Finding and maintaining adequate staffing is arguably the biggest challenge supply chains face today. Warehouse managers struggle to find enough workers to keep their facilities running. Trucking companies are chronically short of drivers. And technology companies and service providers can’t find the talent they need to move their operations forward.
As the labor crisis worsens, DC Velocity is offering three perspectives on finding and retaining a first-class workforce. The interviews in this series, which will continue in our March and April issues, were conducted for “Supply Chain in the Fast Lane,” the podcast coproduced by our sister publication, Supply Chain Quarterly, and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).
In this first installment, Supply Chain Quarterly Managing Editor Diane Rand speaks with Charlie Saffro, president and founder of CS Recruiting. Saffro has more than 14 years of direct recruiting experience within the logistics, transportation, and supply chain industries.
Q: Your firm specializes in supply chain and logistics recruiting. What positions are companies having the most trouble filling, and what skills are most in demand?
A: It is probably one of the most unique markets I’ve seen since I began recruiting in this space. Sales talent across the board is very much in demand right now. We generally see a need for sales talent all 12 months of the year, but a lot of companies build up their operational teams in Q1 and Q2, and then are ready to bring in the [recruiters] to sell for the second half of the year.
Beyond that, I would say that we’re seeing some really unique niche positions, particularly on the shipper side of the business. These positions could be within manufacturing, procurement, distribution, or the transportation function, but they are generally specific to either a mode or a commodity where employers want to invest in a game-changing hire that can come in and help them build out their area of expertise. We are seeing roles like that at all levels, though I would say manager and up is what’s trending right now.
Q: You presented a session at last fall’s CSCMP Edge Conference with the intriguing title “You can’t recruit if you can’t retain.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
A: Yes. We see ourselves as different types of recruiters in the sense that we really focus on matching the right person with the right company, and we are very focused on the human as part of the process.
I truly believe that in order to recruit well, you have to start with a solid retention strategy. Assuming a business is established, it already has at least one employee, and that is where the recruiting process begins. Having a culture and a certain vibe in the way a company treats its employees internally is what it’s all about right now. Employers need to start by looking internally and figuring out what they offer to their current team members. Where do they fall short? Because at the end of the day, that all translates right back into their recruiting strategy and tactics.
Not only are you creating “culture champions” and word-of-mouth referrals, but you are also fostering a positive perception of your talent brand when you can retain well. Then, as you transition into that recruiting step, you are able to sell an exciting opportunity to candidates. You can use examples of team members who have had successes and examples of how your culture works and how your employees feel because those are really what candidates are looking for right now. I truly believe that it starts with retention, and then you leverage that culture and that retention piece that you’ve built to recruit new talent for your team.
Q: On the other side of the coin, what are the most common reasons that supply chain managers leave a company? Is it all about the money or is it something else?
A: It is not all about the money anymore. Definitely money is a factor—I can’t deny that everybody works to support themselves and achieve financial security. I put money into the same bucket as benefits and maybe some additional incentives.
However, since the onset of Covid, I think the mentality in the candidate market has changed dramatically. Maybe money was the number-one reason people looked elsewhere before the pandemic, but now it is probably the fourth or fifth reason.
When it comes to why people leave a company, I’d say the number-one reason is workplace toxicity—companies that have toxic environments. That is really what we hear most often from candidates that are either actively or passively looking for a new opportunity. A toxic environment can stem from a number of things. It can be poor leadership, poor management, lack of recognition, or burning people out by not recognizing or understanding their capacity limits.
There is also a [whole population] out there that feels they are approaching the ceiling in their company, meaning that they won’t be going anywhere unless their boss goes somewhere, and their boss won’t be going anywhere unless their boss goes somewhere.
Candidates want to feel challenged. They want responsibility, and they want to do more. So when they hit that ceiling—that is, they feel they’re ready for the next step but the company isn’t there to support them—they’ll go out and look externally to grow their career vertically.
Those are really the two things that are coming up before money right now in terms of why people are leaving. What I call “culture” is the first reason, and opportunity is the second.
Q: What are some retention practices you’ve seen that truly work?
A: I can speak from experience here. When I started my firm, I was a one-woman show for the first year, and then I slowly built a team. Today, we have 40 employees, so I really try to practice what I preach. I use my team as an opportunity to beta-test and experiment—to take ideas and see how our team responds to them. What I’ve found is that it comes down to employees wanting to be seen and heard.
There are a number of tactics and policies that companies can implement in this regard, but it starts on day one with the interview process. Candidates want companies that communicate with them, that are transparent with them, and that want to get to know who they are beyond their résumé.
Then once that candidate has joined the company, employers really need to pay attention to the onboarding and development process to ensure the new-hire feels connected to the team from day one. Introduce them to various team members, and maybe let them shadow [their new colleagues] and get to know the people they’re going to be working with.
Then as they start to notch up some wins, you need to have a really solid recognition and appreciation program in place. Recognition and appreciation don’t always have to cost money. They certainly can, but it can also be public and private shout-outs, handwritten notes, or announcing internal promotions on a public platform like LinkedIn. What all of these retention tactics come down to is one-on-one attention from leadership. Employees want to be seen and heard.
Q: What are some retention practices you’ve seen that are not effective?
A: We joke about it now, but putting in a pingpong table or hosting a happy hour at five o’clock every Thursday doesn’t work anymore. I personally worked at a really great company in my second job out of college. It was in marketing, and the company’s “retention tactics” included some amazing perks. We had an in-house chef who would make us three meals a day. We had an in-house masseuse, and believe it or not, we were required to get a massage once a week.
While it was great and it really appealed to me at that point in my career, now I look back and I kind of chuckle because those were just strategies to keep me at the office and keep me working. And, yes, it made my job a pleasure, and I enjoyed it more because of those perks. But that is the stuff that is just not working anymore. You have to think beyond providing a keg or a foosball table.
What is working is flexibility. When employees have flexibility, they feel trusted, and when employees feel trusted, they are happy and they’re going to be more productive and more passionate about the work they’re doing.
Q: Those remind me of the perks universities used to offer to attract new students. It is not really important anymore, right?A: Exactly. We are not in first grade, and we’re not going to be incentivized by a pizza party or pajama day anymore. It is going to have to go beyond that. Whether your employees come to the office or work remotely, there are different ways to keep them excited about the job and the company. Again, it really comes down to treating them like humans. That’s the easiest way to summarize it.