Employers across the U.S. are struggling with a paradox: Despite high unemployment, they’re having a tough time hiring the right person for the right job. Whether experienced sales representatives, skilled supply chain engineers, warehouse managers or qualified truck drivers, good help, they say, is hard to find.
That irks Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is battling a 10 percent unemployment rate in the Chicago metropolitan area at a time when he says more than 100,000 local jobs are up for grabs. “We have companies offering well-paying jobs that have to go begging for skilled applicants,” Emanuel said at the winter meeting of the Conference of Mayors in Washington last month. “At a time when unemployment lines are long, good jobs sit empty. Employers can’t find enough applicants with the right skills. That is unacceptable. It is also fixable.”
Data (PDF): 2012 JOC Logistics Education Directory .
The mayor’s fix: Strengthen the often overlooked and underappreciated community college. “We need to modernize our community colleges so that Americans don’t think of community colleges as a last-ditch effort for a remedial education, but as their first choice for high-skill job training,” Emanuel told fellow mayors.
In an initiative that could become a blueprint for other cities, Chicago is partnering with businesses to revitalize its network of city colleges, starting with Olive Harvey College and one of Chicago’s core industries, transportation and logistics. “Olive Harvey College will be our center for excellence in transportation, distribution and logistics,” Emanuel said.
The city and college are partnering with UPS, Canadian National Railway, BNSF Railway, aerospace company AAR and Coyote Logistics, one of the fastest-growing third-party logistics companies in the U.S.
In the next 10 years, Chicago will need 20,000 new transportation workers, Emanuel said, noting Chicago’s seven two-year city colleges have more than 127,000 students. “Community colleges were the catapult for the World War II generation coming home from the battlefield, the generation of Americans who became the most economically productive in American history,” he said. “They can serve that same function in the 21st century.”
Chicago’s “College to Careers” initiative is one example of how 21st century economic demands are propelling business and academia into a closer relationship. Enterprises of all types, including logistics and transportation operators, are reaching out to schools and campuses of all types — from high schools and two-year community colleges to four-year universities and graduate schools — to recruit the talent they need.
“The business community is driving the talent of the future,” said Lynn Brown, associate director of the University of North Florida’s Transportation and Logistics Flagship Program in Jacksonville, Fla. “They’re helping educators design curriculum and giving students opportunities to develop themselves professionally.”
At UNF, corporate outreach includes donating more than $1.3 million worth of logistics software to a technology laboratory designed to give students experience with the types of systems they likely will use when they land a full-time job.
“Practical experience tips the balance” for UNF’s logistics students, Brown said. “The job market is very strong for students with an academic background and practical experience. Companies are looking for students with a track record.”
Many U.S. logistics and transportation operators are eager to hire in 2012. Penske Logistics and Penske Truck Leasing will hire 3,500 people in the U.S. and Canada this year, from supply chain engineers to vehicle maintenance technicians. The company said the new hires are needed to keep up with demand as the domestic transportation sector outstrips the general economy in recovery. Last year, hiring exceeded internal expectations by 74 percent, said Ken Hurley, senior vice president of human resources at Penske Truck Leasing in Reading, Pa. The company expects hiring to exceed expectations in 2012 as well.
Chicago-based Coyote Logistics shows little of the uncertainty clouding the hiring outlook at many corporations. Coyote plans to add 400 positions in 2012 to support growth that Inc. magazine put at 1,437 percent over three years. The company had $21.3 million in revenue in 2007 and ended 2011 with about $570 million in total sales, said Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing and communications, up more than 70 percent from $328 million in 2010.
Most of the new positions will be in sales and support roles that Coyote needs to fill to keep growing quickly. “The bulk of those jobs will be in developing our carrier relationships and expanding our network,” Navta said. Most of them will be located on the north side of Chicago, where Coyote relocated its headquarters last year.
Coyote hopes to fill more of its positions through its partnership with the city and Olive Harvey College. “For us to sustain and manage our growth, it’s essential to manage our staff and to have the right culture,” she said. “Training, technology and carrier sales are going to be very big for us.”
Coyote, along with the other companies participating in the initiative, will help develop a logistics curriculum for the college, providing instructors and training opportunities for students. The 5-year-old company’s more than 500 employees — many of them in their 20s — are enthusiastic about the program, Navta said.
“The mayor and our CEO, Jeff Silver, had been talking about the partnership, and he told our employees he was looking for one or two people to help,” she said. “Right away, there were 70 people who said they wanted to be part of this.”
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Logistics companies are deepening their ties with higher-level colleges and universities as well. Transplace last month launched a talent acquisition program based on long-term partnerships with several logistics schools. “This program is part of our broader talent development strategy,” said Adrianne Court, chief human resources officer at the Dallas-based logistics operator. “We’ve identified six schools that we believe have a good-to-excellent logistics programs we’d like to leverage.”
Transplace will work closely with logistics educators at the University of Texas, University of Tennessee, Penn State University, University of Arkansas, University of North Texas and Iowa State University, she said. The relationship goes far beyond participating in the traditional college career day employment fair, Court said.
“It’s important for business to communicate with academia to prepare students for the future,” she said. “We will be bringing our executives and customers onto campus to participate in educational sessions. We’ll be providing white papers and business cases for use in the classrooms.” Part of the goal is to build the company’s brand, or reputation, as a prospective employer on campus.
The company, which has about 700 employees, plans to hire about 50 people as it increases revenue about 15 percent in 2012, Court said. “We want to add our front-line team, to add engineering and consulting talent. The toughest thing is identifying the people who have the specific competencies that are necessary for our growth.”
One short-term goal is to hire six to 10 new college graduates this year. “We’re offering new graduates a one-year guarantee,” Court said. “If they come and find out we’re not a fit sometime within the first year, we will aggressively help them find their next opportunity, wherever that may be, with a customer or competitor.”
The new graduates will enter Transplace’s professional development program. “They’ll hopefully become our future leaders or subject matter experts,” she said.
Transplace also plans to hire interns who will return to campus next fall as “ambassadors” for the company and logistics. “It’s a goodwill role,” Court said. “While we are one of the largest 3PLs, we’re fairly new on the campuses.”
She said the company is looking beyond its six partner universities to local colleges such as Chicago’s city schools. “Going to these major colleges isn’t necessarily the total strategy for us,” Court said. “Investing in local colleges may be part of our strategy as well.”