By: Joanne Cleaver
With baby boomers rushing toward the retirement finish line -- including many in the trucking industry -- transportation and logistics employers are searching for new ways to fill their soon-to-be-vacant seats.
Whether it’s hiring OTR truck drivers or filling the demand for forklift operators, transportation employers are looking for candidates who are collaborative with peers and adept with technology.
A Demand for New Skills
One industry hotspot is in infrastructure planning, design, and construction, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The public transit segment, fueled by $18.2 billion in Federal, state and local appropriations, is hiring for growth as well as to replace retiring baby boomers.
This funding has impacted the demand for civil engineers, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects to rise 20% in the next several years, compared to a 5% rate for mechanical engineers.
Likewise, demand for positions such as logistics managers and supply chain project managers is growing by 24.5%, says the BLS, due to international shipping. These positions manage often complex distribution chains that assure that goods get from one mode of transportation -- such as ships -- to another, such as trains.
Traditional modes of travel, such as air, are growing only at a moderate pace. Air travel is just beginning to recover from the recession, so demand for flight attendants and mechanics is growing only moderately.
Sourcing and Retaining Transportation Workers
Where is the industry sourcing workers? Veterans and midlife job-shifters are two prime areas.
Workers with two decades or more of experience at office jobs often are eager to trade a cubicle for the open road, only to discover that transportation employers increasingly count customer service skills as core competencies, says Lynn Willey, a placement specialist with Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Many students are re-careering,” adds Lynn Willey.
Additionally, experienced hires often have working knowledge of computer systems, although they also must be trained early and often on emerging tech tools.
Jon Beauregard, regional warehouse manager for the Salt River Project, an Arizona utility based in Tempe, says he looks for candidates who can see beyond their own jobs.
“Being able to relate their industry is what the job is here,” he says. “You have to see what their attitude is for training, and being able to apply their experience to new situations. “
Increasingly, transportation managers are focusing on retaining their hard-won recruits. Competitive employers pitch candidates with a scope of internal opportunities, from soft-skills training for those who are interested in management to offering rewards for process improvement for entrepreneurial-minded workers.
How Technology is Transforming Transportation
Mobile technology is transforming the transportation industry, from tracking the location of vehicles, containers and parcels to predicting the location of goods. This has increased demand for skills and experience in the development and management of mobile apps, bar code systems, and remote tracking technologies.
Mobile technologies are a saving grace for transportation employers who have grown weary of trying to recruit younger workers who seek workplace flexibility -- and who frown upon the industry’s requirements for long stints on the road for OTR truckers.
“Gen X and Gen Y, don’t like the work-life balance of the industry, but they do like the high tech tools,” says Stephen Prelipp, a trucking and transportation consultant based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Mobile telecommunications that let transportation workers stay in close contact with their families has dissolved some resistance to the scheduling demands and made it a bit easier to win them to the industry, says Prelipp. Technology has also impacted the role of the dispatchers.
A Growing Need for Customer Service Skills
More than ever, every potential new hire in transportation must understand that their attitude and actions ripple through the workplace to affect customers, adds Beauregard.
From flagging a safety problem to taking initiative with a process improvement, Beauregard looks for employees throughout the operation who can think a few steps ahead of their immediate responsibilities.
“We want customer service as the focus of all operators. They may not be interfacing with the end utility customer but we want them to treat the internal customers with the same courtesy as they might with someone who’s on the outside. That’s basic for us,” he says.