A Prolift associate at Toyota Material Handling U.S.A., Inc. services a lift truck.

How to Manage the Talent Challenge

April 16, 2015
Companies are adopting new strategies to find and retain the next generation of material handling and logistics professionals.

With the clarity that comes from knowing that by 2020 the shortage of truck drivers will reach 300,000, companies have turned away from the endless analysis of the attributes of the future workforce. Gone are the intensive debates about whether Millennials are hard workers or are merely taking up space until the next opportunity presents itself. The constant comparison of Baby Boomer dedication and loyalty to the unknown millennial traits is just about over. For reality is hitting very quickly and programs need to be in place to attract and retain workers.

A good place to start designing programs is to go straight to the source. Ryder System Inc. studied the results of their first employee engagement survey and found that employees not only want to be involved in the company's objectives, they want to be part of the thought process.

"Modern drivers expect increased engagement levels with their employers, and want to feel they are a part of the company," explains John Diaz, senior vice president of Dedicated at Ryder. "They also want to have a say in their work environment."

Diaz is using the feedback from the survey in his recruiting process. As most of his drivers are around 48, they will be sticking around for a while. So attracting future talent is the challenge. "If we want to attract new employees, especially the Millennials for non-driver positions, we need programs that connect with them," explains Diaz. "They want to be part of a larger perspective, beyond the local area."

In addition to a wider perspective this group of workers wants to be in constant touch. So Ryder is using some apps to facilitate communication as well as a tool to spread best practices. And the old-fashioned notion of town halls is making a comeback as a way to share knowledge across the company.

Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc. (TMHU) is also looking ahead.  "Knowing that Millennials are the future and that they're eager to lead, are technologically savvy, and value collaborative work environments, Toyota strives to foster a work environment that is conducive to these individuals," explains Tracy Stachniak, national manager of human resources, TMHU.

One of the company's tactics is an Inter-Company Transfer program in which graduate students are hired and then sent on overseas assignments to the parent company, Toyota Industries Corp. (TICO), headquartered in Japan. These assignments may last anywhere from 18 months to three years. "By immersing them into TICO's business and culture, it helps to prepare them for future roles and provides opportunities to accelerate their career paths within the organization," Stachniak says.  

Training for the future is a pillar of Ryder's planning. "As technology ramps up in our industry it becomes more attractive to Millennials," explains Patrick Pendergast, director of talent acquisition for Ryder. "Based on the success of our fleet management training program, we have rolled out similar programs in operations and have also seen success in this area."

Toyota is using a mentoring program to aid in career development. "Our goal is to make sure we set them up for success on their very first day at Toyota, and they continue to grow as their careers progress," says Stachniak. "Who we hire today are our future leaders for tomorrow."

Looking for Talent in All the Right Places

It is this quest for future leadership that is causing the industry to cast a wider net in the search for potential candidates. "The material handling industry is an exciting industry, but one that many job seekers may not be familiar with," according to Stachniak. "When we're recruiting, we don't necessarily look for candidates who have material handing experience, but rather make the commitment to teach potential candidates about the endless opportunities within the industry."

Ellen Voie, CEO of Women In Trucking, checks out Ryder's new cab ergonomic specifications.

One group that is currently underrepresented in the industry is women.  With women comprising only 5% of its workforce, Ryder looked into ways of making truck driving both easier and safer for women.  The company partnered with Women in Trucking to improve working conditions for women drivers and enhance safety through ergonomic truck cab designs that address the unique challenges women face when operating today's commercial heavy duty vehicles.

"There are close to 200,000 women truck drivers, and that number is steadily growing," says Ellen Voie, CEO of Women in Trucking. "Having Ryder's support, particularly given their strong relationships with top vehicle manufacturers, represents a significant step forward to help the industry attract more female drivers and improve the work environment for the thousands of women who've already established careers as professional drivers."

The collaboration resulted in Ryder, the largest purchases of trucks in the U.S., working with manufacturers to create a new custom design that has 15 unique specifications for women.

Another group that the industry is actively recruiting is veterans. Ryder joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program in 2011 and has hired 2,100 veterans as of 2014.  The company has increased the percentage of veterans in its U.S. workforce from 8% to 10%, and has more than doubled the amount of recently-separated veterans hired since joining the program. The company has committed to hiring 2,000 veterans over the next three years (2015 – 2017).

Toyota is also going after this particular job pool. "Military men and women returning from service offer strong leadership skills and a work ethic that will see a job through to the end," says Stachniak. "In addition to our dealers, we regularly recruit through channels targeting military men and women."  

The company has a program called Giving Veterans a Lift. It is a dealership technician career and operator safety training program created to help veterans find employment and equip them with job skills to support a career in the material handling field. The program has helped nearly 300 veterans obtain forklift training and has led to the hiring of other veterans to at Toyota dealerships.

Yet another hiring strategy is to seek out non-traditional sources. Toyota Material Handling UK is providing free on-site training to Re-Instate, an organization that helps people experiencing mental distress or who have a learning disability.

Concurrent with these strategies to attract new employees are policies that retain current workers. A 2014 survey by the National Retail Systems found that 79% of the drivers polled say that salary is the most important factor when choosing a job. Home-time was ranked second, while sign-on bonuses and training were the lowest. These findings held when truckers were asked why they left jobs. Again salary (43%) was the main reason. Lack of home-time was the second most common reason (28%) for drivers to leave their current job.

With 51% of drivers over 45 and 17% over 55, companies are devising ways to address these issues to retain these workers.  Many companies, Ryder included, are increasing salaries in some cities. Other policies include having a set schedule so drivers have more time at home. Yet other policies offer opportunity to drive with a spouse.  

While policies that address needs of both the current and future workforce are imperative, at the end of the day it's finding the right talent to begin with. Toyota sums it up best: "We have developed a strategic hiring process in which we hire for attitude and aptitude, and less for industry experience, meaning that we are looking for individuals that are bright, quick learners, are high energy and hard wired to serve."

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