Winning the Battle for Warehouse Talent

When it comes to recruiting warehouse staff, it’s vital to be just as organized, deliberate and candidate-focused as you would be for higher skilled workers.

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The demand for warehouse workers is in an unprecedented upward trend, and as more consumers embrace online shopping, this is only set to accelerate. In fact, warehouses and distribution centers in the United States will need an additional 452,000 workers by the end of 2019, according to a report by commercial real-estate brokerage firm CBRE Group. This healthy demand is impacting wages too, as warehouse associates were among the top ten jobs for rising paychecks between 2017 and 2018.

It’s no wonder, then, that hiring for this profile can be tough. Location, compensation and high turnover rates are just a handful of the challenges facing the sector. The competitive nature of today’s candidate market, and the fact that most workers can and will leave for a couple of dollars more per hour, has compounded the hiring issues in this industry.

If you’re like most distributors, you’re likely hiring off the side of your desk, or you have an HR team focused on operational needs of the business, but no one exclusively focused on talent acquisition. Despite the challenges, however, there are some tried and true strategies for attracting and engaging quality warehouse staff.

Here are a few good places to start and proven best practices to optimize your results in recruiting warehouse workers.

1.      Understand the market you’re hiring in. A lot of distributors struggle to find candidates in remote locations or those with unique hiring challenges. One of our clients was operating a plant in a remote area of Illinois, where the average warehouse worker in the region was earning $11-12.00 per hour. Little did they know, the location they were hiring for specifically, while small, was also extremely affluent, especially in relation to the surrounding areas – making it more expensive to live there than in nearby towns.

By embedding recruiters in the location, this company was able to better understand both the situational nuances of the location as well as its challenges. We manually posted flyers in surrounding towns where salaries would go further. Second, we conducted a reverse zip code search to produce lists of prospects living in the same area where current employees live. This enabled us to pinpoint a target audience to direct our recruiting efforts.  

Since deploying these strategies, the company has seen a steady flow of applicants.

2.       Start inside and work your way out. Warehouse workers are likely to have a lot of friends and acquaintances in similar lines of work or with transferrable skills. Setting up an employee referral program can be a powerful way to tap into these second- and third-degree connections.  Incentivizing employees to refer friends and family helps earn them extra money while contributing to your pipeline of candidates.

Analyze your cost of vacancy – or, the dollar amount of how much an unfilled role ultimately costs – and you’ll quickly see how ‘worth it’ an employee referral scheme can be. Interestingly, sign-on bonuses don’t resonate the same with this population of worker. It’s a way to attract them, but it’s not a way to get them to stay – and that’s where a well-thought out employee referral program can become beneficial – both to you, but also to your employees.

3.       Be personal. While Indeed is one of the most effective job boards for recruiting warehouse candidates, it’s vital to create a ‘local’ strategy. Warehouse employees – whether they’re forklift drivers, case pickers, customer service reps, shipping and receiving, schedulers, custodians or other general warehouse staff – tend to prefer walking into a facility and manually completing an application.

This population also attends job fairs and likes having a local office they can contact to inquire about job opportunities. For this profile, we have worked with clients to organize hosted interview hours, in which interested candidates can drop in to meet with a member of the talent acquisition team. We have also set up a “hiring hotline” and added a phone number to all of the jobs being advertised. Making yourself accessible and easy to contact is key for these workers.

4.       Make it easy. It should take no more than five minutes for a warehouse worker to submit a completed application – or you risk them falling out of the process. Streamline applying so that it can be completed on-the-go from a mobile device, with additional information being collected, if needed, when they come in to meet with someone from the talent acquisition team.

Similarly, you should streamline your interviewing process in much the same way. Because this is such an active job market, many of your applicants will already be employed – and any time spent away from working, or in the direct pursuit of a new job, costs them money. Consider using texting apps or chat bots to interact with prospects in real-time – on their time – and this will free up your recruiting team while providing the immediate responses these workers want. Keep it basic, easy and convenient. 

5.       Sell what you’re not. While larger warehouse and distribution center owners are driving many of the trends that impact the sector, there is still a healthy contingent of smaller businesses operating in the industry too. If you fall into that category and struggle to compete with mega-competitors for talent, sell your differences.

When engaging with candidates, point out that larger distributors are metrics-driven and that your focus is on people first. Explain how you retain employees with the potential for career growth and the personal training you provide. If you provide high-touch classroom learning versus self-directed e-learning, emphasize that. Sell the fact that you aren’t big and that that means growth and commitment to the people who work for you.

When it comes to recruiting warehouse staff, it’s vital to be just as organized, deliberate and candidate-focused as you would be for higher skilled workers. Know your candidate profile intimately, research your local market and understand what motivates them. Then, move candidates efficiently through the application, interview and onboarding process. 

As an Executive Director of Client Services for Sevenstep, Bronwen Sisca specializes in talent acquisition strategies that support Sevenstep’s manufacturing, logistics and supply chain clients. Every year, she helps companies of all sizes—from small- to mid-sized businesses, to Fortune 500 companies—make thousands of hires.

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