Help wanted: Employers need workers who can get their goods moving fast

  • Companies across the country are seeking workers to bolster their supply chains — and these aren't just temp jobs to feed the holiday rush.
  • Supply chain logistics is more than warehouse roles and last-mile delivery alone, hence the need for talent across the board. And as seen in many sectors of the economy in this tight labor market, some companies are struggling to find workers.
  • Those with entry-level experience are easy to find, but 46 percent of companies surveyed by DHL said finding middle management to hire is a challenge, and executive level is the most difficult with 73 percent ranking this a high-level challenge.

Companies across the country are seeking workers to bolster their supply chains—and these aren't just temp jobs to feed the holiday rush.

Supply chain logistics is more than warehouse roles and last-mile delivery alone, hence the need for talent across the board. And as seen in many sectors of the economy in this tight labor market, some companies are struggling to find workers.

"It's all of your processes, your systems, your people and organizations that connect your suppliers to your customers — getting all your products from raw material to manufacturing to your distribution all the way through to the end customer," says Rodney Apple, managing partner at SCM Talent Group. "And so the goal is to create, enable and sustain value." Apple has been recruiting talent in the industry for nearly 20 years and says the current shortage of workers to fill certain roles is acute.

Some 2,800 people work in supply chain at T. Marzetti Co. and nationwide across its 17 facilities, and including an expanded location opening next year, the company is looking to hire about 300 additional workers. The company owns Marzetti, Sister Schubert's, Texas Toast and more, and supplies dips and sauces to restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut and Buffalo Wild Wings.

"We work in tight labor markets, and our challenges are in finding lower-skilled and higher-skilled people," says David Nagle, senior vice president of supply chain at T. Marzetti. The company is undergoing an initiative to digitize work results to increase efficiency, and automating lesser-skilled jobs to move talent up the ranks into more skilled roles, with an emphasis on growth from within. While the market may be challenging, Nagle feels confident the company will be able to fill the roles.

"We've found you really have to pay the market price to get good talent, then to keep them you have to have ongoing training — we want them to feel important, valued and involved," Nagle says.

A 2017 report from logistics giant DHL says the current talent shortage the industry is facing is "escalating from a gap to a potential crisis," citing a global study from 2014 that says demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by a ratio of 6 to 1, also pointing to another expert that says the number could hit 9 to 1.

The report says the factor with the greatest impact on this shortage is changing job requirements, with 58 percent of companies saying that finding employees with a combination of tactical and operational expertise, as well as professional competencies, is a challenge.

What's more, those with entry-level experience are easy to find, but 46 percent of companies surveyed by DHL said finding middle management to hire is a challenge, and executive level is the most difficult with 73 percent ranking this a high-level challenge. Apple also cites retiring baby boomers, along with job complexities and a lack of general awareness that these roles exist and can offer a good living. With that in mind, T. Marzetti has been focusing on company culture beyond just paying a competitive wage and offering benefits that include medical and 401(k) options.

"We right-size hired a few years back, so people would have a work-life balance, and that allowed us to retain our skilled workforce, which I think is huge. As companies grow, they kind of put more on their associates, and they don't realize, and then at a point, they're doing too much at that point, and I think you need to right-size your plants so people have a work-life balance," says Steve Blackburn, director of operations at Marzetti, who oversees four plants for the company.

T. Marzetti is focusing on "upskilling" it's workers to keep talent like Joshua Ash on board. He started with the company 11 years ago and today works as a quality assurance supervisor. 
Kate Rogers | CNBC
T. Marzetti is focusing on "upskilling" it's workers to keep talent like Joshua Ash on board. He started with the company 11 years ago and today works as a quality assurance supervisor. 

A study from APICS, the industry's largest trade organization, found that the average salary for supply chain professionals in 2017 was around $85,000 with an average salary increase of 3 percent. Salaries range from $50,000 to $130,000 a year. Groups like APICS are doing outreach to younger students, and Apple says there are course and degree programs at both community colleges and universities giving students a strong foundation heading into the field, noting that the talent pool is so tight students are getting offers well before they graduate.

T. Marzetti is also partnering with local trade schools, even donating a robot recently to a school near its Horse Cave, Kentucky, facility so students can get trained early on.

"There is a tight labor market and the labor pool is so low that it is imperative for companies to really invest in programs and initiatives to help them attract talent," Apple says. "You can no longer post and pray that applicants are coming through. You have to go out and hunt for talent."