In September, a survey conducted among CEOs of companies that are members of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) asked respondents what they perceived to be the biggest potential threats to their business.
Not surprisingly, the number one answer was a downturn in the economy. The second? The ability to attract and retain top talent.
That second response was not entirely unexpected. When a group of material handling equipment suppliers, end users, academics, and consultants met this summer to identify the industry's biggest challenges, staffing issues emerged as the top concern. Throughout the three-day Material Handling Logistics Summit (which was organized by MHIA), much of the discussion centered on changing demographics—an aging work force and greater diversity among the next generation of workers—and the increasing difficulty of finding and retaining good employees. It is a concern, summit attendees said, with professional workers and hourly workers alike.
The September survey, which was conducted by the human resources consulting firm Laurdan Associates for MHIA, was an effort to follow up on the summit findings. The study's objective was to determine first, whether executives in the corner office had the same concerns, and second, what—if anything—they were doing about it.
Laurdan President and CEO Ronald Adler presented the survey results as well as his analysis of the findings during MHIA's annual meeting in early October. His main conclusion: Building a diverse work force is fast becoming a business imperative.
We've written a lot about workplace diversity in recent issues of DC VELOCITY, including Walgreens' efforts to hire disabled workers for its new Anderson, S.C., distribution center and programs around the nation to recruit workers who are not native speakers of English.
We have not weighed in on the issue of immigration and how whatever emerges from Washington—if any consensus can be reached—will affect the work force of the future.We will probably have to wait awhile for anything on that front, given the heat generated by the issue and the coming of an election year. But without question, how the nation handles immigration will have profound effects on the work force.
Outside of that, though, businesses around the nation are at various stages in their efforts to promote workplace diversity. In his presentation, Adler said that businesses tend to go through a three-stage process: First, there's compliance, as businesses implement policies to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination rules and statutes. That's what he calls "doing the right thing when someone's looking." The next stage is one in which a business and its managers and employees learn to value differences. The final stage is diversity management, in which businesses seek diversity not only to obey the law or to do the right thing, but do so aggressively because it's perceived as a business imperative.
We still have a ways to go, if the results of the Laurdan survey are any indication. Although 65 percent of the respondents agree that "work-force diversity will increasingly be a factor" in determining their companies' competitiveness, 60 percent acknowledge that they have not yet taken steps in that direction.
As for how businesses can do that, Laurdan suggests a variety of approaches, including outreach efforts, establishing apprenticeship and other training programs, building flexibility into their scheduling to help employees balance work and home life, and setting up formal mentoring programs.
For a long time, politicians have wrestled with the question of whether the nation ought to encourage greater cultural assimilation or celebrate its multiculturalism. For businesses seeking to keep their ranks filled with productive and engaged employees, however, the issue is moot. The work force is becoming more diverse. As one person attending Adler's presentation put it, "We just need people who want to come to work every day."