August 2006 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Taking the Bite Out of Crunch-Time Staffing

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Seasonal hiring is one of the biggest challenges an operational manager is likely to face. Finding enough workers with the right skills to get the job done when projects are due, orders are set, and deadlines are looming can be daunting.

How did seasonal hiring become such a challenge? Chances are, "human resources expert" was not part of the job description when most logistics professionals opted for this career. Yet it's an issue that regularly rears its ugly head.

Determining the best solution for seasonal, or "crunch-time" hiring has long been a challenge. It is difficult to find enough workers to fill the jobs that come and go with the seasons, but it is particularly challenging to find workers with the necessary experience to get the work done quickly and efficiently and who are willing to come to work as needed.

And if the manufacturing or warehouse facility is geographically isolated, just getting staff to the job site poses yet another logistical nightmare.

In an industry where business is likely to be seasonal, or production schedules create peaks and valleys impacting staffing needs, several key pointers can keep you ahead of crunch times that are just around the corner:

1. Determine the value proposition. In the real-world staffing equation, flexibility equals productivity. Being able to move swiftly when the work comes in may mean taking a look at the processes you use today and considering what changes may be necessary to get a facility operating at peak efficiency. Simple changes to "the way we've always done it" could make a significant impact on the bottom line.

2. Turn down turnover. The high cost of turning over staff will eat away profits faster than any mogul can say, "You're hired!" Develop and maintain a pool of qualified workers to call on when necessary. Consider the national automotive and home entertainment manufacturer who did just that and reduced contingent workforce turnover during peak seasons by 37 percent while increasing worker retention by 119 percent.

3. Put the right skills to work. Don't hire forklift drivers when you need pickers/packers to get the work done. Identify the skills needed to complete the project efficiently, then hire and train appropriately.

One international home storage products manufacturer developed a customized training program that resulted in new hires being 75-percent productive after 12 hours on the job and 100-percent productive in just 36 hours.

4. Be a coach, not a cheerleader. Even workers who are on the job a few hours a week or a few days a month want to feel they're a valued member of the team and that an investment is being made in their role with the company.

Follow the lead of one international home supplies distributor to see measurable results. After implementing a customized performance coaching program for its inbound and outbound talent pools, this facility increased inbound productivity by 39 percent and outbound productivity by 10 percent, all within a 12-week crunch period.

5. Find strength in numbers. It is frustrating to attempt to manage a workforce that comes in and out of your facility as needed. Consider partnering with a staffing provider, instantly expanding your internal human resources capabilities.

There's no time like right now to begin planning for peak times. The benefits of advance planning in hiring practices will continue to pay benefits well beyond the next seasonal flurry.

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