that within DSOE, almost half are wages and benefits. This is a tough line for HR professionals to walk in terms of keeping costs down yet maintaining competitive wages and benefits structures.

Wrapping up the expert speakers on Tuesday, Dr. James Johnson Jr., William R. Kenan Jr. distinguished professor at the Kenan-Flager Business School at UNC Chapel Hill, shared six key demographic trends for HR professionals to pay attention to:  

  • The South Rises. From 1910–1970, the South only captured 30% of the net American population growth. In every decade since the 70s, the South has captured about half of the growth.
  • The Browning of America. This refers to any non-whites both entering the country and having children, and this is greatly impacted by immigration. “We are not having an honest discussion about illegal immigration in this country,” he said, adding that roughly 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants are residing in the U.S. today.
  • Marrying Out is “In.” There has been a profound shift in who can marry, and intermarriage doubled from 1980–2008. Americans are marrying outside their race or ethnicity in higher numbers than ever before. Be careful how you portray family life as an employer, advised Johnson, if you want to be customer centric.
  • The Silver Tsunami Is About to Hit. Every day for the 20 years, 8,000 Boomers a day will be turning 65, Johnson said, adding that for the first time in history, there are four generations in the workforce. He cited the uncertainties of elder care, which can be required at all hours by a workforce trying to care for loved ones and squeeze in work. “It’s a $40 billion per year problem as far as work loss productivity,” Johnson said. “This is the game changer.”
  • The End of Men. Today, there are three times as many men of working age who don’t work at all compared to 1969. After peaking in 1977, male college completion rates have barely changed in the last 35 years. Women, meanwhile, are becoming more educated. In the class of 2010, 1.9 million college degrees went to women, compared with 1.3 to men.
  • Cooling Water from Grandma’s Well, and Grandpa’s Too. Living arrangements are more diverse today, with a higher percentage of children living with one or both grandparents. And with a $200 billion spending power, millennials are a population group that c-store owners need to pay very close attention to. If these young people are living in multigenerational settings in high numbers, their needs as customers will be different than young people of past generations.

The NACS HR Forum continues today with case studies from convenience retail companies Weigel’s Stores Inc., QuickChek Corporation and Sheetz Inc. Attendees will participate in interactive discussions on professional development and define their individual action plans. Look for more coverage of the event in Friday’s NACS Daily.