Don’t Look for a Unicorn When You Only Want A Horse!

Don’t Look for a Unicorn When You Only Want A Horse!

By James Dolan, Director of Logistics, Vincennes University

Unless you’ve been in hiding for years, you are aware of the current skilled workforce gap. Everyone seems to be trying something unique and flashy to attract and retain talent, but I would offer up a new perspective for employers to consider. Start looking for employees with the skills you actually need and stop looking for the unicorn who may not exist.

The Problem:

Transportation, distribution, and logistics (TDL) job descriptions seem to be one of two things these days. They are either so specific, including every skillset known to man as a must-have; the “shotgun” approach. Or, job descriptions are very open and vague; the “can you fog a mirror?” test. Realistically, employers are looking for someone in-between who possesses employability (soft) skills and some technical skills, but also has the aptitude to continue to learn, develop and take on new challenges within their organization; the horse.

I understand the desire to try to capture every known skill and ability possible, either because of insurance requirements, company policies, or hiring best practices. However, this only serves to alienate someone who may be partially qualified but turns away because they aren’t a perfect fit. Even worse, if the candidate applies, is interviewed, but doesn’t check all of the required boxes, they could be denied an opportunity to develop for the risk that there is someone out there with everything required; the unicorn. You miss giving them a chance to be successful.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some job descriptions leave everything to the imagination about what is actually expected of the potential employee in an attempt to capture every possible candidate. This phenomenon is what has led to the substantial increase in entry level TDL wages over the past decade. The entry level TDL worker in 2008 earned about $9 per hour compared to the jobs posted now boasting $15+ per hour; a 60% increase in only 10 years. The skills these workers are required to have has not increased 60%, rather you could make the case it’s actually easier to function in some of these entry-level positions with the increase in technology-enabled workplaces.

A Solution:

Start expecting more from your employees and they will rise to the standards. Required education levels which previously were listed as “must-have,” were then reduced to “nice-to-have,” are now are simply left out of some job descriptions. The requirement for education, certifications or degrees should to be reinstated in job descriptions so our workforce sees the value in pursuing education for the long-term benefits. Employees with on-the-job learned skills can function, but educated employees are able to more easily develop critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills that can then be applied in the workplace. You can apply the same required logic to employment factors such as attendance policies, passing drug-screens, or meeting performance standards. Expect quality employees, get quality employees. Potential employees should understand that attendance is expected, illegal substances are not allowed, and performance is required. Instead, we lower the bar in order to attempt to fill the workforce shortage.

Coach John Scolinos said it best at an annual American Baseball Coaches Association meeting when he pointed out that the size of home plate in baseball is the same size, 17”, no matter what level you are playing; tee-ball, high school, minor league, or the majors. The plate isn’t made bigger just because players can’t perform to the standards established. He said, “If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard, and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to: dark days ahead.”

The key to solving a skilled workforce gap is recognizing the role education and standards have in developing new talent and rewarding those who decide to pursue excellence.


James Dolan

James Dolan is the Director of Logistics for Vincennes University. Logistics programs at VU follow career pathways beginning with warehousing and distribution, fork-lift, leadership, CDL Class A/B, and industry recognized credentials that lead into an academic certificate and two-year Associate Degree in Supply Chain Logistics Management. Students are primarily taught at the VU Logistics Training & Education Center in Plainfield, IN. Before coming to VU in 2011, James spent seven years with UPS in various functions as an operations and engineering manager.


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Category Features, Last Word