JBS USA, the nation’s largest meatpacker, began offering to pay for college degrees for its 66,000 workers as well as one child per employee in March. The move followed an increase of more than 30 percent in hourly pay over the last year, said Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA.
At large beef processing plants, floor workers earn $21 an hour, with salaries rising to $30 an hour for employees with more advanced skills. “We’re seeing a lot more innovation both in terms of wages and secondary incentives, but nobody is doing what we’re doing in terms of rural America,” Mr. Gaddis said.
The educational incentives at JBS and Waste Management are designed both to reduce turnover and to attract new employees. Each company fully pays tuition at a selected group of institutions; the JBS program offers a wider variety of majors and certificates. With dependents covered for schooling, careers can stretch from years to decades instead.
Each time an hourly employee leaves Waste Management, it costs a minimum of $12,000 to search for and hire a replacement, Mr. Fish said. What’s more, among drivers, 50 percent of safety incidents involve those with three years or less on the job.
“In terms of safety, the longer you are here, the better you are,” Mr. Fish said. And by paying for education, he added, “there is a real hook.” Waste Management estimates the cost will be $5 million to $10 million for the first year of the employee program.
In the wake of the pandemic, employers are thinking more holistically about their employees and their goals, including personal and family life, said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. Extending the benefits to spouses and children seeks to address those considerations.