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Creating Employment Opportunities With Flex Manufacturing

Land O'Lakes, Inc., one of America's premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2021 annual sales of $16 billion, Land O'Lakes is one of the nation's largest cooperatives, ranking 232 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 100 years of operation, Land O'Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands in agribusiness and food production including Land O'Lakes Dairy Foods, Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O'Lakes, Inc., headquartered in Arden Hills, Minnesota, has more than 150 locations with employees, many of whom live in rural communities and do not have access to a computer during the workday.

This case study represents one of the submissions for i4cp's 2023 Next Practice Awards, winners will be honored at the i4cp 2023 Next Practices Now Conference. You can also view other Next Practice Award case studies.

Business challenge

Land O’Lakes has more than 200 production facilities that are located in rural towns spread across the United States with many positions requiring experience and specific skills. The locations, tight local labor markets, and physical nature of the jobs, have made staffing a challenge. Across the enterprise, vacancy rates were high. Open requisitions took more than 40 days to fill, and overall turnover for production staff exceeded 32%, with new hire turnover greater than 100% at some locations. The overall national skilled-labor shortage exasperated this long-time challenge, making operational viability a leadership concern.

Prior to the pandemic and recent labor shortage, production facilities filled vacancies with contingent labor until full-time staff could be onboarded. Once the pandemic hit, and employees were unable to work due to COVID protocols requiring quarantine periods, plant staffing began to tighten. Given that Land O’Lakes was considered an essential business and our production facilities remained open, overtime hit record levels at some locations and the strain put on those who could work mounted. Contingent labor was no longer a viable stopgap: staffing agencies couldn’t find workers to fill their client positions either. These constraints made compliance with 60-hour production staff work weeks difficult. All levels of the organization realized that these talent gaps and mounting work/life stress within the plants needed an answer.

Solution – Scope & Innovation

A Director of Manufacturing began to think differently about staffing at one of his plants after reading an article about flexible work. With the go-ahead by senior leadership, and with a “fail fast” and evolve quickly caveat, a challenge presented itself to create an employment plan and make it operational within six weeks. The site selected for the initial focus of this pilot was a plant in a community that historically has lower-than-average unemployment (prior to the pandemic, it was less than three percent). A cross-functional team formed to include the Director of Manufacturing, his HRBP and Recruiting. The team had one primary goal: Implement a flexible work schedule that meets employee work life balance while also improving the ability to meet production requirements.

Inspired by staffing models traditionally used in retail, warehousing & distribution, but viewed as challenging in manufacturing, the team chose to test the waters with a part-time staffing model, coined “Flex Manufacturing”. In these part-time roles, a worker selects shifts that fit their schedule, with a minimum of 16 hours per week and a maximum of 30 hours per week. These hour parameters were intentional: meet the needs of the plant by having a flexible solution to fill where there is work and to differentiate these roles from On-Call or Full-Time roles.

Flex Manufacturing recruitment marketing took a different approach to sourcing candidates, specifically targeting college students, unretires, and parents/caregivers who needed flexible working hours. Knowing gender disparities widened across the U.S. during the pandemic, the Company made sure to focus efforts on attracting and hiring women into Flex Manufacturing. In addition to a billboard on a major road announcing the new flex schedule to the entire community, the team leveraged social media and Google Paid Search. Traditionally, marketing for roles is targeted to experienced candidates. Changing up the marketing approach wasn’t the only shift that was made for sourcing candidates and hiring into these positions. Online and mobile functionality and automated processes were enhanced on the Company website to more efficiently redirect interested candidates to Flex Manufacturing jobs. This established an online means to conduct screenings and issue offers with the same quality and integrity, while reducing manual recruiter-conducted processes.

In addition, changes to the candidate experience included more flexibility with interviews and the ability to see what the job and work environment entails to help candidates decide whether to continue in the recruiting process. Automation of certain process to keep candidates engaged and provide for faster response time to the candidate were also enhancements made.   

Results & Impact

What started out as a “get creative for hiring” endeavor, with a “fail fast” directive, has become a recipe for filling roles that have traditionally been hard to fill. Flex Manufacturing has not only seen many applicants, but has also driven benefits to the organization that were not anticipated. According to the HRBP at the initial site for Flex Manufacturing,  “learning to fish in a different pond” has tapped into the new, desired state of work for many people including those just looking for some extra income, stay-at-home moms with school age children, students, retirees, former retail employees who had burned out from that environment, and those who wanted to “try before you buy” to determine if manufacturing is the place for them to work.

The results of this effort include:

  • The reduction in overtime producing a financial savings and better/work life balance for full-time employees
  • Elimination of contingent labor at locations with these part-time roles, reducing the overall budget at a given location. Contingent workers cost 1.7 times the hourly rate, Flex Manufacturing employees cost .5 the hourly rate
  • Implementation and compliance with a SMETA requirement in Dairy plants connected to safety and management of required work hours, that has been rolling out across the Enterprise
  • Created additional employment opportunities within rural communities:
    • Addition of a full-time scheduler at the first location to go live with this model given the staffing volume and management of part-time schedules
    • Five part-time roles at launch have expanded to 28 roles at the initial location
    • 130+ part-time positions across the enterprise in more than 20 production facilities
  • Increase in hiring and retention representation from ethnic, racial and gender diversity
  • At one location, production hours have expanded from 24/5 to 24/7
  • Record numbers of applicants: more than 300 applicants submitted resumes within a weekend of posting 12 positions; twice as many online job visits for the part-time roles versus full-time roles
  • On average, one-part time job posting brings in 25 applicants compared to 16 applicants for a full-time role
  • In a recent union negotiation, the Union agreed to allow part-time workers to be hired into that facility
  • Time to hire is less than two weeks compared to 40+days before this initiative
  • Reduction of human hours spent on recruiting process by implementing streamlined and technology-based sourcing, application, screening, and offer processes, for example, wrap up notes now take two minutes compared to an hour or more when collected, scanned and uploaded
  • Lower turnover rates at several of the early adopters of Flex Manufacturing, including a nearly 30% drop in turnover at a location that had nearly 75% turnover
  • Conversion of several Flex Manufacturing employees to fill open full time positions


This specific initiative proved to be more successful than anticipated. With strategic and agile partnership among supply chain leadership, onsite HR and recruiting, Land O’Lakes has discovered an untapped labor pool and a staffing design it intends to grow to more than 600 positions across its Supply Chain organization. The design team has been asked to share this model with member owners and present at industry events to share how this model has worked for the organization. Because of the demand for these roles, the organization will be adding a full time and contingent recruiter and making a significant investment in targeted marketing approaches that have proven successful. As commented by the SVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer, “Given the growing priority placed on flexibility and work-life balance, employers and employees have to find a balance that is supportive of each other’s needs. The early returns on Flex Manufacturing at Land O’Lakes have been extremely encouraging.”