Building the Talent Pipeline


Expanding the recruitment pool, upskilling and promoting the industry

building the talent pipelineNo industry is immune to today’s workforce challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified talent to fill positions today and in the future, so supply chain members are not alone. In the 2023 MHI Annual Industry Report, 57% of companies surveyed identified hiring and retaining workers and 56% cited the talent shortage as their top challenges.

Preparing the current workforce and building a talent pipeline for the future requires careful evaluation of current practices and identification of new ways to reach potential employees, expand the recruitment pool and train existing employees to take on new roles. In fact, the 2023 report shows a 15% increase in the number of organizations investing in upskilling and reskilling programs, with 41% focusing on working to prepare their workers for new tech-forward supply chain jobs.

“Like all manufacturing and supply chain companies, we are finding it tough to recruit and retain staff,” said Stacy Atherton, chairwoman, MHI member Steel King Industries, Inc. “We all know the reasons for the labor force shortages, but knowing the reasons doesn’t solve the problem.”

joined by crowley leaders, university of north florida students angel perez

Joined by Crowley leaders, University of North Florida students Angel Perez and Anna Paula Melillo (center) were honored for their winning concept of automated partnering to address gaps in the brokerage process during the 2022 UNF Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Crowley. Photo provided by Crowley.

Steel King is addressing the challenge in a variety of ways. “We have hired an individual who is dedicated to recruitment and is able to attend job fairs, school career days and other events to get our name out to people looking for positions and to explain why our company is a good choice to begin a career,” said Atherton. “One of the silver linings of COVID-19 was the spotlight on the supply chain. Our employees were deemed critical and continued working, and people realized how important every position in the supply chain is to every aspect of their lives.”

The increased awareness of manufacturing and supply chain importance does make telling the story to potential employees somewhat easier, but it is critical to keep looking for new ways to reach potential talent, said Atherton. “You cannot assume that what worked five years ago will work today or tomorrow.”

Job fairs are an example of how people’s expectations have changed, so employers need to create a different experience. “People want immediate results, so we offer on-site interviews rather than collecting applications and setting another date for the interview,” said Atherton. “Some individuals even receive offers that day.”

Steel King has partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Mid-State Technical College—two schools in the company’s hometown—throughout the years to provide speakers, tours, materials, curriculum advice and internships. In 2022, the company stepped up its partnership with Mid-State by providing a $250,000 sponsorship to support construction of the school’s Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Apprenticeship (AMETA) Center.

“We are sponsoring the welding laboratory and donating all of the material storage products needed for the AMETA Center, including platforms, pallet racking and safety guarding products, in addition to the financial sponsorship,” explained Atherton. “This is our largest financial donation, but we’ve always worked with local technical and high schools by providing guest speakers, sitting on advisory panels and donating welding equipment and materials to their labs.” Even though the equipment they donate to high schools is used equipment that they are replacing in their facility, Atherton said the donations are very important. “One school representative told us that without our donated equipment and scrap steel, they would not be able to teach welding.”

Although reaching out to college and high school students is important, Atherton believes that for some students, that might be too late. “Middle school students have not made up their minds about what they want to do and are open to new ideas,” she said. Members of the Central Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance target middle schoolers with the Heavy Metal Tour®, held in October. About 4,700 eighth-graders visited local technical schools and toured manufacturing facilities that showcased the educational and diverse career opportunities in manufacturing and the skilled trades.

Demonstrate Commitment to Innovation

Crowley provided financial support to the University of North Florida (UNF), which is located in Jacksonville, Florida—home to the company’s headquarters.

“Our $2.5 million endowment to create the Crowley Center for Transportation and Logistics (CCTL) at UNF was initiated by Crowley’s commitment to supporting the growth and development of skilled and talented individuals in the transportation and logistics industry, as well as our dedication to advancing research and innovation in the field,” said Jen Leonard, vice president of talent strategy, Crowley. “Our robust shipping and logistics services, coupled with UNF’s top-rated transportation and logistics program, made the university a natural choice for collaboration.”

steel king works with local high schools and technical colleges

Steel King works with local high schools and technical colleges to recruit young talent and has seen an increase in interest from female students. Photo provided by Steel King. 

The CCTL was designed to be a world leader in transportation and logistics research, education and industry engagement, said Leonard. “UNF’s commitment to fostering a collaborative environment for logistical growth, development and innovation aligns with Crowley’s vision for the center. This collaboration will help propel the transportation and logistics industry forward successfully,” she said. “By training future generations of transportation, logistics and supply chain leaders, the center will ensure that the local area has a world-class talent pool and leadership for this vital industry.”

Crowley’s support for the CCTL goes beyond the financial commitment, said Leonard. “We provide access to events, resources, industry experts and more,” she said. “For example, we invited UNF students to our inaugural Innovation Expo last April, where they were able to network and learn more about new technologies in the industry from more than 20 startups,” she added.

“Each year, we also partner with the CCTL for an Innovation Challenge, further exposing students to entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Leonard. During this challenge, Crowley employees team up with UNF students to help guide and pitch innovative solutions for real transportation and logistics challenges. “In addition to these learning experiences, we award two $5,000 scholarships per year to UNF students, and UNF students also make up a substantial portion of our internship and year-long development associate programs.”

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