Chain of Thought

Get employees to stick with material handling

I have a candidate for the annoying buzzword of the moment: sticky. I've heard this word a lot lately as we media types try to find ways to keep you audience types stuck to our websites.

“How can we make our site “sticky?,” our marketing people keep asking. Sounds disgusting. Like we're trying to trap mice.

As much as I think sticky stinks when used in this context, it stuck in my mind as I was talking to Alan Will about the need for better training for the material handling workforce. Al is a retired Marine Colonel who hopes to recruit a new generation of warehousing professionals for active duty in warehouses and distribution centers across the country. He's starting in Suffolk, VA, with Paul D. Camp Community College. He's applying the logistics expertise he developed in the Marines to help this school develop a vocational training program devoted to warehousing. This school happens to be near a growing logistics hub, and he wants to be sure the region develops a quality workforce that knows its way around lift trucks and conveyors.

That's right, he wants this region to be “sticky” for logistics talent.

That talent needs to be developed, though, because kids aren't drawn to the honey that is warehousing and distribution. Will says community colleges around the country need to develop warehouse training laboratories that have the equipment needed to train tomorrow's talent. He says it's worth the effort, just to convince companies of the value of having access to trained warehousing and distribution talent. The problem is, most companies rely on internal training.

“If we could deliver potential employees possessing both sound personal skills and warehouse technical skills, the industry would save money and be more efficient,” Will explains.


• Training at the community college level can be considered a form of employment pre-screening.

• Pre-trained employees are more efficient and generally have a better understanding of their role in the supply chain.

• Although there is company "cultural" training upon hire, a pre-trained employee will get up to speed more quickly in production.

• People trained in warehousing and distribution jobs at the Community College level are stronger candidates for higher level logistics openings later on.

That's what having a trained logistics workforce means to employers, but what does it mean to industry in general?

That's what the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) and the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE) are trying to determine. They have funded a research project titled "State of the Distribution Workforce and What It Means for the Material Handling Industry." MHIA and CICMHE awarded Brian Edwards of Oklahoma State University and Kevin Gue of Auburn University $53,086 for this project.

This research will take a methodical approach. First it will examine factors affecting worker turnover, satisfaction, commitment, and performance. Then it will look at how the adoption of new technology is influenced by the training to use it.

“Historically, only technological solutions were applied to labor shortages and demographic shifts,” read an announcement by the MHIA. “Organizational behavior research demonstrates that there are other key variables and potential interventions that could help attract and retain qualified employees with benefits for the bottom line.”

That's a fancy way of saying they want to make material handling sticky, just as Al Will does. If you'd like to help, either by donating equipment or your time to a local community college program, contact Al Will at [email protected] For more information about MHIA's research, contact Mike Ogle, MHIA Vice President of Educational and Technical Services and Managing Director of CICMHE, at [email protected]

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