Are logistics companies ready for the “Grand Reopening?”
The U.S. economy is poised to come roaring back as the coronavirus pandemic fades, or so we hope. But a rapid return to normal is anything but assured.
The big question, of course, is whether COVID-19 is really on the wane, and businesses are safe to welcome back employees and customers. Beyond that, though, lies the nagging issue of staffing. And here, the problem is twofold: First, how can companies prepare for a necessary surge in hiring? And second, what if there aren’t enough workers to make a “surge” possible?
A severe shortfall of qualified job candidates is currently plaguing many businesses, especially trucking companies and other logistics providers that are struggling to keep product moving to market. Some of that was in evidence before the pandemic struck, due to a combination of record low unemployment across the board and a longstanding, chronic shortage of people willing to drive trucks.
Throw in a global virus, and the state of affairs only grows worse. “It has affected profitability for carriers and other logistics groups, and made it a difficult process to find and keep the right talent,” says Dan Sines. He is chief executive officer of Traitify, a company that uses visual technology to assess the suitability of candidates for job positions.
Multiple factors are responsible for the current paucity of available workers. The extension of unemployment benefits by states and the federal government creates a financial disincentive for some to rejoin the workforce. So do continuing fears over the health and safety of workplaces in a post-pandemic world. Others are reluctant to go back to work due to childcare responsibilities.
One can only hope that the situation is temporary. Some states have already stopped jobless benefits, instead offering back-to-work bonuses for those making a serious effort to be re-employed. President Biden has said his administration won’t be extending federal benefits beyond their current expiration date of September. And many companies hurting for staff are offering substantial wages increases and other incentives to prospective workers. (The recent uptick in inflation is in part a result of higher pay scales being implemented in multiple industries, and logistics is no exception.) So there’s likely to be a flood of applications available to businesses in the weeks to come.
That, of course, precipitates the second dilemma confronting employees: how to handle the surge. Sines calls it “both a blessing and a challenge.” The negative side involves the task of sifting through stacks of job applications to find the most qualified candidates, and bring them up rapidly up to speed.
The need for people is particularly pressing in logistics, which is one sector that didn’t slow down during the pandemic. On the contrary, demand for product by consumers sheltering in place and working from home caused e-commerce volumes to spike to record levels. Somebody had to do the job of receiving those goods in warehouses, processing them for shipment, and delivering them over the final mile.
Sines believes that at least some logistics jobs, such as those in warehouses, will be easier to fill than retail or restaurant positions because they don’t require direct contact with the ultimate customer. “It’s the type of job that attracts people with the ability to be solitary, and more in control,” he says. What’s more, the limited level of personal interaction reduces the risk of infection by a resurgent virus. “Companies can better control health and safety concerns,” he adds.
Surge or no surge, Sines expects logistics companies to widen their search for candidates beyond traditional sources in the months and years ahead. And that could have a positive impact, in the form of a more diverse workplace. “Diversity is a huge opportunity in the logistics world,” he says.
It's vital for logistics providers to be proactive about seeking new sources of talent. Sines says the industry has been “a bit more behind the curve” than other sectors in its hiring techniques over the years. “We’re now seeing it apply the same levels of smart measurement to applicant flow. It’s going to be really important to find out who might be a better fit for various roles.”
Once suitable workers are found and hired, companies face the additional challenge of retaining them. Turnover in the logistics business, especially in warehouses and trucking, is historically high. Sines says companies must do a better job of sussing out individual personalities, and devising ways of engaging them in the workplace.
“One of the challenges in a grand reopening is more frequent job-hopping,” he says, adding that companies can hold on to their workers by offering them opportunities for advancement.
In general, Sines says, “logistics has “more upside potential than just about any high-volume field.” The industry today offers “a tremendous potential path” to positions requiring higher levels of training and responsibility — especially at a time when automation is taking over repetitive, low-skill tasks.
“We have to get people off the sidelines and into new roles,” Sines stresses. “Logistics is well-positioned to do that after the uphill climb of the last two years. We have to make the right choices for the future.”
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