Materials handling education: The materials handling industry is growing again

As the need for workers increases, is good help hard to find?

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By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor

On the heels of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the materials handling industry is starting to experience growth.  In fact, John Nofsinger, CEO of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA, recently said, “Going into 2010, I anticipate progressive, continued, gradual growth. I do not expect to see the industry ramping up significantly into double digit growth in 2010, but growth is growth and up is up.”

With this growth comes the need for companies to hire, restaff positions and recruit top talent, especially top engineering talent, which is the life blood of the materials handling industry.  But is top talent available today?  Based on recent hiring at Dematic, the answer is yes – at least in Michigan.  Dematic (, a supplier of logistics systems for the factory, warehouse and distribution center, has hired 83 employees at its Grand Rapids, Michigan operation and throughout North America over the last eight months. It also has plans to hire more engineering staff to accommodate growth in new business.

“I can’t speak for everyone else in the market,” said Ken Ruehrdanz, industry manager for Dematic, “but from my exposure to the user side of our business, there’s a general trend toward improved business.  We see this trend continuing and have plans to hire 80 more employees to fill existing open positions across many disciplines.”

In addition, Ruehrdanz said, Dematic has increased its manufacturing production workforce from a low of 93 to 150 in the last six months, up 61%, with plans to top 200 employees in the next month, up 115% from the low.

Filling these positions has been a job in itself, but a successful one.  “We’ve had very strong candidates to select from,” said Ruehrdanz.  “There are great universities and technical colleges in the state of Michigan that provide a nice flow of good talent coming into our company and into the industry.”

Ruehrdanz also said the special cooperative work/study programs and internships offered by many area schools are a win-win for employers and employees alike.  “When an intern starts working full time they’re very productive on the first day of work because their experience has significantly reduced the learning curve.”

While Dematic wasn’t challenged to find qualified top talent to fill its available positions, is that experience unique to Michigan?

A number of Michigan schools have put emphasis on training because of the hard knocks the automotive industry has taken, said Mike Ogle, MHIA’s vice president of educational & technical services, recent events just made it worse.  “Even prior to the heavy downturn in 2008, Michigan was on tough times and pushing heavily to train people in whatever’s next,” Ogle said.  “But they’re not unique.  There are many educational programs at the high school, 2-year and 4-year level around the country changing to meet the needs of the materials handling industry and the changing economy.”

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