The value of care when fighting with talent scarcity and a growing skills gap

Over the course of the last 4 weeks our experts looked into the two major human resource challenges that transport and logistics businesses face nowadays – emergent talent scarcity and skills gap. Transport and logistics professionals were asked to share their preferred strategies to deal with them. Their responses also gave us a glimpse on intrinsic issues that mark the industry from within.

To put in perspective, let’s remind us the characteristics of the challenges in an extract from an earlier article before delving into strategies to solve them:

Talent scarcity. The boomer generation is already ageing with the next generations simply not having the numbers to replace the larger pool needed to sustain the continuous business growth. Labour scarcity is most severely experienced in, although not limited to, warehouses and transport fleets with growing lack of FLT operators and handlers/packers and truck drivers and dispatchers respectively. Either of them forming the backbone of transport and logistics businesses traditionally built around physical locations. Currently the average age of transport mangers is estimated as of 45 while that of drivers is even 57.

Skills gap. Apart from the general shortage of talent due to growing scarcity, younger candidates lacking experience and professional skills emerge. Meanwhile the skills of the majority of the experienced workforce lag remarkably behind the advances of logistics technology and their implementation in practice. What was traditionally done over the phone by a dispatcher and his team of drivers now needs to be better managed within a highly specialized and sophisticated planning and communication software. Similar technological evolution has practically changed the skill-set required in so many jobs across the entire logistics industry.

The defining strategy would be innovative, even disruptive ways to create value for both the businesses and the people while improving of the value proposition towards the workforce and the talent in demand. How to bring those in to practice though?

An overwhelming 69% of the freight industry pinpointed a dispatcher’s work-life ratio as unhealthy and that it needs improvement if transport businesses are to keep and develop their dispatch teams. Dispatching positions are one of prime movers of the core operations after all and also why transportation jobs bear the image of physically demanding, high-stress related, relatively low-paid and very inflexible in requirements and framework. . Now it is our job to redesign the work experience in a dispatch team in a way that the right talent is attracted and the proper skillset is promoted.

Time flexibility: Often the daily decisions and actions of a dispatcher are so time-critical that flexibility might seem impossible. It is not necessarily the case. Creative options can be designed for dispatch teams to manage their work time so that it balances their personal lives better. Good news is that the extra work for planning and running such options can be managed within a company app.

  • Categorize tasks time-wise and follow through: fixed time, doable within an interval, find-your-own-time
  • Allow for flexible shift options: for example 8am-4pm/9am-5pm/10am-6pm or 8am-12am/sports or social break/2pm-6pm
  • Add part-time work in the mix: young parents or care-takers for a sick family member might prefer to work half shifts for example
  • Offer weekly flexibility: compressed workweeks (e.g. 9h MON-THU, 8h FRI, next FRI off), low season Fridays off or leave-early
  • Split workday into focused bursts with 5 minute breaks: multiple short “booster” breaks tend to increase efficiency and reduce stress

Location flexibility: The job of a dispatcher is not intrinsically anchored to a specific location given good connection is available. Still, transport businesses seem to be rather reluctant to adopt remote work in dispatching mostly due to trust issues. However, to regain the trust of dispatchers toward their employer they first need to see the management trust them to work efficiently under no direct supervision.

  • Telecommuting days would allow dispatchers to save some commuting costs and time
  • Fully remote options can boost team efficiency since remote workers tend to spend longer hours. Furthermore, family and friends support is usually felt much stronger at home and tends to improve both confidence and immune response.

Workload sharing: Dispatchers are usually all-rounders but they are also people and some a better with planning, others with drivers on the phone. Some work best in emergencies and others are more intuitive with analytics. Promote a culture of collaborative task sharing and skill diffusion within the team rather than having a group of independently operating dispatchers. In addition, do not forget to “delegate” tasks to smart systems and applications.

  • Share tasks collaboratively within the team rather than operate independently
  • Promote skill diffusion within team and cross-team
  • Avoid unrealistic assignments or prepare for a margin of error
  • Opt for a single channel of communication with drivers (i.e. planning app)
  • Workflow automation of tasks in TMS, telematics and apps

Office events: Add more meaning and value to a day of dispatching, engage socially and regularly relieve stress

  • Leisure/sports/social activities to engage the team
  • End-of-day ritual as a marker of a meaningful day and a stress reliever
  • Go for a ride with the trucks for a day

Now, out of these opportunities to bring balance to a dispatcher’s work-life cycle, the industry professionals seem to favour most location flexibility (42%), followed closely by time flexibility (32%), scoring a massive 72% in favour of the added flexibility. Since balance is an individual experience, creating flexible options to find a comfort fit and striving to balance work and life over time and not strictly every day, would be the key to success.

