Logistics professionals constantly discuss the acute shortage of truck drivers. However, the pervasive shortage of skilled workers in many other occupations is often ignored or underplayed. The talent management crisis goes beyond drivers to include other occupations, such as coders and programmers, bookkeepers, and clerks. Ironically, the shortage of skilled workers is accompanied by an overage of people who are impaired, unskilled, or have skills that are not needed in today's marketplace.
Demographics play a role in the race for talent. In the U.S., the number of retirees in occupations such as truck driving exceeds the number of people coming into the workplace. Globally, the talent decline is more pronounced where the population is shrinking because of demographics.THE PROBLEM
Simply stated, the problem is this: The need for a variety of educational skills exceeds the number of people who already have those skills.THE ROOT CAUSES
The pool of unemployed workers is increasing because of a surplus of people who have either no skills or the wrong skills. For example, unemployed autoworkers have experience and skills in building cars and trucks, but many have failed to obtain training for new jobs that are in greater demand. Furthermore, many school dropouts remain unemployed due to poor personal choices or behaviors. With a criminal record, they become virtually unemployable. Young mothers may find that child-care responsibilities make it difficult for them to be employed. In some cases, the unemployed are functionally illiterate. Another portion is highly educated and unwilling to accept jobs for which they may be overqualified.
Educational attainment may be another root cause. Sixty-two percent of Americans have attended college, and 40 percent have an associate's degree or higher. Two events in our history may be the cause of this high educational attainment. Following World War II, the GI Bill guaranteed a college education to many veterans, making them the first in their families to earn a degree. Later on, the existence of selective service and wars in Asia caused many college students to stay in school and seek an advanced degree in order to delay being drafted into the military.
Furthermore, compared with many parts of the world, Americans tend to undervalue vocational education. Yet a certified electrician may have greater earning power than a person with a Ph.D. There is little or no institutionalized training for a wide variety of skilled occupations. A truck driving school may teach students how to shift gears and apply brakes, but little attention is paid to coping with the frustrations peculiar to trucking. McDonald's Corp. has its own Hamburger University in suburban Chicago, and Ford Motor Co. established four career academies in Detroit last spring. However, such commitment to organized vocational training is rare in the U.S.THE VILLAINY OF HUMAN RESOURCES?
The July-August 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review includes this headline on its cover: "It's time to blow up HR and build something new." Three articles occupy over 20 pages in the magazine. The first, titled "Why We Love to Hate HR," describes how the activities of human resources have tended to track the labor market throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The discipline is characterized as being reactive and inflexible. One HR head said that the key to his success was, "I do whatever the CEO wants." The article talks about a Maginot line mentality in which HR professionals serve as the gatekeepers. They invest in programs that lack impact, such as the current preoccupation with generational differences. The second article argues that the task of talent management deserves far more stature and respect than it gets today. The third is a case study of one company with an innovative approach to HR.
I believe that corporate America is fighting a new war for talent with the same tactics used in the last war, and that is why the effort is not working. A decade ago, and through much of recent history, the labor market was soft and HR's gatekeeper function was appropriate. However, in today's tight labor market, the chief talent officer should be a recruiter, not a gatekeeper. The HR department should be focused on bringing in great people, not keeping them out. The day is over when you can find a person who has exactly the skills and education needed to perform the job. Therefore, your ultimate success depends on your ability to hire for attitude and then train for skills. Unfortunately, most of traditional HR effort is based upon a search for available skills, overlooking the question of whether the new hire has the attitude and values that will create a successful working relationship. This means that small versions of a "hamburger university" will need to be established in a variety of businesses. It also means that the most successful enterprises will be those that do the best job of hiring for attitude and training for skills.TRAINING VERSUS KNOWLEDGE DEVELOPMENT
Training is the process of transferring information from the expert to the learner. Developing knowledge is the exploration of learner capabilities rather than simply transferring information. The most effective learning is defined by the Latin roots of the word education, which is the drawing out of knowledge rather than the transfer of information. It involves active participation in group discussions rather than delivery of lectures. Job skills are sharpened by coaching and on-the-job practice. The student learns to acquire, prioritize, and evaluate information rather than just listening and taking notes.THE ROLE OF STAFFING SERVICES
One way to approach the search for talent is to employ staffing services. Temporary workers become a prime source of employees, and only the best of them are promoted into the ranks of full-time associates. Sometimes, the use of staffing services is a reaction to restrictive legislation. In European nations where labor law makes it difficult or impossible to lay off workers, the staffing service represents a way to retain some flexibility. In today's talent-starved environment, perhaps the staffing service is the third party that might establish a "hamburger university." It could then offer its graduates to a number of different clients."HELP THEM GROW OR WATCH THEM GO"
This is the title of 2012 book by Beverly Kaye and Julie Giulioni. Its message is that continuous coaching is the best way to retain and develop people. A series of 10-minute conversations should replace the traditional performance review. The best workplace culture is a coaching culture.
The coaching process should start with "on-boarding," a process that is either neglected or ignored by many employers. First impressions count, and the first day's experience on the job goes a long way to shape the attitudes that will last for months or even years. The best talent managers closely monitor the impact of on-boarding, looking for ways to improve the process.THE SOLUTION
If you expect to have the most talented work force in the logistics industry, you must find a way to train for skills. If you are unwilling or unable to create your own version of the "hamburger university," then you need to find a third party who can provide education for you.
If your HR people are acting as gatekeepers rather than recruiters, they must either be re-oriented or replaced. Since logistics is an occupation subject to continuous change, your organization must be committed to continuous learning, not just committed to elementary training. If your organization is not dedicated to continuous learning, you may not hold the lead in the race for talent. Maybe it really is "time to blow up HR" and replace it with a broader mission called "talent management."
Kenneth B. Ackerman, president of the management advisory service The Ackerman Company, has been active in logistics and warehousing management for his entire career. The author of numerous articles and books, he co-wrote DC Velocity's "BasicTraining" column with Art van Bodegraven for many years. Ackerman has received many industry awards, including the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' Distinguished Service Award and the International Warehouse Logistics Association's Distinguished Service and Leadership Award.