June 2013 | Commentary | Smart Moves

Logistics Staffing: Find a Way or Make One

Tags: Education & Careers

Darren Maynard is DPM Consulting, Inc., 240-580-3760

The saying "find a way or make one" has always appealed to me because it prioritizes the need to first look for existing solutions before coming up with new ones. There is always a solution, and giving up is not an option.

Why, then, do so many companies look outside for new logistics hires rather than invest in training to develop current employees' skills relevant to the organization's needs?

Currently, I am an advisor to five CEOs. One technology company CEO was struggling with finding a strong software implementation staff focused on global supply chains.

Finding new hires was a cost, culture, skills, and scope challenge. The typical candidates were expensive, not very technical, unwilling to work the hours the CEO needed, and unable to handle the growing scope of capabilities required to satisfy the customer base. Perhaps it was worth not finding a way, but making one.

We started by assembling an internal team to identify the core characteristics of exceptional company employees. These characteristics were focused on a strong work ethic, superb analytical skills, and a general ability to learn abstract concepts broadly.

We agreed we wanted "blue-collar" graduates, which we identified as people who worked second jobs, or worked while in school to help pay tuition. We decided business students with math or engineering minors matched the skills we sought. We then contacted universities to start the recruiting process.

Basic Training

Separately, we began to construct our own training program with the company's product managers. This presented its own challenges. With the speed of the company's growth, these managers had never focused on internal training, and educational materials did not exist.

One employee complained that he had to learn the hard way, so why should graduate hires be spoon-fed? We managed to move past this type of reservation, and built a 13-week program. It started with one week of intensive product immersion across all products, and a second week where students had to present products to prove their understanding.

All the training led to extended projects that exposed new hires to different areas of the business; and culminated with them becoming full employees after 16 weeks. The added benefit of this approach was that we could choose the departments they moved into based on both need and their demonstrated skills.

After current employees complained that they had not been given such a broad education, we expanded the training program to include them.

The first year we started slowly, with two classes of three students. Yes, we made mistakes. I misjudged one student's ability to accept positive feedback, and had three graduates in tears by simply asking, "Is this your best effort?"

Today, the company hires 20 graduates a year, the training program is the main source of staffing, and we have had little turnover.

Skeptics in the logistics sector have questioned me on the value of this approach, believing that people will leave immediately after they have been trained and garnered experience from the company. While there have been some cases of this during the past five years, it was only at levels of attrition typical of any company.

The word spread back into the colleges we recruited from, and while we initially had trouble attracting talent when competing with companies such as Microsoft and Google, we now are recognized for the training program and for being an exciting place to work.

When staffing up your company's logistics operations, if you can't find the right employee, make one.