Transport, Logistics Firms Use Workplace as Training Ground for Future Leaders

Swift Transportation

This story appears in the Dec. 5 print edition of Transport Topics.

The skills needed to run a successful transportation company today are quite different from what was required in the past, and that has many firms turning to workplace training and education partnerships to find the right people to help them flourish in a fast-changing business environment.

For many companies, this means a greater push to integrate job training with academic instruction. For others, it means broadening the search for talent to include people with specific skills, such as data analytics, or experience in other industries, such as retail and manufacturing, and using that expertise to improve operations and expand services.

“There’s a lot we can do as an employer to grow opportunities for employees and to help students when they graduate,” said Pat Ahern, director of talent acquisition and development at Swift Transportation.

At Swift, up to 12 individuals are given the opportunity to rotate through different jobs over the course of a year to prepare them for management positions and to help new hires become acclimated to the transportation business.

“I came through the program myself 13 years ago,” said Ahern, a former high school teacher and bank employee who came to work at Swift in his early 20s and stayed on to build the company’s employee development program.

Swift, which is based in Phoenix, ranks No. 6 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Global ship operator Maersk Line created a program that offers up to 50 new hires the opportunity to tra- vel and learn at sites all over the world over a two-year period. The program, which began in 2014, includes a stint in the United States, where individuals are exposed to operations at the Port of Los Angeles and are provided instruction by faculty from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Denver.

“The purpose of the Maersk Line Graduate Programme is to attract bright and ambitious individuals into our business and provide them with a strong development framework towards becoming senior leaders in Maersk,” explained Morten Eilertsen, global talent partner for Maersk Line in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We also get to learn a lot about graduates, what they want, expect and aspire towards . . . insights that can help us improve the way we acquire and grow our talent.”

With the recent decision by Maersk to split its energy business into a separate division, Eilertsen said, the program is being revised to include contributions from all of the company’s transport and logistics business units. These units include terminal operator APM Terminals, freight forwarder Damco, Maersk Container Industry and tug and ocean salvage operator Svitzer.

Eilertsen said the combination of academic instruction and “high- impact” job experiences accelerates the learning process and better prepares individuals for careers in the transportation and logistics industry. “We cannot at this point make final conclusions of where the journey will eventually lead, but we have high hopes and expectations for our graduates,” Eilertsen said.

William DeWitt III, a professor at the University of Denver, said he sees a shift among schools toward embracing the workplace as a laboratory for education and learning.

In another example of that trend, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., an intermodal, trucking and logistics services firm based in Lowell, Arkansas, struck a deal with the University of Arkansas in 2012 to give select managers access to educational programs to further their careers.

The customized instruction program, dubbed J.B. Hunt University, has produced benefits for both company executives and faculty members, said Brent Williams, associate dean of executive education and outreach in the Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

“We’re providing [executives] a better holistic understanding of the supply chain,” Williams said in an interview with TT. “This is about creating value for the customer.”

The interaction with company personnel also gives faculty members valuable insight into business processes and informs educators about the training needs of industry.

The establishment earlier this year of an Institute for Advanced Data Analytics is an example of the university responding to companies in retail and health care industries that want to use data to solve supply chain problems, Williams said.

More than 500 individuals from J.B. Hunt have completed customized training courses offered by the University of Arkansas, according to Spencer Frazier, senior vice president of sales for J.B. Hunt. The courses include a mix of online programs, video and written assignments and are organized on three levels. The first covers basic supply chain fundamentals and terminology, and the second provides more advanced discussions about business processes and how decisions, such as switching from truck to rail for freight movement, can affect the supply chain.

Another “expert” level of instruction is under development and will explore more complex supply chain challenges and is expected to lead to the publication of articles and the development of new ideas, reflecting “thought leadership” by J.B. Hunt and the university, Frazier said.

Already the program has paid off for J.B. Hunt by enhancing sales executives’ ability to win new business and helping to extend the company’s portfolio of freight services from truckload and intermodal transportation to include less-than-truckload, refrigerated and flatbed freight hauling, dedicated contract carriage, facility engineering and logistics.

“It has led to multiple opportunities and the establishment of long-term relationships [with shippers],” Frazier said in an interview with TT. “It’s still a relationship business, but customers are not looking for people who are just pitching products or trying to fit into J.B. Hunt’s world. We need to understand the supply chain and offer solutions.”

