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Recruiting And Retaining Young Talent

Human resources managers share their secrets

Recruiting young talent is critical to keeping our industry and companies poised for success into the future. But how can an “unsexy” industry like material handling draw in the best candidates from an increasingly savvy talent pool? The MHEDA Journal sat down with three human resources professionals at material handling distributorships around the country to talk about this important issue. Participants in this roundtable include Kristine Coyer, human resources manager at Florida Lift Systems (Tampa, FL); Cheryl Flood, PHR, human resources manager at Associated (Addison, IL); and Sandy Giberson, human resources manager at PeakLogix (Midlothian, VA).

Kristine Coyer Cheryl Flood Sandy Giberson

Kristine Coyer
Florida Lift Systems


Cheryl Flood


Sandy Giberson


TMJ: How much young talent do you have at your company?
Kristine Coyer: Florida Lift has 40 employees under the age of 40, which is approximately 23 percent of our total work force.

Cheryl Flood: Associated’s average age for insurance purposes is 42, which is considered young. About 41 percent of our workers are under the age of 40.

Sandy Giberson: Our average age at PeakLogix is 46, though more than a quarter of our employees are 40 or younger.


In what positions do you typically look to hire young talent at your company?
We’ve recently hired young people in sales and marketing.

Flood: As a forklift company, we are primarily looking to hire field service technicians.

Coyer: Primarily service techs, though some recent young hires have worked their way into Florida Lift’s parts department also.

Flood: Associated also hires interns for various departments, most recently in engineering design.


Let’s start with the technicians. What methods do you use to recruit young technicians into your company?
Over the last several years, Associated has developed a relationship with the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), a nationwide provider of campus-based technical education training. UTI has been an excellent resource for us—we’ve brought in about a half dozen of their graduates so far this year.

Coyer: Florida Lift partners with UTI as well.

Flood: The good thing about UTI is they are a national resource that we can use for all six of our locations.

Coyer: They have students graduating every three weeks. We recruit out of their automotive division, but they also have separate motorcycle, marine and NASCAR divisions.

Flood: Material handling is not one of the tracks of study, but we have a forklift at one of UTI’s facilities to help educate students about our industry.

Coyer: To get the relationship started, Florida Lift attends UTI job fairs, where we tell students about our company and what we do.


What resources are out there for other positions?
For Florida Lift’s sales coordinator and Web marketing positions, we recruit through local colleges. We also partner with a couple of local high schools to recruit part-time help, particularly for the shop.

Giberson: We’ve tried putting ads at several different colleges in our area, but none of those has led to a hire.

Flood: We use some online resources like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com and industry-specific recruiting sites, with varying degrees of success.

Giberson: We’ve tried Monster as well as the MHEDA Gateway program. We found our marketing director through Craigslist.org. We’ve tried Craigslist for sales, too, but it hasn’t worked out quite as well because most of the applicants don’t meet our requirements.

Read more onlineFor recruiting tips from the director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, visit The MHEDA Journal Online.


What source works best?
The UTI program has been our best source of consistent recruiting.

Giberson: I can’t say I’ve gotten a lot of good response from most online sources. Word of mouth still works best.

Flood: No question. Word of mouth is absolutely the best, especially for more experienced technicians. They often call me and say, “I’ve heard great things about Associated. What does it take to work there?”

Giberson: One of our recent hires at PeakLogix worked with my daughter at a previous job and she recommended him. Then he recommended a friend of his to come on board.

Flood: To encourage that, our technicians can earn up to $500 for referring an individual. They receive $100 if we interview the person, $200 if we hire them, and another $200 once they are here for six months.


A lot of research says that the young generation workers are hard to keep for even six months. Once you have a young person on board, how do you engage them and try to retain them?
Associated’s retention rate from UTI graduates is very good, more than 85 percent.

Coyer: Training is the key. At Florida Lift, we put the technicians through the manufacturer’s training to become a certified technician.

Flood: I’ve been recruiting for more than 15 years now, and the first question always used to be, “What are your benefits?” Not so much anymore. I’ve seen a huge shift with the younger talent. Their first question now is, “Are you going to train me?” or “What changes has your company made to stay competitive with the market?”

Giberson: We work really hard on making PeakLogix a fun and comfortable place to work. Everybody is pretty genuine and happy. That’s an important thing.

Flood: A competitive benefit program—medical, dental, short- and long-term disability, life insurance and time off—is still important, too. At Associated, every employee in the company has either a bonus or commission plan based on target metrics within the company.

Giberson: PeakLogix has a booklet called “How We Do It” that everyone gets along with the employee manual that explains all the policies and benefits.

Coyer: Another benefit Florida Lift offers is a safety shoe incentive. We pay half the cost for employee’s purchase of two pairs of work shoes per year.

Flood: In addition to the training, the biggest incentive at Associated may be career opportunity. We like to promote from within, so that’s another way to keep employees engaged. We post all open positions within the company. As long as the employee has been in the position for six months and has a favorable standing, no write-ups or anything like that, he or she is eligible to apply.


What kind of training is most effective?
A mixture of classroom and hands-on. Associated commits to a minimum of 40 hours per year for every technician, and that goes a long way.

Giberson: PeakLogix has lunch-and-learns. Vendors come in just about every Monday to talk about their products. These programs are mandatory for new people, especially the young ones. It’s proven to be a good way to learn the business and the products.

Coyer: Florida Lift’s selling point to the technicians we get from UTI is that they went through two years of school, most likely on the automotive side. Since they don’t know a lot about forklifts, we put them through a four-week program where they spend time in the shop and a classroom environment.

Giberson: For sales personnel, PeakLogix conducts more structured training that is very extensive. The salespeople work with everybody in the company to learn what each employee does and how it all intertwines. We also have an outside sales trainer who comes in and works with them on a one-on-one basis.


So is that like a mentoring program?
PeakLogix’s last two hires in sales both came from other industries. We wanted to let them know that this industry is different and takes a long time to learn. Hearing it from other people at their level seems to help bring them into the business rather than just being thrown out there.

Coyer: Florida Lift has a mentoring program. All of our technicians spend a week with a mentor as part of their 12-week initiation process. They finish a four-week apprenticeship and then get placed with a mentor to help accelerate their learning curve.

Giberson: It’s a new thing we’re trying. Right now, it’s specific to those two employees. Time will tell, but we’re happy with the progress so far.


Is there anything that you do to promote the industry as a whole?
Other industries, such as automotive, airlines and agriculture, lend themselves well to ours. Explaining that the mechanics in our industry are doing the same type of work as mechanics in those industries seems to help draw some interest.


How do you market material handling as a “glamorous” industry to new, young recruits?
Coyer: I don’t know that we’re “bringing sexy back” to material handling by any means, but we have tried to attract folks by playing off the fact that it isn’t the sexiest industry but still has a lot to offer.

Use MHEDA’s Gateway Program to find young talent preparing to join our industry.
Visit www.mheda.org/careercenter for more details.

Flood: It’s really important to try to educate them about all the different products and the different aspects of engineering and design. Oftentimes, I hear younger individuals say, “I had no idea that there are so many aspects to material handling.”

Coyer: Sell the fact that they’re working on the road and there’s a certain amount of independence with the job. Because of our diverse customer base, they get to work with a variety of industries.

Giberson: We work in engineered systems, so we have case studies and pictures of some unique projects. We present those in a professional way, and we see people get pretty excited.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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