Admit it. Like a host of other youngsters, you dreamed about going to Hollywood when you were in grade school or perhaps middle school. It's a common enough fantasy, but relatively few make it to the movies. When the bubble bursts and reality sets in, most youngsters change course and head to college to study to become lawyers, doctors, accountants, teachers … anything but distribution professionals!
Therein lies the problem of recruiting workers into the distribution business. The plain truth is that your business is practically invisible to most high school students.
"A lot of students are simply not aware of logistics as a field," says Arabella Perez, partnership development manager for Education to Careers (ETC), a program within the Chicago Public Schools that offers career training to high school students. She recalls meeting an executive with the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) who said to her: "Look around this room. Everything in here had to get here from somewhere else. Everyone needs logistics." That's when the light bulb went on, and a partnership between the ETC and MHIA was born.
The Chicago program helps freshmen get started on a path of their choosing from a number of "career clusters," one of which includes logistics. High school students are placed with companies in internships or as "job shadows," take part in site visits, and learn about the business from guest speakers. Companies that have participated in the project include UPS, Federal Express, and OfficeMax.
Executives who have gotten involved in these kinds of programs say it's an excellent way to get the word out about careers in distribution, logistics, and warehousing. "We are very active in education," says William Bonner, senior director of external relations for OfficeMax. "We work to help the teachers bring relevance into the classroom."
Today, companies like OfficeMax are expanding their educational outreach programs to locations all over the country. And a few are even reaching out to younger students, those in the 6th through 8th grades, to encourage them to consider distribution as a possible career. The objective is not so much recruitment as education, according to Bonner. "We tell students, if you want to go to college, by all means go," he says. "But if they want to go into our industry right out of high school, we show them it can be exciting and inviting. Not everyone can be a movie star."
Though most of the outreach programs are aimed at students, several companies have begun targeting teachers in their efforts as well. "We find that in all the communities where we have plants, it is extremely helpful to bring teachers and guidance counselors, as well as students, into our facilities," says Steve VanNostrand, vice president of human resources for lift truck manufacturer Raymond Corp. Many times, teachers have only a vague notion of what the distribution profession entails— if they're aware of it at all. "So the key is reaching out to those who have an impact on the young at an early age," says Bonner.
Making an invisible profession visible won't happen overnight, of course. It takes time and effort to raise awareness of what goes on in the world of distribution. But those who've gotten involved in these educational programs say it's well worth their while: A small investment of time can bring a remarkable return.