Conference Coverage: "Challenges in the Logistics Workforce"

"If you are not evolving and not innovating, you are going backward." This comment by Jon Slangerup reflects what every business has common, and is what drives businesses to continue to address their challenges and find solutions. Both the challenges and the solutions were part of the discussion at the "Challenges in the Logistics Workforce" session in the Transportation & Logistics Solutions Theater on Wednesday.

Slangerup is CEO at American Global Logistics, so is acutely aware of the necessity of evolving. AGL has gone through a lot of change as it has grown, and has grown because it has changed.  Most recently, "the growth has all been on the technology front, the 4PL," he said. "Technology is driving every element of what we do in the logistics environment."

Slangerup was not alone in that observation. The moderator, Meredith Moot of Korn Ferry, was nodding her head as were the other two panelists at the session: Lloyd Knight of UPS Supply Chain Solutions and the president of Vetlanta, and Page Siplon, CEO of TeamOne Logistics.

Knight said that, with technology, if you make it easy to use, understandable and it brings value to your organization, your workforce will embrace it. He added, "With technology, we’ve been able to deskill some of the positions." And that has helped the training curve for the seasonal workers. "We give them an hour of safety training, then they are loading trucks... Technology has allowed us to be able to do that." 

The workforce was another topic that each panelist addressed, as it is another challenge faced by just about every company in the logistics industry. Slangerup said it is a constant competition, where companies are all competing against each other to attract and hire talent. "It is always a chase for the best talent." At AGL, they turned to the basics, trying to make the company a place "where employees love to come to work." They also believe in having a values-based organization, they often recruit through their employees and they hire people who are a cultural fit and believe in the mission.

Siplon said educating people about the industry, so they could prepare for it, was key – and that discussion had to happen well before college. "We really need to start with the youth – we need to start with middle school," he said, sharing that he even takes third-graders on port tours. The problem is with perception, reality and change. "We have to find ways to articulate and change the perception of our industry...We do a pretty poor job of telling the logistics story," he said. "It’s exciting stuff... It’s a sexy industry!" And, we have to start with honesty first when looking for employees. Then, we have to be ready for change. "Change is coming. Change is already here." We used to be a trucking company with technology, he said. "Now we are a technology company with trucks....We have to embrace (change) and how technology is going to impact our businesses."