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Ask Your MHEDA Board: Recruiting

“How has your company been impacted by and addressed the skills gap and what recruiting best practices can you share with other MHEDA Members?”
Asked by Dana Hopkins, President, Western Carolina Forklift, Inc. in Greensboro, North Carolina

Buddy Smith, CEO, CMH Services, Columbia, SC

We use a lot of tools and sources to find candidates including many on-line sources, military and veteran organizations, and some industry specific sites.  We also send an e-mail out to all associates when a job opens.  We ask that any associate who knows of anyone in their family or a friend who meets the job qualifications to contact our HR department.  Finally, we have worked hard to create a “Careers” tab on our company website which details current job openings.  Of course, finding qualified candidates is just the beginning. We employ several on-line pre-hire tests as well as in-depth multiple interviews to ensure we have the right person.  Finally, once we have the right person, we assess any training that may be necessary.  For training, we use our manufacturers, local technical schools and MHEDA’s new Learning Management System.

Mike Vaughan, CFO, Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc. E. Syracuse, NY

Liftech’s experience addressing the skills gap has had mixed results. We have yet to be negatively impacted by retirements but we can see when those days will come. We have hired thru ASK YOUR BOARD EXPERT ADVICE acquisition and organically to meet revenue growth. The hirings have required us to evaluate our onboarding and training programs and address our ability to deliver those services. We have increased the staffing of our technical help and training center and our safety training department. What we have found is that there is much technical content that is available thru our manufacturers and there’s managerial/soft skill content available thru MHEDA’s Learning Management System. Now we are in the process of organizing the content into a learning and training path for the primary position skill sets. The skills gap certainly puts a premium on the personnel and employee development. If you can create a sports analogy it would be to develop a player development system like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Antonio Spurs or New England Patriots…..all franchises that can attract talent but then translate talent into performance thru a great development system.

Ted Springer, President Springer Equipment Birmingham, AL

It’s certainly no coincidence that MHEDA’s number one Critical Impact Factor speaks to the challenges of recruiting and retaining employees further contributing to the added challenge of wage inflation. Most every distributor, OEM and customer we speak with is impacted by the skills gap that CIF number one addresses, our distributorship certainly is no exception.

As most experienced technicians are employed in longterm positions, we are continuously recruiting and interviewing potential candidates for many positions in our company on a full time basis. Waiting for a specific position to be filled prior to the need arising is a bad strategy! We search websites for candidates and always follow up immediately with employment inquiries that we receive on our websites. We have also had limited success with recruiting services as they are not as familiar with the material handling industry but have had some success with technicians, parts and administrative personnel they have provided.

Our company is very proud of our employees who are U.S. Veterans and we work hard to attend military job fairs and “Welcome Home” events in order to continue to employ 20% of our total employee workforce as U.S. Veterans. These men and women bring the highest degree of motivation to the job and help fill the skills gap in a shorter time frame than anyone else from outside our industry.

We are competing with many different industry groups for talent and other trades are more visible than our industry. MHEDA is working with MSSC as discussed at convention and efforts are underway to craft a CFT, Certified Forklift Technician, program in the near future. If this initiative is supported 100% by our members as we anticipate it to be, we should be able to grow more awareness along with more well trained technicians than we have to choose from today. Further helping to narrow the skills gap, that will only increase in time.

We must be much more creative in our thinking than in previous years as engagement, motivation and reward carry a different meaning to those who are new or will be entering our workforce in the coming years.

Van Clarkson, President Fairchild Equipment, Menomonee Falls, WI

The best way to answer this is list all the things we’ve done. Technicians, as we all know, are our biggest challenge and make up over 50% of our work force.

  1. We’ve partnered with technical colleges and HS shop programs (donated trucks and paid internships while in school).
  2. Appointed a Director of Safety and Training with a recruitment target.
  3. Attended all area job fairs and engaged the local workforce development offices (displaced workers, under employed, etc.).
  4. Military recruitment agencies. Lots of technically inclined veterans are out there transitioning out of military.
  5. Be active in your communities with Give Back Programs and local charities. Get the name out there!

John Gelsimino President, All Lift Service Co Inc. Willoughby, OH

Like most members, we have experienced challenges related to recruiting & retaining employees to fill the skills gap. We continue to adapt our techniques with each new hire. It is important for all of us to recognize things that worked well and areas where we need to improve going forward. “What we have always done” no longer applies when trying to solve a problem of this magnitude.

For recruiting we haven’t done anything revolutionary but we participate in local tech schools and have had luck with word of mouth from existing employees. When an existing employee tells a friend what a good company All Lift is to work for, that goes a long way and is the ultimate compliment. We have recently partnered with a local college and have begun an internship to get more talent and build awareness for the office and sales side of the organization. It is important that we consider how we appear to a new applicant. We have been doing a better job of explaining in detail our culture and the overall “way we do business.”

As for retention, this is an area where we have been doing a better job in recent years. We set an expectation by having in writing a “Two Week” plan. Each day we outline in detail what they will be doing and setting the expectation. It is important for the principal to have lunch with the new employee on day one. This can either be one on one or with the entire department. Both work very well depending on the position. I also meet with the employee and their manager the first and second Friday. This allows us to recalibrate our schedule or refine what we are all trying to accomplish. We have also adjusted the newer employee’s reviews to every six months. New employees are looking for more feedback and we are finding that most employees prefer a six month review even if there is no monetary increase. As we all know the first year is the most critical as it pertains to employee retention.

