Humber-VHB Labour Bank Case Study

One approach to managing peaks is to create a flexible labour bank. Humber-VHB who supply a large proportion of the fresh and cut herbs found in our Supermarkets have sucessfully used this approach. You can download the full case study here.

The site Director Chris Moncrieff explains. “Like most growers we had developed a situation with a core team supplemented by agency staff that would come in to deal with sudden peaks in demands for fresh or cut herbs at the Supermarkets. But this was expensive and actually the results were quite disappointing.”

“We recruited a new HR Manager who had worked for the NHS where it’s common practice for hospital trusts to create their own bank of temporary staff that are already trained in the procedures they need to carry out. She suggested that that might work for us. So we thought we’d give it a try. “

“If the NHS can staff operating theatres doing brain surgery like this, then surely we will be able to use the same approach to grow a few herbs. “

“The results have been great. When they turn up for work they already know what they’re doing, know the people they will be working with and just get on with the task in hand.”

“We have no obligation to offer work and they have no obligation to accept. But in practice there’s a fluctuating amount of extra work to supply the produce needed as the weather and other external factors affects the base load of demand from the supermarkets.”

“The company has recognised that flexibility is a two-way street. If we offer someone three days work – and they can only do two that’s ok. The system can accommodate it.” Bank staff members can be sure that on average there will be a reasonable amount of work available for them. One member of the bank staff, Sandra Woodliffe that we talked to estimates that in practice she works 3-4 days a week. Humber run a two shift system with one group working Sunday to Thursday and another Tuesday to Saturday. The bank gives a great way of “topping up” labour on the single shift days.

The bank is mostly local people who may be people in mid-life with a pension that they want to top up or are engaged in portfolio work – or students at the University.
It’s easier to make this work in a protected cropping environment with a good catchment of reasonable quality labour with its own accommodation than it would be on an apple farm off the beaten track. Still it’s a good case study and definitely food for thought.