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Labor Shortages

The projections are for a skilled labor shortage of 10,000,000 workers by the year 2010. Some of this shortage will directly impact our ability to service customers in a professional manner. With competing industries also recruiting directly from our own companies, what is being done to market our industry as an attractive, stable, rewarding industry to work in? What is being done at the local level by anyone to market their own company as a rewarding career? What recruiting techniques have worked well, besides going after the competition’s technicians?
– Steve Smith, Vice President/General Manager
                                                                                     Johnson Lift/Hyster (City of Industry, CA)

Duncan Murphy: We do many things to make ourselves an employer of choice. We pay technicians at market rates for all industries, offer competitive benefits and provide tools. We have an extensive training program to groom rookies and develop veterans equally. This includes extensive recognition and a supportive company culture. Ultimately, though, the answer is to charge customers what these techs and the service you provide are worth. Ours is an industry with an inferiority complex that routinely discounts, unlike plumbers, copier repair and others who show up with a briefcase of tools and not a van full. MHEDA has an Industry Awareness Committee to help on a national scale. Each of us must become a leader in our local marketplace and stay the course on compensation and service rates even if we feel at risk. The value we bring to market must be presented to, understood by and confirmed by customers. It is tough, but it is the only real solution, and the word will get around that your firm is the place to work.

Dave Griffith: First, one must look and see what MHEDA and MHIA are doing for both Industry Awareness and development of relationships with industrial distribution schools and business schools. At the same time, we have made the decision to have a full-time recruiter on staff working with our branch managers and company presidents. Part of his job responsibility is to work with local schools and attract talent into our company. On the technician side, we run a program called “green to mean,” where we take folks with strong aptitude and train them in our industry. We have a mentor relationship with these folks and make significant investments in them. In return, we ask for a non-compete agreement. So far this has been working well for us. In addition, several of our executives speak or teach in local schools and local trade associations. We also promote our ESOP and related programs, and we have had for several years a bonus for new employee identification and hiring.

Richard Donnelly: We must do a better job of promoting our industry if we are going to attract talented individuals to enter and stay involved. MHEDA, through the Industry Advocacy Committee, is actively working with other organizations to develop programs to promote the industry to academic institutions. On a local level, we are involved with schools and universities to promote careers in material handling. Technician recruitment and retention is a major focus at our dealership. We do not actively recruit competitive technicians because that often leads to bidding wars and disloyalty. We have established a career path based on skill sets so a technician can see where he or she can grow in our company. We have an aggressive training schedule and an apprenticeship program for younger techs. In an effort to improve retention, we are doing employee satisfaction surveys to gain a better understanding of what the issues are with the associates. We share the results of the surveys with the employees and make changes where feasible. You have to be proactive, not reactive, if you are going to profitably grow your business.

Chuck Frank: It sounds as if the question is geared toward IT companies with technicians. As an Engineered Systems organization, we remain focused on staying current with both industry and non-industry compensation and benefit programs. With our corporate culture supporting value-based services, we believe our place of employment, atmosphere, compensation plan and benefit packages must provide value propositions to retain and attract high-level team members. Over the years as our organization has grown, we remain focused on three philosophies: set high expectations, hold associates accountable, and encourage them to stay focused on their professional and personal goals. By following these philosophies, the message remains consistent specific to the core values of AHS. In being consistent with our message, our associates have been great recruiters. Our business partners have also been beneficial in referring candidates our way.

Rex Mecham: We need to improve and enforce our standards. We need to create an environment and culture that is second to none and better than competing industries. We are investing money to make our service departments cleaner and brighter than the local BMW car dealer. We insist on performance standards where only the best will want to associate with us. We have spent more in training and upgrading during the past year than in the previous ten years combined. Word of mouth is the best recruiter. Good people are attracted to a good environment with growth opportunities.

We try to create an environment where a high-caliber person looking for a career can see us as an ideal opportunity. We let people know of the examples of our existing associates and their career growth. We also struggle with this challenge, but up to this point we have met our current needs.

Dave Reder: MHEDA is actively promoting our industry. Students and professors from four colleges attended this year’s convention. This is and will continue to be an ongoing focus of MHEDA. Locally, we work closely with trade schools to attract talent. We hold open houses for students to see what we offer. We sell our training programs and benefit packages to the students. I believe a strong internal training program is a big key in attracting skilled labor to our organizations. We have also donated trucks to the schools for use in the classroom, which exposes the students to forklift trucks.

Stan Sewell: We have established two internal technician apprenticeship classes consisting of 8 to 12 high school or technical school graduates. These students are recruited locally by our branch managers and must successfully complete our mechanical application requirements. Utilizing hands-on experience, shop mentors and a one-year curriculum of technical training, we strive to keep our technician numbers constant with retirements and turnover. For management succession, I believe it is important for us to fill the leadership pipeline with at least two to three management trainees every year. These can be college graduates or high-potential internal candidates willing to relocate.

In terms of marketing our company as a rewarding career, it boils down to creating a work environment that encourages employees to be engaged in the business. Communicating our business vision and strategy, providing appropriate rewards and helping people learn and grow in their roles are ways to attract and keep the best people. We try to get this message out at job fairs at selected technical schools and some universities where we recruit. As an industry, we all have a long way to go in building awareness of the benefits of a career in material handling. MHEDA is working with several organizations and colleges to help broaden this message.

Jerry Weidmann: Certainly, the labor shortage is one of the most vexing problems facing our industry and many others. The marketing of our industry is done on a number of different levels.

  • MHEDA formed an Industry Advocacy Committee years ago to address this issue. MHEDA is sponsoring advertising, printed and electronic magazines and communications. MHEDA is working with colleges and universities to support material handling as a career.
  • MHIA sponsors trade shows and provides research and outreach to colleges and universities.
  • Magazines such as The MHEDA Journal, MHEDA Edge (for young executives) and other publications provide information on the material handling industry and its players.
  • Manufacturers and dealers participate at different levels with high schools, tech schools, colleges and universities.

Wisconsin Lift Truck partners with trade schools to recruit technicians, participates in career fairs, makes presentations to students and provides equipment. This pro-cess has enabled us to hire apprentice technicians to build our staff for the future. We pay referral fees to our employees for referring qualified candidates. We use online services such as monster.com and careerbuilder.com. We also issue press releases on our staff promotions. This provides free advertising for our company and our industry. It is our expectation that our efforts to recruit and retain key personnel will require increasing resources, including wages, benefits, training and recruiting, over the coming years. We invest in training specific to our technicians with a technical training staff, which we promote to recruits. Knowing we provide training is often a significant factor in technicians selecting careers with us. We will make increased investments in systems to increase the productivity of our staff to support our growth. This will allow us to leverage the knowledge and skills of our experienced staff.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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