September 16, 2013 3:15 AM, EDT

Schools, Rivals Help Carriers Fill Growing Job Vacancies

By Daniel P. Bearth, Senior Features Writer

This story appears in the Sept. 16 print edition of Transport Topics.

Freight carriers, commercial fleet operators and third-party logistics companies are all putting out “Help Wanted” signs.

Firms are stepping up efforts to recruit service technicians, sales executives, safety managers, information technology specialists and drivers, according to a first-ever Transport Topics survey of more than 125 transportation service providers.

Three out of four fleet executives surveyed said they need people with driving skills and more than half (57%) said they need people with service and repair skills. About one in five respondents identified a need for managers and employees with information technology, clerical and sales and marketing capabilities.

More than 80% of companies surveyed said they are looking to hire people from competitors, while 70% said they get new employees from schools and colleges.

About 30% get new hires from nontransportation companies in their local community.

Company executives and recruiting managers said they are trying to hire people who can help them operate more efficiently and expand and diversify their service offerings.

The search for talent also is taking companies in new directions, with more firms offering training and leadership-development programs for promising young employees and working more closely with colleges and universities to recruit prospective employees.

Freight brokerage firms, in particular, are targeting recent college graduates to fill thousands of entry-level sales positions.

“If you’re willing to sell, there’s no shortage of jobs,” said Charlie Saffro, owner of CS Recruiting, a Chicago-based agency that specializes in recruitment assistance for fast-growing brokerage firms, such as XPO Logistics.

Companies generally provide new hires with about eight weeks of training before they begin calling on shippers to secure freight or helping to line up freight carriers to handle loads already booked. Sales executives can expect to earn $50,000 to $70,000 after a year on the job, and potentially much more.

“The more freight you move, the more you make,” Saffro said.

Gary Suhay, owner of Elite Resources Group in Sevierville, Tenn., said that, while he sees an increase in demand for operating managers and maintenance supervisors, the supply of qualified candidates has shrunk.

“It is more difficult to find qualified people because during the recession, a lot of people left the business,” he said.

Most small and midsize trucking companies don’t have the resources to hire young people and train them, so firms tend to target recruiting efforts at their competitors, Suhay said.

Many of those potential job candidates, however, are reluctant to change jobs because of uncertainty in the market, said Jim Parham, a longtime industry recruiter and a consultant with the consulting and research firm Transport Capital Partners.

“They are more picky,” Parham said. “They want to know the financial status of a fleet before they jump into it.”

A TCP survey of freight carriers in the second quarter found 65% of them having difficulty finding qualified maintenance technicians and 30% having trouble filling operations and fleet manager positions.

For brokerage firms, the focus is on adding sales staff, along with information technology and training personnel, to keep up with rapid growth in the market.

“We need to attract employees who are self-starters, highly motivated and extremely disciplined,” said Kerry Byrne, executive vice president at Total Quality Logistics, a company based in Cincinnati that long has been aggressively hiring.

“We’ve averaged several hundred new hires each year for the last couple of years,” Byrne explained. “We expect the upcoming year to 18 months to be similar.”

Brokerage sales is at the top of the list of “hot jobs” in transportation, said Beth Carroll, a compensation consultant and managing principal at Chicago-based Prosperio Group.

Carroll said firms often look for college students with sports backgrounds to fill sales jobs because of the competitive nature of the work, which often involves making cold calls.

“Some people are making lots of money,” she said. “A large number are making average pay, and some are making very little. There’s a lot of churn.”

At Worldwide Express, a Dallas-based company that resells small package and freight delivery services for UPS and a broader group of 30 to 35 less-than-truckload freight carriers, new employees are divided into “hunters,” who drum up business by cold-calling dozens of businesses each day, and “farmers,” who manage customer accounts after shipping begins.

“We’re a pure sales organization,” said Sean O’Shaughnessy, a former UPS executive who set up the first reseller program in 2008 and joined Worldwide Express as senior vice president of business strategy in January 2011, soon after he retired from a 33-year career at UPS.

“Like UPS, we promote from within, and we’re always looking to attract the best talent,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We’re also known as a really cool place to work with outstanding training programs.”

More than three-fourths of the company’s 400 employees work as account executives, and the company is looking to increase its total head count by 20% this year and in 2014.

“With attrition, that’s about 70 to 100 people a year,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We use social media, job sites, schools, job fairs and referrals from friends and relatives. You name it; we do it.”

The company also is working with the Sales Education Foundation, based in Dayton, Ohio, to identify potential job candidates while students still are in school.

O’Shaughnessy said about 40 schools — including the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University and Michigan State University — currently participate in the foundation’s candidate-match program.

“We look at potential recruits as juniors and seniors,” O’Shaughnessy said. “This allows us to get a good look at them, and they can get a good look at us. We see what they’ve done in school and in sports. We’re looking for teamwork and communications skills.”

Geoff Turner, president of Choptank Transport Inc., said he is hiring 10 to 15 people a month for his brokerage business, which is headquartered in the small town of Preston, Md.

Turner said he works with local colleges to attract job candidates, but he also has found it necessary to open offices in such cities as Atlanta, Dallas and Tampa, Fla., to attract talent.

In March, the company awarded a scholarship to Cameryn Mann, a student at the University of Maryland.

Mann, who majors in finance and business operations, said she recognizes the significance of the business sector.

“Supply chain management has become of paramount importance to a variety of companies’ operations,” Mann said. “The field has been growing rapidly since the 1980s, and companies like Choptank Transport have proven to be successful in assisting their customers.”

Scott Mayfield, president of Kenco Management Services — a division of Kenco Group, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., that provides warehousing and distribution services — said he has 45 to 50 job openings on average every day. The jobs fit into three areas: operations, engineering and information technology.

“The job market has picked up for everybody,” Mayfield said. “We’re finding good candidates through referrals and by tapping into alumni networks for schools, such as Indiana University, the University of Tennessee and Rutgers University.”

Kenco also works with temporary help agencies to fill hourly positions in its distribution centers. Under a “temp-to-perm” arrangement, temporary workers who meet Kenco’s requirements after 90 days are offered a full-time position.

Reliance on third-party employment agencies to find labor is increasingly commonplace.

David Broome, president of TransForce Inc., a national staffing agency based in Alexandria, Va., said his firm is fielding many more calls from employers seeking help in recruiting drivers.

“We’re seeing a large increase in requests for temp-to-perm assignments,” Broome said. “It’s a small part of our business, and it’s something we have to manage carefully because drivers are our inventory and we don’t want to lose a good driver. But it’s one of the services we do offer clients, along with flexible, long term and dedicated assignments.”

To help recoup its recruiting and training costs, Broome said, TransForce would like employers to wait up to a year before converting contract workers to full-time employees or pay a finder’s fee.

Another firm, Impact Engineered Labor Solutions, based in Memphis, Tenn., provides labor for loading and unloading, kitting and assembly and light manufacturing projects at warehouses and distribution centers. The company has come up with another approach that potentially saves money for clients and helps to retain a core group of workers in a business that traditionally has high levels of turnover.

Keny Hatley, vice president of business development, said Impact Engineered Labor Solutions charges a fixed price based on the volume of work to be done, rather than an hourly rate.

“We engineer the process, so we can usually do the work with fewer people,” Hatley said.

To attract and retain workers, the company provides training and performance incentives.

“These positions are difficult to staff,” Hatley said. “There’s no magic wand. We think we’re good at producing leaders, and we treat people fairly — and we’re fulfilling a niche in the warehouse.”

The company currently has about 1,000 workers at job sites in seven markets.