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Moving companies face talent gap

Published on Saturday, 07 Feb 2015
Gregory Seitz

Good managers are in demand as global mobility increases

Global mobility is increasingly seen by corporate managements as not only important in moving executives to various locations, but also to other company strategies such as human resources, talent acquisition and development, and strategic global expansion, according to a survey conducted last year by Cartus. 

The Cartus Trends in Global Relocation: 2014 Global Mobility Policy and Practices survey of 172 global mobility managers found that despite strong customer demand, talent at moving companies is dwindling and hard to retain. Competitors continue to spring up, from one-man trucks to local or regional players. This means that moving companies in Hong Kong today face an increasingly severe talent shortage. This trend started a decade ago, and has worsened year on year since then. 

Two questions I frequently hear are: What is being done to retain good management talent? What sort of opportunities can the removals industry provide that other industries cannot?

Good talent at the management level can enjoy fast progression in their careers, as there is a high turnover at this level in moving companies. Five years of experience in the industry are often enough to develop an employee who can manage a P&L centre. Good managers can then expect to progress to bigger units with a company every two years. 

For a promising Gen Y/Z employee, the golden path is in sales, as 80 per cent of branch managers are former sales executives. There are also opportunities for accountants and customer service employees, depending on the priorities of a particular moving company. 

It usually takes two to three years to reach a senior position. Then, with the help of some industry and management training, Gen Y/Z employees can take advantage of opportunities to manage small teams and join the trainee management level. The very talented ones in this group will often get a branch manager position in a small or a new branch after another two to three years. 

However, the real shortage is mainly among technicians, rather than administrative staff. The current shortage of technicians can be put down to two factors: higher education levels among the younger generations and Hong Kong’s restrictive immigration laws.

Today, it is almost impossible to find junior technical staff to fill positions in packing, driving and warehousing, all of which are key operations positions in the moving industry. 

The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Hong Kong Immigration does not grant working visas to foreigners for blue-collar positions. Restaurants trying to find washers and taxi companies looking for drivers have the same issue; virtually no young people can be found in the market for these positions. The consequence is that labour in Hong Kong is growing older and older as salary costs soar higher and higher. 

Moving companies in Hong Kong simply cannot sustain a balanced labour force composed of both junior and senior technicians. 

Moving companies look for qualities beyond strong backs and driving skills. Top talents must display initiative and take responsibility. The industry requires a lot of common sense at all levels and values people who do not need orders from the office hierarchy to manage in every unexpected situation. 

Companies in our business seek employees who work fast, are productive, can multitask, follow customer instructions and have a strong sense of pride in producing quality work – for example, drivers who travel carefully when their trucks are loaded with fragile items, even when they are in a hurry. Experience, punctuality and loyalty are also pluses. 

So, what is being done to attract more people to the industry? As it is impossible to compete with other industries in terms of salary, mobility companies promote a great working atmosphere at their firms, the stability of 9 to 5 jobs in which, for example, drivers can better plan and organise their private lives, contact with educated customers, and the feeling of being part of a team that delivers high-quality service. 

Quality of service derives from several sources. High employee retention rates and satisfaction are key, since attracting and retaining the right people in the mobility industry can be difficult. In addition, rigorous training that involves initial instruction in how to package and move delicate pieces of ceramics and furniture as well developing good customer relations and staying on track in packing in a timely manner is a must. 

Even better is to offer refresher courses on these topics every couple of years to employees. In this way, loyalty is earned even as skills are developed. 

Loyal, hard-working employees are critical to building good relationships in the context of customer service. In the mobility industry, technology is important in shipping containers from one point to another. But, in fact, good relationships between a mover and their customers remain even more important. Long-time employees tend to develop long-lasting relationships with customers and know the moving business from the inside out.

Gregory Seitz is general manager of AGS Worldwide Movers Hong Kong

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