After each new hire, you should ask the question “How can we onboard the next employee better than the last?” We are all good at talking about the “Customer Experience” – what is our “Employee Experience?” None of us are perfect – but we should have a system in place where we evaluate ourselves after each interview and onboarding experience. If we are improving each time, then we know that we are heading in the right direction.

Good luck and Happy Hiring!

Tom Albero, President & CEO, Alliance Material Handling, Inc. Jessup, MD

This is a tough one. I wish I had the magic pill answer but I think there are so many possible answers that it really depends on the size and territory of each dealer. The first step is patience and matching up new employees at all levels in the company with senior long-term industry employees. The skills gap cannot be corrected in a short period of time. We have so much wisdom within our long term employees and they are more than willing to spread this wisdom to the new employees that have chosen to enter our industry. As we all know, once a new employees learns the industry and understands it, they likely will never leave it. I was fortunate enough to enter this industry 16 years ago and had such enormous amounts of wisdom that has been shared with me over the years. The Millennials that are entering our industry are hungry for knowledge and have grown up with more involvement at the parent level than any other generation. We have found that Millennials enjoy the senior (parent) / junior relationship and while they are learning from the senior employees, their minds are always thinking about ways to improve everything. The key is letting them implement many of their ideas even when we know that some will be a mistake. Millennials are much quicker learners and will typically find a solution to their mistake before an end conclusion is reached. The recruiting process is much harder. We have increased our professional human resource department to two full time and two split time employees. We have significantly increased our referral bonus and matched a signing bonus to the new employees. This has been very helpful but also needs support from our efforts on recruiting at job fairs, vocational schools and social media. Our efforts here have only just begun and we are improving in this area every day.

Jeff Darling, VP Operations, Washington Liftruck, Inc., Seattle, WA

This issue is one which we view to be the most Critical Impact Factor in our business today (and has been for some time).

the past 5+ years we have initiated a number of strategies in an attempt to recruit more talent and prospective employees by:

  • Developing a relationship with a local technical school and community college where we:
    • Provide tools and used forklifts that they can use in their training program
    • Hire students as apprentice mechanics o Perform mock interviews with graduating students
  • Interview graduating students from Universal Technical Institute (UTI) – a great technician training school with 12 locations throughout the U.S.
  • Offer $750 Referral Bonus’ for journeyman technicians
  • Offer Sign-On Bonus’ up to $5,000 for journeyman technicians
  • Paying for tuition and books for courses taken outside of the work environment

At the same time, to retain employees, one needs to get and keep the individuals engaged in the business.  This is an ongoing process that I gave my perspective on in the First Quarter 2017 Edition of the MHEDA Journal (See page #22).  As I’ve stated time and time again “we’re not in the liftruck business, we’re in the people business.”

Scott Lee, President Conveyor Solutions, Inc. Schaumburg, IL

Recruiting Employees is our biggest challenge. We are experiencing significant growth opportunities and need to invest in all areas of the business. This includes office staff, technicians, engineers, and the sales team. Like most of you, we find it difficult to absorb the significant charges “Head Hunters” are demanding. Instead, we’ve opted for the “electronic search.” This includes Linked in (both free and paid) and Zip Recruiter. We’ve also implemented a new Employee Referral Program. While none of these solutions is the magic bullet, the combination has produced enough candidates to fill the immediate positions we have available.

Todd Maxwell, COO, RMH Systems Waukee, IA

At RMH Systems we put a great deal of resources into hiring the right individual and measuring the skills gap prior to an offer so that we have a good idea what we need to focus on when the employee starts. Once we hire the individual, we focus on the most important part of any new employee’s start, the onboarding process. It is so important to make sure that the new employee feels like they made the right decision that first day of work. To make sure we get off on the right foot, each new hire has a customized orientation program that covers the key areas to make them successful. For example, for a new salesperson, we will cover the following topics: key contacts within the company, sources of data to locate potential customers, direct marketing programs, products, vendors, vendor training opportunities, training scheduling, Manufacturer Representatives, Rep training opportunities, ERP training, CRM training, Inside Sales training, Ride alongs with salespeople, ..etc. The Orientation program lasts a year; however, the majority of it is completed in the first 90 days. There are monthly meetings to make sure that the program is being followed and the new employee is receiving the support they need. When we discover a skills gap that can be addressed by outside training, then we will send the employee to the appropriate class to rapidly close the gap.

Mark Nelson, President Nelson Equipment Company, Shreveport, LA

The first thing in recruiting and retaining employees is to recognize that you are competing for a skillset that is also desirable by every other industry in your market. You are competing in a Global market for the best talent you can find. So is everybody else. The difficulty is less about finding the talent and more about putting together a recruiting package that entices the available talent to give you consideration. That means tapping into what your particular marketplace is looking for in a career and then customizing it to the particular candidate needs. This is probably the biggest evolutionary change in the process over recent years. You can’t apply a cookie cutter approach to the individual candidate. Compensation, benefits, incentives, workplace environment, overall culture are all factors that you no longer can ignore. You must have a response to meet all of these areas. Meeting some is no longer acceptable.

Then, heaven forbid, you catch one! Now what are you going to do? You better have an answer to that also. Younger employees come looking for a purpose and a challenge. They need to be engaged and feel valued especially when they provide value. Failure to recognize this and you will be back to the recruiting phase once again. You must engage the engagement process. Funny how our recent Convention theme focused on this. If you are not fully engaged in each employee, you need to create an environment that it becomes second nature. Do you have a process that recognizes exceptional work effort? Do you provide opportunity for peer to peer recognition of the same.

Oh, and one last thing…If you get that all set in place, keep improving on it. The marketplace is doing the same thing.