Salary survey material handling logistics

What’s the Biggest Challenge Facing the Industry Today?

Material handling and logistics professionals love their jobs, but worry that they might be an endangered species.

Every year one of the questions we ask in our MH&L 2018 Salary Survey is: What is the biggest challenge facing the material handling and logistics industry today? We don’t offer a pre-set list of options, so every respondent has the chance to tell us exactly what’s top of mind when it comes to the biggest hurdles they have to get over in their jobs. So you would expect there to be almost as many different answers as there are respondents.

But that’s not really how it works out. While it’s true that we hear about some really specific beefs that our readers have about their job situations, there are a couple “biggest challenges” that appear over and over again in the responses. And the most frequently heard lament of all is how hard it is to find and retain good people.

According to a recent survey of manufacturing professionals conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), 41% of respondents say that finding skilled workers is their number one challenge for 2018. “While it’s great that the economy is improving, it’s troubling that manufacturers expect to struggle finding the skilled workers they need to be successful,” observes Eric Hayler, ASQ’s chair.

You see the same lament in other industries as well: Not enough truck drivers. A desperate shortage of construction workers. Retailers are constantly looking for people to stock their shelves and ring up the sales. And when you get right down to it, the material handling and logistics industry makeup is pretty similar to these other industries, with a very predominant concentration of 50ish white males holding down the vast majority of the management positions. It’s tough enough finding people to work for you, and it gets tougher still when women and persons of color tend to shy away from even applying for jobs in your industry. Will the future of the supply chain really be left to robots?

In any event, those who participated in our Salary Survey are very aware of how hard it is to find good help these days. Some blame the generation gap, with one respondent saying the biggest challenge is “finding younger factory workers who actually want to go to work” and another echoing that by saying, “finding good people who can pass a drug test.”

Others see the problem lying more in automation, with their biggest challenge being “adapting to and actually adopting the many technological advances being made” or “a hesitance to adopt automation because of a few bad apples” or “the availability of high quality tradesmen with skills in welding and other fabrication-related roles is dwindling.”

And for some, the biggest challenge is convincing the powers-that-be of the importance of good supply chain management. Material handling and logistics professionals still aren’t getting the respect they deserve from upper management, which again can make it tough to recruit a new generation of talent into the ranks.

Having said all that, there are a lot of other things that your colleagues place at the top of their “biggest challenge” list, including the following:

  • “Adapting to the omni-channel movement and providing timely solutions for turnkey startups.”
  • “Using outdated (DOS-based) systems while keeping up with drastic company and sales growth.”
  • “The changing carrier landscape and an increase in the importance of third-party suppliers.”
  • “Safety, training and OSHA compliance.”
  • “Reducing overall logistics expenses in an environment of ever-increasing transportation costs.”
  • “Online quick-fix buying cycles.”
  • “Available ocean space from China, and security in Mexico.”
  • “Amazon.”
  • “Same as always—collaboration.”

But when it’s all said and done, as the results of the Salary Survey point out, the one word that best describes the attitude of material handling and logistics managers in 2018 is optimistic. More than eight out of 10 (82%) of you told us that you’re either satisfied or very satisfied with the industry as your chosen career path.

If we put a positive spin on the talent shortage, maybe the reason so many of you see it as a problem is that you love the industry so much that you want to see that kind of passion passed down from Baby Boomers to GenX-ers to Millennials. After all, every generation depends on the supply chain generation.


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