Another important goal of working closely with schools, Frazier said, is attracting and motivating a more diverse group of people to work at J.B. Hunt.

“We’re in a competitive marketplace for talent,” he said. “The J.B. Hunt culture is one of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, and we want to identify people who want to be part of the company and who thrive in that kind of environment.”

J.B. Hunt ranks No. 4 on the for-hire TT100.

Transportation and logistics companies employ more than 6 million people in the United States, and the field is expected to generate 270,000 new jobs annually through 2018, accounting for more than 10% of all new jobs, according to the Georgia Center for Innovation. But with demand growing and increasing numbers of current workers and managers reaching retirement age, some experts expect to see a talent gap of as many as 2 million people over the next decade.

“The industry is struggling to find and train quality logistics, transportation and distribution employees,” said Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of APICS, an organization based in Chicago that provides professional certification programs.

In 2015, APICS merged with the American Society of Transportation and Logistics and subsequently launched a new certification program for logistics, transportation and distribution professionals that is intended to help companies develop talent from within.

“The next-level midcareer people are missing skills,” said Peter Bolstorff, executive vice president of corporate development for APICS.

At the same time, Bolstorff said, a rise has occurred in the status of supply chain expertise at the top level of many corporations. “How will we develop these people?” he asked.

For some businesses, the answer is to provide employees with training and educational opportunities.

Gino Fontana, an assistant vice president for Transervice Logistics, based in Lake Success, New York, said he has used knowledge from a Certified Transportation Professional course offered by the National Private Truck Council to advance his career.

“Although I have over 25 years of experience in this industry, going through this process truly filled in a lot of knowledge gaps for me,” Fontana said. “The fact that my employer made this investment in my growth and development motivated me to elevate my own personal investment in an effort to maximize the results.”

Since completing the CTP exam, Fontana was promoted to lead a division of Transervice that manages more than 3,000 pieces of equipment for a customer with locations throughout North America.

Other instances of where business and education are crossing paths are cropping up throughout the country.

In Seattle, for example, the University of Washington is joining forces with Costco Wholesale Corp., Nordstrom’s and UPS Inc. to create an Urban Freight Lab and explore new ways to deliver goods in dense urban environments.

At a high school in South Caro- lina, administrators are working with the Heyward Career and Technical Center in Columbia to help students earn professional certifications in brakes, suspension and steering, diesel engines and electrical/electronic systems.

“Our students are ready and able to go to work immediately after high school,” program consultant David Brigge Sr. told TT.

Joel Dandrea, executive director of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association in Fairfax, Virginia, said the industry is using public events, such as a recent open house at Bragg Crane Service in Long Beach, California, to attract high school students and others, such as military veterans, to consider careers as drivers and crane operators.

The American Association of Port Authorities and Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, signed an agreement giving participants in AAPA’s professional port manager certification program up to six credit hours toward a graduate degree in port management.

“Executives at port authorities today need to have a global view to inform their decision making,” said Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach. “In the past, an engineering background was all you needed to be a port director. Now they need to have a view of the entire supply chain because ports are not just a gateway anymore.”

The PPM program was established in 1995 and has certified 111 individuals. “We wanted to do more,” Hacegaba said. “It’s important to bridge academic and practical training.”

Separately, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a partnership with the University of Southern California to evaluate how information technology can be used to make ports more efficient.

“We must engage a broad network of experts to succeed,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “The partnership offers an excellent platform to do that.”

Although companies around the world spend more than $40 billion a year on leadership and talent development initiatives, many do not see a good return on investment, according to a recent study by Debbie Lovich, a partner with the Boston Consulting Group.

Lovich said employers need to de- velop what she calls “everyday muscles” to develop capabilities by changing the way people work rather relegating training to a separate program.

A recent survey by Manpower Group found that 40% of employers are experiencing difficulties in filling jobs, the highest level since 2007, with more than half of employers now choosing to develop and train their own people compared with only 20% in a 2015 survey.

“Low unemployment paired with shorter skills cycles due to the speed of technological change means employers across the U.S. are struggling to fill positions,” said Kip Wright, senior vice president of Manpower North America. “We see this particularly in manufacturing, construction, transportation and education.”

The lack of quality talent is an issue despite a large number of job seekers in the market.

“Often, the challenge for hiring executives isn’t the quantity of available candidates,” said Jim Lunk, chief human resources officer for Randstad North America. “Instead, it’s the increasing difficulty in finding talent with the right skills and cultural fit for the position.”


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