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Future Leaders: Attracting Candidates to Intermodal

As the U.S. economy has steadily grown in recent years, the country’s unemployment rate has fallen and the number of available jobs has risen. And some companies within the intermodal industry have found themselves in a position where they have more vacant jobs than there are qualified workers to fill them.

That, along with the need to bring in younger employees to replace an aging workforce, brings to mind the question of how to attract candidates to the industry and retain them in a time where workers increasingly have more and more employment options. So what can be done to incentivize people to join the intermodal industry and stay within it?

Dr. Marc Scott, an assistant professor of logistics in the Department of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at Georgia Southern University, a participating school in IANA’s Scholarship Award Program, said that one key to recruiting and retention is communicating the relevance and importance of the industry’s impact.

"People want to be part of something important. They need to be shown it is," he said. "Industry association marketing and advertising campaigns can be a lever.

"An example we witnessed several years ago," he said, "was the surge in interest in logistics careers as a result of UPS’s ‘We Love Logistics’ campaign."

Scott also said that technology and disruption’s central role in changing the face of transportation as we know it is key to attracting those interested in innovation.

"Blockchain, platooning technologies, alternative fuel technologies, autonomous, robotics, [artificial intelligence] and [machine learning] – and their very visible applications to intermodal can serve to draw attention and incentivize individuals," he said.

Job Opportunities Increasing

Thomas Corsi, a logistics professor and co-director of the Supply Chain Management Center at the University of Maryland, another IANA scholarship school, said that more attractive jobs and increased opportunities in the industry can serve as incentives to enter and remain in the intermodal industry, and that these things have already been on the rise over the past several years, thanks to online marketplaces.

"The e-retailing explosion has brought transportation to the forefront as individuals become acutely aware of the importance of tracking shipments and ensuring timely and safe deliveries," he said. "Businesses have responded to this new awareness by expanding the role of supply chain managers and logistics and transportation experts in their respective organizations. Thus, greater awareness has led to increased opportunities for business supply chain and operations students in all organizations."

And since no business can thrive without a high level supply chain, transportation and logistics capability, he said, the increased awareness and opportunities mean more attractive jobs in the supply chain, transportation and logistics field that incentivize graduates of leading academic programs to pursue career opportunities in logistics and related fields.

Intermodal Hiring Challenge

Charlie Saffro, the founder of logistics recruiting company CS Recruiting, said that her company, which specializes in supply chain recruiting, logistics and transportation recruitment, doesn’t see a high number of college graduates entering the industry with an intermodal focus because many larger truckload brokerages have created robust training programs that allow them to hire inexperienced candidates and train them in-house.

"These companies have found it to be more cost efficient and enjoy the opportunity to mold talent to their standards and promote within," she explained. "Once individuals gain experience in the industry – generally through brokerage – they will start to develop expertise in [an area like] intermodal and may focus their career in that direction."

Saffro also predicted that the current truckload capacity crunch is bound to increase the demand for intermodal transportation, and therefore result in more job opportunities.

"I often find that individuals who enjoy strategic planning and engineering steer towards intermodal careers where the freight move is more complex," she said. "Intermodal will always be a cost-effective mode of transportation and the industry should continue to boom, so job opportunities will continue to increase."

Corsi said that in order to make logistics careers appealing to younger candidates — particularly those who are in or have recently graduated from college — is stressing that the supply chain, logistics and transportation fields are highly analytical.

"The supply chain professional must be versed in business analytics with a strong [information technology] background and an ability to design and implement leading edge solutions that will enhance and improve the transportation experience," he said. "I think that the challenges associated with enhanced efficiency in the transportation and delivery of goods and services will motivate young professionals to pursue careers in this area."

Those entering the industry must be made aware that some positions within the intermodal industry can be tough, outdoor occupations with long hours and unpredictable schedules.

Best Recruiting Practices

Regarding best practices to use to attract candidates to the industry, Scott said that three things can and should be done to attract more candidates to the industry, with one being making students aware of the career opportunities.

"The multiplicity of job types within logistics, transportation and international trading companies are known to few. A better job needs to be done in articulating the many career options within the industry, both topical and functional," he said. "Students need to be exposed to the ‛corporate’ related jobs in the field, i.e., analytics, data science, strategic planning, marketing, technology — a career path needs to be clearly articulated."

Related to this, he said that older veterans of the industry need to reach out to the younger generation more. "I believe that younger candidates’ exposure to individuals who started in the roles that candidates will most likely assume and show and communicate their progression and ascent can go a long way," Scott said.

Third, highlighting the entrepreneurial aspects of the roles in intermodal careers can be of significance. "Ownership, creativity and innovation resonate with younger job candidates," he said.

Corsi said he believes that the most critical aspect to achieving success in recruiting and retaining candidates is to use a variety of techniques in the hope of generating interest and excitement in the field. He specifically mentioned IANA’s scholarship program at the University of Maryland.

IANA Scholarship Program’s Value

"The scholarship program has provided assistance to a number of leading-edge academic programs in the field of transportation and logistics," he said. "The IANA support has included academic scholarships, sponsorship of academic case competitions around industry-related problems and challenges, sponsorship of student attendance at Intermodal EXPO, and the development of intermodal library information on their enhanced website."

"All of the above," he said, "are instrumental in demonstrating to students the attractiveness of working in the field of intermodal transportation and logistics."

When it comes to the balance between classroom instruction and practical experience for job candidates, Saffro said she believes that while hands-on experience is always the best way to learn, computer and math skills from the classroom are invaluable for any career in logistics.

"A better job needs to be done in articulating the many career options within the (intermodal) industry."
Dr. Marc Scott
Georgia Southern University’s Parker College of Business

"Intermodal transportation tends to require more planning and problem solving and thus math skills translate well," she explained.

Among the qualities that should be developed in intermodal job candidates, she said, are strategic thinking, resourcefulness, being solution oriented, strong communication skills and analytical skills. Also paramount, she said, is a familiarity with modern technology, or at least a willingness to learn about it.

"Any advanced education in supply chain or logistics will teach the analytical side of the business, which is essential for any transportation, but especially a multi-modal shipment which requires fine detail and planning," she said. "Computer skills are essential for any office job and there has been a shift in focus on technology to create intermodal efficiencies, so it’s increasingly important to be tech savvy."

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