Do 3PLs Have an Image Problem with Young Professionals?

Last week on Talking Logistics, I had a great conversation with Professor Robert Lieb from Northeastern University about the challenges 3PLs face attracting and retaining talent. Of course, the “talent shortage” problem is not only an issue for 3PLs, but also for manufacturers, retailers, and others. But is the challenge the same for everyone, or do 3PLs face unique challenges in terms of attracting and retaining talent?

For example, we all know that, generally speaking, third party logistics is a low margin business, so when it comes to offering attractive salaries, 3PLs are at a disadvantage compared to other industries with deeper pockets. But as Prof. Lieb pointed out, it’s not all about the money:

The research we did this past summer that focused on some of the competitive difficulties [3PLs] have were not just focused on compensation; they were also focused on benefit levels, career opportunities, workload expectations, and so I think the industry has to look at the whole package they’re offering to people coming out of schools and younger, lower-level managers.

I think the expectations of students today are very different than they might have been 10 years ago, 20 years ago and I think there is more emphasis on work-life balance…so I think if you are “light” with respect to salary and benefits, you have to be “heavy” someplace else, you have to convince the students that there are better career options here, or you’ll have [better work-life balance] here, so you have to look at the whole package you’re putting in the marketplace, and that’s going to determine how hard it is for you to find and keep people.

Since I had just written a posting about Millennials in the workplace (A Millennial Walks into a Baby Boomer’s Office), I also asked Prof. Lieb if he thought 3PLs have an image problem with Millennials, especially since 3PLs have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being an “old school” industry. Put differently, are the management practices of 3PLs misaligned with the expectations of Millennials? Check out the short clip below for his response:

But the image problem goes beyond Millennials, as Prof. Lieb explains:

We’ve talked about this issue before..what do people really know about the third-party logistics industry? It’s an industry that, generally speaking, people don’t understand very well. When you focus on national efforts to try to bring attention to this [industry], the only national campaign that typically gets a lot of coverage is UPS’ [“I Love Logistics”] efforts that you see on the Super Bowl and things like that, but generally speaking, a lot of [3PLs], despite the fact they’re large and very successful, sort of fly under the radar.

I encourage you to watch the rest of the episode, where I share my perspective on the questions above, and Prof. Lieb and I discuss the importance of training and development programs (and whether 3PLs are investing enough in this area, and in the right types of programs), and some best practices 3PLs are employing to address the talent problem.

The bottom line is that 3PLs, in my opinion, face bigger hurdles than manufacturers and retailers when it comes to attracting and retaining supply chain and logistics talent. I also believe the image problem is real — but it’s less about being viewed as an “old school” industry and more about having no image at all (everyday people not having a clue about what 3PLs are and do).

Considering that talent development and retention is one of the four important factors companies must consider when evaluating 3PL partners, I wonder if 3PLs plan to invest more in this area, and be more innovative in their efforts, in the coming year. Post a comment and let me know.