Can You Fill the Logistics Gap?

March 1, 2011
Ask someone what he or she makes and brace yourself for an icy silence—which will then be broken by the sound of "None of your business!"

Our annual salary survey makes what you make our business. The fact we keep your name and company out of it makes us appear a little less rude. I suppose that’s how we got what we got out of you for our report starting on page 19. Going nameless and faceless gave you and your colleagues the opportunity to give us some pretty frank opinions about making a living in material handling and logistics. And you didn’t disappoint.

Many of you are worried more about who’s getting paid than what they’re getting paid. In other words, the state of the talent pool is a big concern. It’s shallow and getting shallower. As Dave Blanchard reports, the aggregate-you is 50-plus, so retirement isn’t far away. The question then becomes, who will take your place?

“Our labor pool is getting scarier by the day,” one of you told us. “As our education system pumps out graduates that function at grade school levels, businesses continue to suffer.”

To add some light to this heat, I asked some of our editorial advisory board members—whose faces appear in our News Beat section—to go on the record about the talent challenge. Thom MacLean delivered. As vice president of operations for Osborn International, a unit of Jason, Inc., Thom comes pretty close to looking like our aggregate reader: a white male in his 50s, living in the Midwest, with more than 25 years of experience in industry. What makes his input so valuable is he works for a company that actually makes things—industrial brushes, to be precise.

Thom says his company tries to develop talent from within as well as recruit it from without. The problem is, there aren’t many young people drawn to manufacturing any more. Rising stars in his company have achieved Six Sigma Black Belt certifications in partnership with the University of Indiana. But Thom lives with the reality of the younger generation’s perception of what he does.

“As a father, I had three graduate from college in the last 10 years, with degrees in Computer Science, Business and Engineering,” he told me. “None even considered opportunities in manufacturing or distribution.”

To add insult to this injury, one of his son’s friends, who actually did follow in his footsteps by graduating last year from Ohio State with a degree in operations management, is still looking for a job to match the skills he acquired. The problem is, there are still too many experienced people who were laid off during the recession competing with the newbies in the executive job hunt.

Paradoxically, many companies are crying for young people to work at the ground floor in their warehouses and distribution centers, according to Jim Shephard, another of our Advisory Board members. As an industrial trainer, he hears these cries direct from the source. They want to hire young people, but they want young people with experience. They know that young people with no experience are more expensive than those with experience.

Sure there are vocational schools, but Shephard believes they lack logistics focus and technology is being introduced to this discipline at a much higher rate than the vocational schools can keep up with. That’s why he wants to franchise the kind of warehousing and distribution training he’s been offering for years. He sees it as a way to offer employers pre-screened talent.

“Industries in this country don’t have a resource for entry level people to come into their plant with some basic industry indoctrination,” he told me. “They come into industry after flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s. We’ll interview 100 of those to get five into our program. We average 35-40 in each class. We invited local employers to our training center to see if our students qualified for their entry level positions. One employer wanted to hire them all.”

That sounds like demand looking for supply. Industrial training might even be a new career option for some of you readers. If you’d like to start a training franchise with Shephard’s program, he’d like to talk to you. But read our report first. It may help you brand your curriculum.