While it's not getting any easier to attract and retain talent, there's still hope for the future of the supply chain.
Would you encourage your son or daughter to pursue a career in your chosen field?
When PayScale Inc., a salary, benefits and compensation information company, asked workers if they would recommend their current job to others, the answers didn't paint a very flattering picture of the supply chain. The third-least-likely-to-be-recommended job, for instance, is over-the-road truck driver. For the Millennial generation, life most definitely is not a highway, at least not behind the wheel of a rig hauling a 53-foot long-haul trailer across the country. With older truckers reaching retirement age, the driver shortage could approach calamitous levels within the next decade, as the American Trucking Associations has projected a potential gap of 240,000 drivers by 2022.
Warehouse managers also made the PayScale list of the 10 Least Recommended Jobs, coming in at # 9. According to the study, fewer than 4 out of 10 warehouse managers (39%) would recommend somebody follow in their footsteps.
And when 1,000 U.S. households were asked if they'd recommend their children pursue a career in manufacturing, only 37% say they would, fearing in part the lack of stability in the industry and the belief that manufacturing jobs are the first to be moved offshore, according to a study conducted by consulting firm Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.
Those findings, unfortunately, mirror the anecdotal evidence we collected while compiling the MH&L 2015 Salary Survey. In years past, when we asked respondents what they felt was the biggest challenge facing the material handling and logistics industry, the most frequently-cited answers were usually either "the economy" or "government regulations." This year, however, "talent" (or rather, the lack thereof) was the dominant response. Here's a small sampling of representative comments from Salary Survey respondents:
"[It's a challenge] finding, hiring and keeping quality distribution personnel that consider material handling as a long-term career path for themselves and their families. Competing industries offer better pay, shorter hours, better working conditions, less stress and allow more time to spend with family."
"New talent entering the market has been trained in logistics/supply chain management since colleges are offering degrees in those fields, but the problem is then normal business sense needs to be developed. They are stronger on the logistics side, but weaker on the business side."
"Not enough skilled workers to fill certain positions. Not enough good paying jobs in this industry."
"We're recruiting outside of the industry to combat the aging workforce."
It should come as no surprise that young workers don't stick with a job very long. Recruiting and staffing firm Robert Half International cites findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that workers aged 20-24 tend to stick with a job for less than a year-and-a-half, and those 25-34 have a typical tenure of three years (Baby Boomers, on the other hand, those between 55-64, typically will remain at the same job for 10.4 years).
Most of the solutions proffered by pundits tend to focus on training and education, the theory being that workers will feel more empowered at companies that have invested in developing their employees' skill sets. That's undoubtedly true for young people following the lure of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, but no matter how comfortable you make the cabin, spending a week on the road in a truck is still going to have limited appeal to those who'd prefer going home every night. Scoff if you will, but one likely solution to the truck driver shortage will be autonomous vehicles, and another will be a variation on the Uber phenomenon where goods get shuttled across the country rather than hauled by a single tractor.
Warehouses and manufacturing plants are investing heavily in automation, not only to make their facilities more attractive to young workers but, in some cases, to reduce the very need for human workers.
"Just as every company engineers its product lines, its supply chain and its production process, [they can also] engineer a talent pipeline," suggests Jennifer McNelly, president of The Manufacturing Institute. Instead of waiting for a fully-trained next generation of skilled workers, she advocates that companies develop their own talent pool. Indeed, companies are already getting involved with local schools, community colleges, external training and certification programs, and hiring veterans, immigrants, the disabled and other non-traditional sources of talent.
Don't wait for the government to throw money at the problem; we already know how effective they are at wasting money. And don't wait for the schools to catch up with the level of training you need at your company. Just as you strategically invest in equipment and services to keep your facility operating, you need to apply the same level of strategic thinking to optimizing your workforce. Your future depends on it.
Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.