Sun-Maid job fair flier announcing the bonus Credit: Sun-Maid

What's at stake:

“Recruiting is a challenge,” Babiarz said in an interview. “It’s not unique to Sun-Maid; it’s not unique to the Central Valley.”

A Fresno-based raisin company is offering new recruits a $5,000 sign-on bonus to be part of their stack crew or as forklift and machine operators.

Sun-Maid Growers of America, an agricultural cooperative that is one of the largest raisin and dried fruit processors in the world, is hoping to fill positions that make the stacks of raisins at their Kingsburg facility.

The sign-on bonus is part of the company’s latest recruiting strategy because of the tight labor market, said Matt Babiarz, human resources director for Sun-Maid.

“Recruiting is a challenge,” Babiarz said in an interview with The Bee on Thursday. “It’s not unique to Sun-Maid; it’s not unique to the Central Valley.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of material moving machine operators, including industrial tractor operators (forklift drivers), is projected to grow 7% between 2020 to 2030. The BLS estimates there will be about 84,300 openings for material moving machine operators each year over the decade. Many of these openings are the result of the need to replace workers who retire, exit the labor force, or transfer to different occupations.

Data from the California Employment Development Department shows even higher expected growth in Fresno County. According to Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market specialist, Fresno County occupational employment projections for 2018-2028 show employment in industrial truck and tractor operators positions is expected to grow 9.5%, from 1,690 to 1,850 positions, while material moving workers is expected to grow by 11.7%, from 15,120 to 16,890 positions.

How the $5,000 Sun-Maid signing bonus works

The bonus is designed to “attract and retain excellent employees who really want to make a career at Sun-Maid,” Babiarz said.

Potential applicants should know, Babiarz said, that the sign-on bonus is structured to inspire employees to stay with the company for at least a year.

New employees will receive the first half of the bonus after completing 30 days on the job. Then, they receive the second half of the bonus upon completion of a 720-hour probationary period, or about 18 weeks.

The company isn’t interested in “folks who are hopping from gig to gig,” Babiarz said.

Should an employee decide to “voluntarily leave” before the end of the 12 months, Babiarz said. “We are going to be asking for the money back.”

Sun-Maid job fair on Tuesday

Sun-Maid is holding a job fair in Kingsburg on Tuesday, June 28 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 13525 S. Bethel Ave., Kingsburg, CA 93631.

The best way for people who are interested in working with Sun-Maid to prepare, Babiarz said, is to show up with a positive attitude that demonstrates eagerness to work. Resumes are encouraged, but not required. Applicants must pass a background check and drug test.

For the forklift driver’s position, there is a forklift driving test in an onsite obstacle course. Applicants should come prepared with information on prior training and skills. Babiarz recommends that interested individuals seeking to obtain a license do so through a forklift certification program such as through Gray Lift.

Available positions are full-time with full benefits in these areas – stack crew, forklift and machine operators, Babiarz said.

Babiarz said, “We’re just looking to hire the best folks that we can.”​

Company representatives confirmed that the salary on the stack crew positions is $20 per hour; other positions are determined by union contract.

Sun-Maid job fair details:

When: Tuesday, June 28, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. ​

Where: Sun-Maid Kingsburg facility: 13525 S. Bethel Avenue, Kingsburg, CA 93631​

Click here for a full list of the job openings.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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