By the end of this decade — that’s only two short years away — industry experts are predicting a 50% shortfall of material handling workers. Worker shortages are already being felt in manufacturing, logistics, transportation, warehousing and fulfillment venues; and it’s only going to get worse (see our November 3 post). The Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) and other industry leaders are spearheading initiatives to build awareness of material handling job opportunities in America’s high schools and colleges, but they can’t do it alone. Each of us must work to change public opinion and entice young people into our industry if we are to survive.
In building awareness of job opportunity in the material handling industry, we will need to update our image with school counselors, students and the public at large. Our efforts to attract new workers are burdened by the outdated perception of material handling workers as unskilled manual laborers lagging at the bottom of the payment and benefit scale. Times have changed. Material handling jobs offer good pay, good benefits and a growth industry, an appealing triumvirate, particularly during the current economic downturn that is forcing many industries to lay off workers.
Of added benefit is the ability of material handling to offer jobs across the educational spectrum. While college grads and MBAs increasingly populate our industry, there is still great appreciation for the individual who moves right into the workforce out of high school, determined to work hard and make something of his life. It’s how many of today’s leaders in the material handling industry got their start, and we haven’t forgotten. The increasing emphasis on automation and system integration in our industry should appeal to the computer-savvy teens and 20-somethings poised to enter the workforce. Material handling jobs can offer young people the opportunity to reap immediate reward from their prodigious self-taught computer skills. And many employers will help workers increase and improve both their technical and business skills through educational assistance programs. The “you learn while you earn” approach can be particularly appealing during a tough economy.
So how can you help get the word out? Visit guidance counselors at local high schools, tech schools and community colleges. Let them know what material handling has to offer their students and leave some brochures they can pass out to students. Volunteer to speak at career day programs. This is a great opportunity to talk directly to students. Invite vocational high school or community college classes on a tour of your facilities and explain job opportunities. Offer summer internships or initiate a co-op (work/study) program through local high schools, community colleges or universities. This is time-honored way to give interested students a taste of the real work world, and many co-op students become full-time employees.
Attracting future workers to the material handling industry is everyone’s job. Get out there in your community and start spreading the word. Our future depends on it.