Down the road, finding and keeping the drivers, technicians and other workers critical to the operation will be one of the biggest challenges facing managers of light- and medium-duty fleets. Last month, I mentioned that there are only about 45-million Gen-Xers to replace 78-million baby boomers, the majority of whom will retire by 2012-2015. But numbers don't tell the whole story.
How do you convince people to drive dump trucks when their computer skills can get them any number of jobs with far more comfortable work environments? Or work in your maintenance shop when the Mercedes-Benz dealership down the street is offering a 30% employee discount on its products, such as the new CL-Class sedan?
The situation is a tough one — and it will require some very creative problem solving. Chuck Kuhn, president and CEO of Sterling, VA-based JK Moving & Storage is a good example of someone who's taken a creative approach to hiring. In 1979, at age 16, Kuhn started a furniture hauling business with his brother Steve. Today it's a $50-million-a-year enterprise with 500 employees and a fleet of comprised of 100 pieces of equipment.
While finding and keeping labor “is a never ending challenge” for his business, Kuhn told me, he believes that by constantly thinking “outside the box” in his approach to employee recruitment and retention, he'll master that challenge.
“It's not just about offering our employees good pay and benefits,” he explained. “It's about adjusting to change. For example, 15 years ago, 3% of our potential labor base here in Northern Virginia was Hispanic; today, that's up to 65%. That has a huge impact on how you interact with the workforce.”
Add to that the challenge of hiring for a line of work that many charitably view as unappealing. “I don't think too many parents want their kids to grow up to be movers — and I don't think too many kids want to do that, either,” Kuhn said. “So what we need to do is shed a very different light on this occupation: Looking at pay, benefits, retirement planning, career paths, and what can make this line of work fun and exciting — all rolled into one.”
One of Kuhn's more creative benefits is a company-funded profit-sharing pension plan. Depending on company profits, JK Moving puts the equivalent of up to 22% of each employee's gross pay into an investment fund. “We've been averaging 17% returns on this fund,” Kuhn told me.
JK Moving also offers a variety of employee training — everything from moving procedures to computer skills and English as a second language (ESL) courses. Kuhn is a firm believer that training leads to better skills, which translates into better service and thus more business. “It's not just about moving furniture; our business is really human relations,” he explained. “Moving is the number-three stress behind death and divorce in a person's life, so a lot of our training focuses on dealing with those human factors.”
And that changes how he approaches the labor market from the start. “The way we are recruiting and retaining employees today is completely different from it was 10 years ago,” Kuhn said. “Yet look at this: All around us here in Northern Virginia are these big companies like AOL, WorldCom, etc. — sexy, glamorous international companies. Yet many of them are cutting back or have folded entirely. But we, the movers, remain. We're like a lot of businesses in that we may not be sexy, but we're stable and consistent. That's going to appeal to the workers of tomorrow.”