It’s no secret that the supply chain and logistics industries are facing a severe talent shortage. According to the International Journal of Logistics Management, “Career shifts and talent shortages in supply chain management are evident at most occupational levels.”
This shortage really couldn’t come at a worse time either, as many enterprises are challenged with increasing pressures on productivity, lowering costs and increased regulatory compliance – all with fewer resources.
What’s the problem?
There are two big issues at work here, and both hurt our industry’s ability to attract and retain talent.
Like other industries, we’re faced with an aging workforce that’s sliding into retirement and leaving huge gaps of talent and industry knowledge in its wake. According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, more than 60 million Baby Boomers will leave the workforce by 2025, but only 40 million new bodies will enter it.
This shortage, combined with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates that logistics jobs will grow by about 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, is creating a huge gap in talent and throttling some companies’ performance.
Another major cause of the talent problem is an issue that we can directly fix: Our own image.
Traditionally, the supply chain hasn’t been thought of as an exciting, cutting-edge industry to join. We’re stereotyped as being monotonous or repetitive. We have to do a better job of telling our industry’s story of innovation and forward-thinking technology, along with communicating the real excitement that comes from solving some of the world’s biggest problems.
Attract, support and retain
As one company within a vast, global industry, it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to fill your talent gaps. I recommend that companies focus long-term on three areas: Attracting top talent, supporting their advancement and putting more effort into retaining them.
Attracting top talent is partly a matter of overcoming our outdated image, as noted above. But you should also examine whether you’re really targeting the entire job pool. For example, women represent a notoriously low percentage of logistics workers: Europhia Consulting’s Global Supply Chain Human Resources Research has found that women make up only 21 percent of logistics professionals globally, and a report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute stated that women are about 25 percent of the durable goods manufacturing workforce.
Perhaps a new approach to engaging a wider breadth of talent could lead to a more successful strategy overall. Attracting talent also comes down to a matter of company culture: Having a supportive and open culture that fosters new ways of thinking and having a clear career path for employees can help you stand out among your top candidates.
Once you have your talent, make sure you diligently train them so that they can be successful at their jobs as quickly as possible. For employees who speak English as a second language, use voice technology in their native language to direct them on complex tasks. This can result in faster training times for you and increased accuracy and productivity for them.
Take a look around your facility at the technology you’re using: Is it helping workers do their job better? For instance, some of our customers have increased productivity 20-30 percent with task interleaving: the ability to pick, stage and then do a put-away of a nearby staged pallet back to a picking location continuously throughout the day. By optimizing the grouping of the order and the grouping of the tasks to maximize your labor’s productivity, you may find that you can actually do more work with fewer resources.
The good news is that wages are starting to go up among certain sectors of our industry, which helps with the attraction and retention of workers. For example, a 2014 study by the publication Logistics Management found that large companies are increasing the salary offerings for new hires by as much as 10 percent.
Incentive programs are often an attractive option for keeping employees engaged, increasing productivity and boosting employee loyalty. I know of a company that provides opportunities for employees to earn high school and college degrees, with subsequent opportunities to advance within the company. With analytics tools, employees can see in real time exactly how they are performing, and then be rewarded – for example, with a bonus – based on their productivity against a standard.
Getting a return on your investment
Some of these recommendations are easier said than done: Offering bonuses is easier than ensuring a path for advancement for each employee, for example. But those that require more effort are just as important. Indeed, in its annual salary survey, Logistics Management found that companies with a positive company culture, active development programs and reasonable workload expectations had a greater advantage in retaining employees.
The bottom line is clear: consistent and diligent efforts in attracting, supporting and retaining employees will provide a return on your investment and put your company in a stronger position well into the future.
John Brutin is the regional sales manager for HighJump. He is an accomplished supply chain executive with deep domain expertise in third party logistics (3PL). Having been the founder and president of a logistics software organization, he has years of experience working with providers in North America and abroad, covering all aspects of the business.