Just about everywhere you turn these days someone has something to say about current and impending Supply Chain labor shortages. Boeing estimates a global shortage of 533,000 pilots over the next 20 years. The ManpowerGroup 2015 Survey tells us that 32% of US hiring managers report severe talent shortfalls, which rise as high as 61% in Brazil and 83% in Japan. Closer to home, the American Trucking Association in April reported for 2014 that the US was short 35,000 to 40,000 drivers; plus the driver turnover rate was 95% for large truckload carriers, 90% for small ones, and 11% for LTL carriers. And the average driver’s age is “around 50.” But pure numbers are not our only problem.
The Material Handling Institute & Deloitte in March of this year reported that 54% of CEOs and presidents believe Human Resources is doing an “excellent” or “very good” job of helping meet requirements for supply chain talent, yet in the same study only 28% of their supply chain and logistics personnel feel the same way! Thus the critical gaps aren’t just in people, but also in the skills available. How do we meet these dual challenges? Employers have a number of avenues to pursue:

  1. Grow Your Own Talent through mentoring, teaching, training, re-training or cross-training current employees. Or provide expanded responsibilities. A favorite example of this for me is an LTL carrier I know that trains dockworkers as drivers and helps them earn their Commercial Driver’s License, using them for seasonal peaks and promoting permanently from the loading dock to a wheel when needed. The result: this carrier only has to hire new dockworkers, NOT new drivers, thus maintaining their own talent pipeline.
  2. Steal From Other Companies by using traditional recruiting tools: search firms, paying more, offering a better environment – and not holding out hoping to find the impossible candidate with 100% of every experience, skill and attribute imaginable – what a friend calls the “Purple Squirrel.” You can also use family and professional relationships to lure staff from other employers.
  3. Hire the Young through active university and trade school relationships that could include paid and unpaid internships, industry partnerships, part-time employment, and mentoring programs.
  4. Use Nontraditional Sources such as social media job postings, LinkedIn searches, recruitment of recent or soon-to-be ex-military members, seeking out women for traditionally “male” roles (e.g., truck drivers or forklift operators), finding retirees who want to partially or totally “unretired,” hiring part-time consultants, or using a bonus system that rewards current employees who refer potential hires.
  5. Use Foreign Companies, which, for example, could become an option with the soon-to-be-granted permission from the US Department of Transportation to allow Mexican trucking companies haul in the US, now that a three-year test program showed that “… Mexican carrier safety … was … at least as high as American and Canadian counterparts.”
  6. Reduce the Need for People through elimination of layers of management, job consolidation, process re-engineering, decision streamlining, empowerment, or additional technology.
  7. Buy Other Companies or Outsource anything from limited functions like payroll or billing to complete positions or entire departments. One example often forgotten: Intermodal is a form of outsourcing!
    Properly training employees throughout their careers should be a given at every company, but for a number of years now employers have been cutting back or eliminating employee training, a short-sighted savings to be sure that hurts the company later when needed skills just aren’t in place. Individuals can fill in some of this gap for their own benefit (and make themselves more valuable to their next employer), but many won’t even pay $25 to $50 to attend a local professional dinner meeting that includes a presentation plus networking with area peers (thus building on the short-sightedness of their non-supportive employers — maybe they deserve each other?). While saying the “company won’t pay” is the common excuse for not attending local events, it’s not a valid one, and not investing in your own self-improvement is at least as great a crime. So whoever pays for the training, the options available to each of us include:
  8. Attending Conferences & Seminars to meet with peers, see how problems and opportunities have been handled at other companies, and learn about the important issues of the day from peers, suppliers, and customers.
  9. Joining Professional Organizations which can provide the same benefits as conferences and seminars plus also allow access to a host of industry-related information, job search tips and leads.
  10. Pursuing Professional Certifications and Certificates, (but remembering that certifications prove mastery of a body of knowledge, while certificates just confirm attendance). Examples of supply chain organizations that offer certifications include AST&L (DLP, GLA, PLS, CTL); APICS (CPIM, CSCP, CFPIM, SCPR-P); ISM (C.P.M, CPSM, CPSD); and CSCMP (SC Pro 1, 2, 3). If you don’t recognize these acronyms, you are long overdue to research each and pursue those which best support your career goals!
  11. In-House Training, which can include simulators (ranging from forklifts to tractor-trailers to railroad engines to aircraft); mentoring of new or younger employees by experienced co-workers; rotational internships through major company operations; cross training; job swapping; vacation backup; eLearning; self-directed use of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses); and possibly language and literacy classes (if needed).
    This should be the easiest leg of the “Find-Train-Retain” triad. But it takes more than just the “money answers” of wages and raises plus performance, training, and sign-on bonuses. It requires a complete package that tells each employee that he or she is (1) important to the company, (2) vital to the company’s success, and (3) is an asset, not just a cost to be minimized. The typical elements that make a company “the place to stay” include attention to:
  12. Working Conditions, which should be comfortable, pleasant and supportive. Workspaces and parking areas must be safe and secure. Workspaces should be free of excess noise, and lighting should be appropriate, not accidental. There should be some amenities — some companies provide free coffee, others add snacks, yet others provide a refrigerator for employee lunches, and/or a discounted or free lunch.
  13. Employee Benefits, which become a competitive advantage when talent is scarce. These days, benefits must include at a minimum good medical coverage, wellness programs, family coverage, and continuous training support.
  14. Quality of Life Issues, which have gained importance in today’s market. In addition to office conditions, these can include flexible hours, work-at-home programs, job sharing for part-timers, flexible vacation policies, and family support programs.
  15. Career Pathways, which allow advancement; empowerment; recognition of accomplishments; and learning experiences such as assignment to special projects, cross-training programs, and “occasional supervisor” positions when staff is temporarily expanded to meet spikes in demand.
  16. Picking the Right People, because a match to company culture is equally as important as matching the skill set(s) needed. In some companies, some of those right people could be dedicated temporary workers, who have worked in past seasonal activity spikes and are invited back as needed.
    The bottom line: Skilled supply chain people are and will remain in short supply. To get and keep the best, companies must explore every method possible to find, be more efficient with, and appreciative of, the talent available. Since money is not the only answer, and culture, comfort and having a career path are all important, we must hire the right people who will fit into and be happy with the opportunities available today - and what those opportunities might evolve into.
    George Yarusavage, DLP, CTL, C.P.M. is a principal in Fortress Consulting, LLC, specializing in Transportation, Logistics, and Sourcing issues, education, and training. He can be reached at gyarusavage@yahoo.com or 203.984.4957.