At the recent CSCMP Conference in Anaheim, CA, the top challenge on most people’s minds was the difficulty in hiring qualified workers to a logistics career – across all job titles.
No news there. We’ve been talking about this for years, and as an industry we’re making progress. But we’re a long way from solving the problem.
One nut that we haven’t yet cracked is appealing to the 18-year-old that’s either deciding on a post-high-school career or a college degree. To most 18-year-olds, logistics is still invisible as a job option, unless they have a relative working in the industry.
Those that do have a perception probably think about the hard work of driving a truck or lifting boxes in a warehouse. Sure, that is a reality. But like many entry-level jobs, those tasks can lead to bigger challenges and opportunities. At KANE, about half of our senior operations personnel began in entry-level logistics jobs. Today, those managers may supervise hundreds of associates and be responsible for running complex transportation networks or processing millions of dollars’ worth of products daily through high-volume distribution centers.
Messages that we need these 18-year-olds to hear about logistics as a career:
- It’s a huge and growing part of our economy. Logistics makes up 8% of the entire U.S. Gross Domestic Product, while the entirety of manufacturing is 11% of GDP – and that gap is narrowing. The jobs and opportunities are there.
- It’s a path to the top. And not just the top of the operations org chart, but the whole org chart. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, are just two top corporate bosses who rose to their positions from logistics/supply chain jobs at their respective companies.
- It’s as much about bits and bytes as it is about boxes. The boxes are what you see, but just about everything that moves in the supply chain is directed, organized and made visible by smart technology. Tech tools are second nature to digital-native post-millennials, and they are drawn to tech-enabled tasks.
OK, that’s what we need them to hear. Now, how do we get the word out?
One novel approach KANE is taking is to participate in a joint effort of school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania to expose teachers and administrators to the logistics industry. Recently, KANE hosted five educators from four different area high schools in a multi-day immersion on every aspect (and job type) of logistics management.
Teacher Celine Carlier said after her experience, “The impact of logistics and transportation on our everyday lives is incredible, and that is something I want to be able to express to my students.”
Fellow educator Kendra Cooper commented, “Before my visit, I didn’t even know what logistics were. I was amazed to learn how much actually goes into planning and organizing deliveries.”
“I never realized all that was entailed,” said teacher Amanda Rogan. “Logistics plays a part in every aspect of product distribution, from raw materials all the way to final distribution.”
Educating the educators is important because they are the ones talking directly to 18-year-olds about career directions. You can’t point in the direction of a logistics career if you don’t know it exists.
Commenting on why KANE participates in this important public-private program, Senior Marketing Director Alex Stark said, “KANE has always been a good partner with the community, so when we were approached, we were happy to help. But it’s also just good business for us. The majority of our workforce was educated in the high schools that participate in the program. So, this is about opening eyes and planting seeds. Hopefully, we’ve turned the participating educators into evangelists for logistics careers, and for careers at KANE.”
One of the barriers to attracting young people to entry-level logistics jobs is the misperception that a college degree is a prerequisite to earning a good living. According to the participating teachers, parents feed that misperception.
But the teachers met many KANE senior executives who started at the ground level and worked their way up to challenging, rewarding and well-paying positions.
College is not for everyone, and four years learning the ropes at a warehouse or transportation operation out of high school provides a pretty good springboard for a logistics career – without the student loan debt!
What’s the next step?
Attracting 18-year-olds to a logistics career is a complex challenge. Certainly part of the solution should include the kinds of the grass roots efforts exemplified by Pennsylvania’s Educators in the Workplace program.
What’s the next step?
Why not start a co-op program for high school seniors that allows them to work or intern at a local logistics facility in the afternoon as part of the curriculum? What better way to explore a career option than actually doing the work and having visibility to career path options.
The labor shortage in logistics is not getting better, it’s getting worse. The problem won’t be solved by doing more aggressive advertising or bumping up the starting wage. We need bold thinking and bold programs that shine a light on one of the most complex, rewarding, necessary and, strangely, still invisible professions.