Viewpoint: Winning the ongoing war for talent

by Lou Smyrlis, Editorial Director

More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill predicted that the empires of the future would be “empires of the mind.”

His prediction is uncannily accurate, particularly in the business world.

The corporate battles of today are increasingly being fought over brainpower – winning by attracting the most talented people and managing them in a way that allows them to flourish.

This is a particularly important development for Canadian companies, which tend to be smaller in nature. For such companies a handful of employees can make the difference between success and failure.

While there is nothing new about companies going after the best talent – even way back in 1600 the East India Company used competitive examinations to find the best managers – what is new is that finding and retaining top talent has become important to a much wider range of companies and industries than it used to be. Why?

Because more and more companies are finding themselves competing in an economy that places a premium on brain power just when our demographics are making it clearly evident there is not enough to go around and that the situation will only get worse.

The imminent retirement of baby boomers means that by 2025 companies stand to lose a great amount of knowledge and experience over a very short period of time.

How will the trucking industry, admittedly not known to be the most forward-thinking when it comes to innovative human resource strategies, fare in the ensuing all-out battle for talent?

The troubles the industry has experienced for years now in finding and retaining qualified drivers are well documented as are the efforts to deal with the situation. UPS, for example, decided to contract out loading to part-timers when it found that its driver turnover was higher than acceptable because drivers disliked being responsible for loading.

But how much attention is being paid to finding the most talented managers for the industry? Let’s not dismiss just how complicated and sophisticated running a transportation company has become thanks to shipper demands that are growing as fast as technological advances and supply chain complexity.

Can trucking hope to attract the right people?

The battle for talent is already to the point where companies are combing through the lists of people attending conferences to jump on the “keeners” of their industries; sending recruiters to the beaches of Cancun during March Break to attract the top university graduates; or, as in the now famous case of Google, using billboards bearing a mathematical problem: solve it for the phone number to call. At the very least, successful recruiters have come to understand that most job seekers want their first contact with a company to be electronic.

As John Marshall, CEO of iSCORESolutions, pointed out at this month’s Transportation Innovation Conference: “If your recruiting is not open 24/7, you’re missing the boat.”

Finding the best talent to fill management positions is one thing; retaining such talent is another, particularly since there are so many options available to the new generation of managers.

The upshot in all this is that human resource departments have gained greatly in status in recent years for many companies in many industries.

How many trucking companies actually have a bona-fide human resource department?

You can’t win the battle without the proper weapons.

Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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