Rhino Foods serves up creative benefits for workers

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For some companies, it may be hard to win the war on talent when livestock far outnumber people in the face of certain labor shortages. Case in point: the state of Vermont whose 623,960 residents outnumber only Wyoming, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many Vermont employers are at a point where they need to be more creative and strategic about recruitment and retention to compete on both a national and global scale, says Sena Meilleur, managing principal at OneDigital, a Burlington, Vt.-based benefit broker. “We just don’t have a very big talent pool to begin with,” she says. “Our workforce is aging or shrinking.”

That’s why one employer, Rhino Foods, a specialty ice cream novelty and ice cream ingredient manufacturer, is serving up a plethora of creative benefits to its workers, including financial education and English language training.

“We find ourselves relatively differentiated in the Vermont market as a B-corporation and family-owned business with a reputation for strong workplace practices,” says Caitlin Goss, director of people and culture at Rhino Foods.

The mission of certified B Corps is to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Although located in Burlington, the Green Mountain State’s largest city, Goss understands how challenging it can be for other employers there to find and keep the right talent. But she adds that 31% of the company’s 140 employees have been at Rhino for more than 10 years, 14% for 15 or more years and 10% for 20 years or longer.

“What I like about Rhino’s approach to benefits is that they really put their money where their mouth is,” says Meilleur. “They understand how hard it is to live on minimum wage. They acknowledge the difficulty of thriving in a low-wage job by providing a way for employees to get over temporary setbacks like a vehicle breakdown or a medical bill.”

With the help of local community resources, Rhino Foods owner and president Ted Castle learned that access to credit was a real struggle for people mired in generational poverty. “They didn’t have a savings account, or a mom, dad or friends to give them money,” he says. A simple $500 car repair could break the bank or a job could be lost if a child is late to school, causing someone to be tardy for work, he adds.

So with a fair number of employees living more paycheck-to-paycheck, the Rhino Income Advance Loan allows them to borrow up to $1,000 a day from a local credit union in the event of an emergency. About $350,000 has been loaned and paid back through payroll deduction, while 96% of employees who received such assistance went on to open a savings account.

The result is that over time, Castle says “their credit scores start rising, and then they can borrow money for a car or do whatever they need to do. From a purely emergency spending or credit standpoint, this program is really a slam dunk.”

English lessons and loans

Since roughly 30% of Rhino’s workforce is comprised of refugees with different levels of English proficiency, on-site classes in English as a second language are offered through a grant-sponsored program in partnership with another nonprofit in Vermont.

Goss describes the setting as hands-on, with employees learning words that they’re using every day and practicing their language skills in homework assignments. The curriculum also highlights tactical questions such as asking a supervisor for the day off or how to fold a box.

“We’re really proud of our diversity,” she says, noting the company’s commitment to an inclusive environment for highly valued employees from different backgrounds.

Rhino also offers its employees access to an on-site resource coordinator once a week for four hours through the local United Way chapter’s Working Bridges program. They’re able to inquire about housing, transportation, insurance, childcare and other benefits, or receive assistance filling out various applications. One recent initiative involved steering employees to a program that supports paying heating bill over the winter, while an upcoming program will help with income tax preparation.

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