An peculiar glimpse in the internal lore in transportation is that professionals in the compliance-related departments seem to place their bet on a different approach – workload sharing.

Tackling the second aspect of the challenge, the skill gap, more than half of logistics businesses expect to see skill shortages within 1 or 2 years. Indeed, young new hires lack core professional skills while the aging experienced dispatchers, which make for 4/5ths of the dispatch workforce, continue to lag behind technology advancements. You would not want to go full electric, for example, if your drivers cannot operate the new trucks or your technicians cannot maintain them. Similarly, if the dispatchers are unable to understand the inputs and outputs of new technologies and to act on them in a timely and professional manner, their efficiency will be severely hindered.

Some creative strategies to upskill the dispatch team would include:

Blended learning – a combination of traditional scheduled class-room trainings, online material to learn at one’s own pace and opportunity for online interaction

Mentoring and shadowing – a combination of managerial advice with best-practice transfer from experienced co-workers

Microlearning – breaking complex knowledge into short and stand-alone pieces that can be taught in quick bursts and reviewed regularly

Lunch-and-learn sessions

Considering the multitude of options to learn, taking advantage of new technology trainings to up one’s digital skills and explore more opportunities sounds like a no-brainer. But is it really so? The hectic day of a dispatcher, working over a very short and always changing time horizon, leaves little to time to consider extra effort for potentially enhanced benefits in the future. It is no surprise then that motivation to upgrade their skill set is next to nothing among experienced dispatchers. A trend that is not likely to shift in reverse unless staying competitive in dispatching starts to matter much more and work opportunities become better understood by the employees.

On the other hand, attracting high in demand talent with developed digital skills or interested in developing such might not be an easy task for a freight transportation business given the remuneration and opportunities available for such talent in other industries.

A third of the freight industry professionals, especially those employed in sales (63%), seem to be in favour of innovative ways to learn new and improve existing skill – blended or micro-learning techniques. While opinions in operations are more equally spread, top management is more inclined to attract younger talent instead (60%). Nevertheless, both approaches work best if combined in a cohesive strategy and a long-term effort. Expanding the team with outsourced options abroad or overseas can add more flexibility and resilience to the growth strategy as well.

To sum it up, the reversal of the trends of the Great Resignation of transport and logistics workforce, would require the industry to care more for its people. The care younger candidates are already expecting from their employers, however, covers not only their personal work/life balance, growth opportunities and smart learning techniques, but also care infused in the corporate culture towards environmental, social and economic sustainability. They all become a part of an improved value proposition to potential talent with the right skill set, attitude and work ethics.

Such care asks for a certain change of perspective. From considering people, energy, equipment, suppliers, etc. as pure costs to true exploration of the value of process optimization, responsible use of resources and a fully circular economy. The value of a better-optimized use of energy and resource, a neutral impact to the environment and an enhanced positive impact on people, quality of life and business competitiveness.

The dimensions of the sustainability value potentially created by transport and logistics businesses range across the full spectrum from company-centered to philanthropic as well:

  • Direct economic benefits from energy, zero-waste, shared resources, process, etc. efficiencies
  • Indirect economic advantages of improved competitiveness, such as becoming a preferred supplier who contributes for enhanced sustainability up and through the supply chain to the end consumer
  • Improved employee engagement and job satisfaction due to benefits created for others (so called “helper’s high”)
  • Additional attractiveness for talent in demand though an improved employer image
  • General value for the environment and the public

 The majority of the freight industry professionals (65%) put an emphasis on quality of life in general as the value transport and logistics businesses should care more about. Meanwhile operations (46%) and sales (38%) would focus more on fleet & resource optimization and top management seems split 40%-40% between quality of life and process optimization. Those preferences, however, should not be seen as opposing but rather as complimentary since every little helps when tackling the challenges in front transport and logistics businesses, their people and their environment.