Luring IT talent with ‘cool factor’
So you’re a logistics company, or a freight forwarder, or a freight broker, and beyond systems and products and internal processes, you need talent.
Actually, above all, you need talent.
You survey your competition and see that you’ve got to beat your competitors not only to customers, but also to the best talent. But if you’re talking about luring the best IT talent, the competitive landscape stretches far beyond your nearest competitors.
As an IT executive with the freight brokerage C.H. Robinson recently told me on a tour of the company’s new IT building in Eden Prairie, Minn., there are a number of Fortune 100 companies in his area, and he’s competing for talent with all of them.
That means C.H. Robinson isn’t just competing for talent with other freight brokers or logistics companies, but with Best Buy, Target, Honeywell, and a handful of others big names.
It also means the best IT talent has one eye (or both) on working for the sexy names in technology, like Google or Facebook. It’s a daunting challenge to consider, especially as companies in freight transportation and global trade increasingly think of themselves as IT providers.
Competition for the best IT talent is fierce, and companies involved in transportation, logistics, and trade have to think about a number of factors – pay (of course), but also work-life balance, the meaningfulness of their work, and company culture.
Work environments need to be fun, engaging, and stimulating places to work, especially for millennials (defined as those under the age of 34). As Kevin O’Marah, chief content officer for SCM World, put it to me recently, millennials are constantly plugged in through social media in their private lives and expect that to carry through to their work. That doesn’t mean they work 24 hours a day, but it also doesn’t mean they see the work day ending at 5 p.m.
O’Marah also referenced a London Business School study about the work characteristics of millennials in a recent blog, emphasizing that their inherent “jumpiness” could be put to good use in the supply chain arena.
“They could be given rotational assignments, international placements and all-or-nothing projects across functions in supply chain and build their own skills, while infusing others with fresh ideas and providing late night coverage,” he wrote.
If you think about it, this inherent jumpiness, as well as being plugged in round the clock, meshes well with the demands of transportation and logistics companies, which are tasked with managing work on an international, round-the-clock basis.
Meanwhile, that IT talent is being lured by myriad sectors. It’s not just logistics and trade companies competing with Google, it’s every industry that sees technology as an important piece of what they do.
On a recent visit to Echo Global Logistics’ headquarters in Chicago Chief Executive Officer Doug Waggoner took me on a tour of their various departments. The IT department was notable for its whiteboards and collaborative meeting areas. It seemed to me what a computer lab at MIT might be like.
Also a boon to the company in its drive to attract talent is its proximity to downtown Chicago. As Waggoner put it, young people want to be near vibrant urban areas, and that’s a selling point.
C.H. Robinson doesn’t have the same advantage due to Eden Prairie’s relative distance to downtown Minneapolis. Acknowledging that, the company designed the IT building on its sprawling campus to be a place that young talent would find hard to resist.
The emphasis in the building, which opened in April, is on open space, with low-walled and uncluttered desk clusters, high-tech conference rooms, and offbeat meeting areas with unique seating and gadgets. The acoustics have been designed to encourage people to confer, yet not bother others mere yards away. Something called “pink noise” helps with that – low-level background sound that eliminates echoing from nearby conversation and modulates depending on the level of ambient noise nearby.
It also helps there’s a massive barbecue area outside the building for lunches and team-building exercises.
Considering C.H. Robinson employs more people in its IT department than most of its competitors have in total staff, it’s easy to see why the investment was made in such a high-tech place.
When a prospective IT employee interviews with a company in the trade and transportation field, he or she is likely less impressed with the size of the company’s revenue or number of countries in which it does business than the “cool factor” of the company and its facilities.
That employee is searching for a workplace that matches his or her creative ambitions. And, again, the challenge for companies in the logistics and global trade industries is that competitive pressures come from all angles.
It takes capital to create such attractive workplaces, and not every logistics service provider, forwarder or broker has a lot of capital. In fact, most don’t.
Some good heritage doesn’t hurt either. Echo is based in the same building as Groupon, as well as an IT start-up incubation lab funded by Groupon’s backers. That’s not by chance – the founder of Groupon used to work in Echo’s IT department. Having that nexus of technology development in the same building fosters a wider sense of coolness that other companies would struggle to replicate.
But it doesn’t mean they can’t try to replicate it. They should try, and realistically, they will have to replicate it to land the very best talent. As North America continues its decades-long path toward being a services economy, the fight for the best IT talent will come at a cost for the logistics and global trade industries. The question is, what’s greater – the cost of luring that talent, or the cost of losing it?
This column was published in the August 2014 issue of American Shipper.