Flatbed carrier invests in vocational schools to combat labor shortage
The pandemic’s effect on markets and consumers has been well documented: When consumers shifted their spending away from services and toward goods and bought more of those goods online, supply chain capacity and infrastructure came under enormous pressure.
For many people, the pandemic also spurred an attitude shift regarding work, leading to an increase of early retirement or a desire for more fulfilling jobs. According to a 2021 survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, job openings have surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels, while 4.7 million fewer people remain active in the labor force.
The labor shortage is perhaps more dire for the logistics and transportation industry. By the end of 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 67,000 more trained technicians and 75,000 more diesel engine-specialized professionals will be needed to keep up with demand.
Transportation and logistics companies across the globe are throwing their hands up in frustration or trying to analyze the root of labor shortages, whether among truck drivers, material handlers or diesel mechanics.
However, PGT Trucking, a leading flatbed carrier based in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, is taking direct action by channeling efforts and funds into two strategic partnerships with local schools with the goal to infuse the labor market with skilled logistics specialists and technicians.
Just a few weeks ago, New Village Institute (NVI) Blairsville launched its six-month certified technician programs, making it the largest dedicated diesel and auto technician training campus in the nation. PGT Trucking is supporting this mission by sponsoring NVI student tuition grants, as well as a dedicated PGT classroom. Just an hour east of Pittsburgh, NVI sits on 27 acres and offers 282,000 square feet of classroom and shop space.
“We are going to use NVI as our national training and continuing education center for technicians. As our personnel need further training, we can bring them back,” said Gerry Hickly, chief administrative officer at PGT Trucking. “In addition to having phenomenal classrooms, they also have housing so that people from all over the country can come and we can support our maintenance training and development activity, as well as develop a pipeline of talent through their organization and hopefully into our shops.”
PGT will help with NVI’s recruiting efforts, which include leveraging social media, connecting with the secondary education market and challenging the stigma that without a four-year degree, you can’t get a well-paying job.
“That is not the case anymore,” said Hickly. “Our average pay is around $25 an hour for a technician, and it can go up as your skills increase. There’s way too many people that go through a four-year degree program that really don’t belong in a four-year program and are actually cheating themselves out of the opportunity to be a part of a very solid, good-paying industry and not have all that student debt. We need to do a better job as an industry to promote that opportunity at a much younger age in the educational system.”
Cultivating an early interest in logistics and transportation is what sets PGT apart. Through the years, PGT has partnered with various vocational and technical schools throughout the region, but in September, the Midland Innovation + Technology Charter School (MITCS) will open its doors to high school students in the borough of Midland in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Patrick Gallagher, CEO of PGT Trucking, offered the charter high school a $500,000 grant to create the PGT Transportation and Logistics Academy — one academy among a number of others, including forensic science, criminal justice, sustainability, skilled trades and community development.
MITCS will allow students to study areas of personal interest and tackle real-life projects to prepare them for a world of opportunity while also earning certifications, credentials, apprenticeships, college credits and even associate degrees in skilled trades, technology and other fields.
“Pat has a big commitment to Beaver County, which is where our business has been based for 40 years,” said Laurence Cox, director of continuous improvement at PGT. “Through these logistics courses, we’re not just going to teach people about trucks and trains and barges, but the courses will include problem solving and ethics. With these skills, that student could go anywhere. Our goal is to get that student working within the local economy after graduation. Hopefully, PGT will acquire a couple of those students for ourselves while we’re at it.”
Whereas in the early 1980s Beaver County thrived as a steel industrial center, for the past 30 years, job and skills development in the area has been stagnant. While high school vocational programs abound for careers as a carpenter, electrician, mason or HVAC tech, the transportation and logistics industry hasn’t done a great job connecting with young people. These two partnerships provide an opportunity for PGT to influence curriculum and gain some highly skilled employees.
“If we don’t get kids thinking about a career in the transportation industry somewhere in middle school, we might have lost them to another trade by the time graduation rolls around,” said Hickly. “The industry is advancing, and there are more opportunities today for individuals with various skill sets than ever before.”
PGT has actively embraced the advancement in technology within the transportation industry with its previously announced partnerships with both Locomation Inc. and Nikola Corp.
“If a student has an interest in computers or programming, we could have them working on a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle or an autonomous human-guided relay truck,” Hickly said. “We hope that this technology is going to drive a new generation of truck drivers, technicians and leaders within our organization.”