Do you want your kid to work in operations?
“No one I know wants their child to work in a factory.”
I read that quote in a Wall Street Journal article on a flight last week. It struck me for two reasons.
First, I was flying to Florida to meet with Allan Howie, the director of continuing education and professional development for the Material Handling Industry of America, and a group of high school educators who are teaching materials handling curriculum in their technical schools.
If you’ve spent any time with Howie, you know that education is his passion. He believes the future of our industry lies in an educated workforce and not just “label lickers and box chunkers.” The message he spreads to the industry and schools alike is that the next generation of warehouse and distribution center workers needs to view our facilities as attractive places to work and our industry as one where they can build a career and not just take home a check. More importantly, their parents have to see a career path in warehousing and distribution. If parents see the DC as a dead end, they’ll never encourage their children to look at warehousing, distribution or logistics as a career.
Second, the quote was not from a parent in a white collar town like Keene, New Hampshire, where I live. She was not even from an area like Northeastern Ohio where I grew up and factory and warehouse work is still a way of life.
No, the speaker was a Chinese woman who had started her working life in a factory, now had an office job and wanted her kids to go to college and become professionals. Factory work was not good enough for them. If the Chinese, who are supposed to be eating our lunch when it comes to manufacturing, see their future outside of the shop floor, what kind of message does that send to our parents and kids?
Meeting with the educators the next morning, I realized that like Howie, they understand the challenge and are working on the solution. Several mentioned that one of their biggest hurdles is teaching the concept of logistics to guidance counselors who may steer students towards their programs. “I have had parents ask me why we’re educating their kids to work in a warehouse,” one of the educators said. Guidance counselors who get it play a key role in answer those parents’ questions.
Likewise, I think we in the industry also have a role to play here as well. We’re always going to need a certain number of label lickers, box chunkers and warm bodies. But we can also do our part to aid educators like Howie and his colleagues and promote the career paths available to our industry. After all, for many of us, the rewards from warehousing, distribution, manufacturing and logistics have done more than simply put roofs over our heads and food on our tables. Our industry has a great story, if we take the time to tell it.