Make Professional Development a Pitch for New Talent

The challenge of attracting new talent and retaining that talent to develop industry leaders of the future is not unique to the cold chain.

The cold chain industry, however, does face talent challenges not faced by others, points out Kathryn Mullen, Senior Director of Talent Management for Americold. “The average age of cold chain employees is 55, which means we are an aging industry,” she explains. “Our industry is not a career choice for many young people while they are in school.” In fact, students are unlikely to consider opportunities surrounding the technological innovation that’s rapidly advancing the industry right now, even though they are already consumers of supply chain trends such as online grocery orders and home delivery of meal kits, she adds.

Lack of awareness of career opportunities in the cold chain means the pipeline of new talent entering the industry is not sufficient to replace experienced leaders as they reach retirement.

Even though the industry may not be the first glamorous or exciting opening new graduates desire, Mullen says the industry has a lot of positive opportunities. “There are many leadership opportunities for young people as the industry advances towards the Internet of things and continues to expand,” she says. For this reason, it is important for cold chain businesses to develop relationships with local schools, offer internships, and participate in career fairs that focus on corporate as well as warehouse roles.

When Colin Longmuir graduated from school in Portland, Oregon, in 2009, finding any job was difficult during the recession. “I was not thinking about a specific career path or industry. I was focused on finding a job that provided a paycheck that would cover rent,” he says.

Longmuir, a warehouse manager with Henningson Cold Storage Co., winner of the 2016 Don Schlimme Award, and a GCCA Global NextGen Finalist, discovered cold storage opportunities at a career fair. “I fell into this industry, but I stayed because my perspective changed,” he says. Although he and classmates had an idealized vision of working for companies they considered innovative – Nike and Adidas, for example – he realized that he had more opportunities to advance his career in the cold chain.

“I knew nothing about cold storage but Henningson’s management associate training program gave me the opportunity over two and one-half years to work in different locations and every department,” says Longmuir. “The program changes as you go through it, with additional layers of responsibility and leadership added as you progress.”

In addition to the management training program, Longmuir also participated in a Portland State University Program – Today’s Managers, Tomorrow’s Leaders – to gain additional leadership training. He had already been a warehouse manager for several months and says he wished he had taken the course earlier. “I learned I had done some things right, but I also learned how I could have better handled some situations.”

For industry-specific training, Longmuir participated in the WFLO Institute, an educational program that provides a 360-degree view of the cold chain industry. Students attend four-day seminars for three years. “I was the youngest person in my Institute class but when I recently visited an Institute session, I noticed that there are many more young people in the classes.”

Professional development plays a key role in employees’ decisions to stay with a company, but employees need an opportunity to apply their knowledge and gain experience, suggests Mullen. “I believe that professional development is 10 percent formal training, 20 percent mentor feedback and 70 percent on-the-job, which means stretch assignments that enable people to use the knowledge they gain in classes or feedback sessions,” she says. “This means that supervisors and managers must work with each employee to identify their career goals and appropriate training opportunities that they will be able to use to reach those goals.”

When asked about the role professional development has played in his professional growth, Ing. Juan Carlos Hencker, Regional Manager for Central America and the Caribbean for Refrisistemas Industriales de CentroAmerica and a graduate of the WFLO Institute: Latin America, points to the opportunity to work on cold chain projects at an international level. As part of a United States Department of Agriculture project in the Dominican Republic, Hencker and his team presented a study of five products in the cold chain that were important to the country’s economy. “I traveled to different countries to provide training in refrigeration, as well as safe and efficient handling of products,” he explains. “I was able to share my knowledge but [throughout the process] I have also learned a lot.”

Hencker believes ongoing professional development is key to developing a passion for a career in the industry. “The main advice I give is to have passion and commitment for your career, want it, and feed it every day with new knowledge and experience,” he says. “There is always something new to learn and to know.”

Just as Hencker has found professional satisfaction in teaching as well as learning, so has Darnell C. Akers, warehouse manager for Lineage Logistics in Virginia. He attended the WFLO Institute from 2006 to 2009 to supplement the online and local professional development programs he participated in as part of his career development. He is still involved in the Institute today – serving as a class adviser.

“I serve as a mentor to students, helping them outside the class,” explains Akers. In addition to helping students learn how to strengthen their professional network, he shares his experiences and encourages them to talk as a group about the obstacles they face, as well as solutions they can share with others.

Although there are many different types of online courses, local college offerings and professional seminars, Akers recommends a variety of professional development pursuits. “The WFLO Institute is focused on the cold chain industry but the greatest benefit is that participants are not just supervisors or managers in one or two departments. People from administrative offices, food safety departments and operations are present, so you get a broad range of perspectives on the business.”

As industry members reach out to local colleges and universities, it is important to highlight the desire for innovation and imagination as well as professional development and advancement opportunities in the company and the industry, advises Mullen. “Millennials want to express their ideas, receive feedback and recognition, build professional relationships, and to have a career that offers promotions and leadership positions.” Companies that offer formal and informal mentor programs, management training programs, and access to professional learning will attract new talent, she predicts.

Kane Thomason, Inbound OperationsManager for XPOLogistics, 2016 United Kingdom Young Manager of the Year and GCCA Global NextGen Finalist, points out that it is not enough to offer professional development and growth to attract new employees – a company must make an ongoing commitment to developing new leaders.

“Keeping young talent is tough for a lot of companies,” Thomason admits. “For me, working for such a large company has been great as I’ve had lots of opportunities. I feel everything that I’ve been promised, I have received,” he says.

“However, lots of companies do over promise and under deliver when it comes to developing their young talent. I know lots of people who have been disappointed with the development they’ve had within companies, especially when they compare this to what was promised and what actually happened,” says Thomason. “As an industry, we have a responsibility to set the right level of expectations. For example, working in a frozen food warehouse isn’t going to be very glamorous; however, it can be very enjoyable and extremely rewarding.”

Sheryl S. Jackson is a freelance writer based in Alpharetta, Georgia, who specializes in industry issues and trends. This article originally appeared in the January-February 2017 issue of COLD FACTS Magazine.