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Lift trucks and labor retention

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
July 22, 2011


Zut alors! Lift trucks are going European!

That’s one of the takeaways from the nearly dozen interviews I did with lift truck OEMs last week about the latest features on today’s trucks.

Now, that doesn’t mean you’re operators will be wearing berets, smoking skinny cigarettes and requesting espresso breaks. Rather, it’s that lift truck OEMs are beginning to get requests from their North American customers for the kinds of ergonomic technologies that are already common on European trucks. Those would include finger tip fork controls, swivel seats and technologies that make the operator’s job easier.

Jonathan Dawley, vice president of marketing for NACCO Materials Handling Group, the manufacturer of Yale and Hyster products, believes that labor retention at industrial companies is driving the trend.

“US companies have traditionally looked at labor as a transactional relationship,” he says. “What can you do for me. We valued things like an operator with strong arms and backs.”

European companies, in contrast, develop long term relationships with their operators. As a result, there has long been a different approach to the work environment in European DCs. “We see some US and Canadian manufacturers and distributors moving in that direction,” Dawley says. “Instead of a stronger worker, they’re Looking for a smarter operator. As we work with smaller and more frequent loads, the DC is about becoming more efficient, understanding where the material needs to be, and then getting it there.” When you get operators who understand that system, you want to retain them. That, in turn, is leading to lift trucks that are less taxing to operate for an 8 hour shift.

A second catalyst to this trend is the increasing globalization of business. “As companies purchase operations globally, they begin to share aspects of their operations,” Dawley says. That cross-cultural pollination leads to North American companies to adopt the best practices of their European divisions. Lift truck OEM, especially those that operate globally, are responding with more ergonomic designs that emphasize the mind of the operator and not the brawn. “The end user will have a wider selection of products they may not be familiar with,” Dawley says. 

Berets are optional.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


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