National Expert Will Address Industrial Workforce Retention at NAIOP’s I.CON East
At NAIOP’s I.CON East conference, held June 7-8 at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson, the focus will be on industrial real estate—including the critical issues of workforce recruitment and retention. To that end, the conference will include a panel titled ‘Tackling the Tenant Workforce Issue.”
As panelist Anne Strauss-Wieder put it, while site selection and construction costs may be top of mind, “The bottom line is, if you can’t staff that building, the building is not going to be successful.”
Strauss-Wieder, a nationally respected senior executive and expert who currently serves as the Director of Freight Planning at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, spoke recently with Connect CRE about industrial worker training and retention, public-private partnerships and how transportation factors into it all. It’s important, she said, for both developers and occupiers to be involved.
“The adage goes that when you’ve seen one industrial building, you’ve seen one industrial building,” she said. “There are so many different activities that can happen in these buildings.” They can vary widely by size, sophistication, and function as well as location.
The workers themselves can vary by skill set as well as their ability to commute to the job site.
For example, “A typical distribution building has about 0.3 employees per thousand square feet on average,” said Strauss-Wieder. “A fulfillment center has about one employee per thousand square feet. During peak seasons, such as back-to-school, which can be larger than the holiday season, you may see three employees per thousand square feet. That’s about equivalent to or maybe more than a typical office building. Further, the types of work vary considerably from unskilled hourly to highly skilled technical and managerial positions. So we’re talking about a lot of workers, skill sets and ladders of opportunity for advancement.”
Typically, a fulfillment center will have plenty of onsite parking, she pointed out. “But the question is, is that the only way that people can get to their job? And does it make sense for someone who’s on an hourly basis or a seasonal worker or working different shifts?”
The question then becomes one of access to transportation for the workforce at an industrial facility. Strauss-Wieder noted that access to mass transit may be a solution, but only if the transit agency’s operating schedule coincides with the shift worker’s.
“In some cases, employment agencies provide contract labor to buildings, in which case they may offer van service to their contract workers, then deduct the cost of that van service from what they’re paying the workers,” she said. “You may see community service organizations provide van services. In New Jersey, we also have transportation management associations that team with the private sector to provide commutation services.”
She additionally cited the fee-based work of LANTA (Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority), which operates in one of the Northeast’s fastest-growing industrial markets, Northeastern Pennsylvania, as an example of public-private partnerships that can address these questions. The industrial operator is connected via a governmental agency with LANTA, which then contacts the property’s occupier.
“They figure out the service that is needed,” said Strauss-Wieder. “The transit agency tells the company how much it’s going to cost. The company pays the transit agency, and the service is provided.”
She added, “There are lots of other models that I’ve heard about. During peak seasons, I’ve heard of occupiers who have provided Lyft or Uber and other forms of connectivity. I think all that ingenuity speaks to the fact that if you don’t have transportation options available, then you aren’t going to attract workers and you’re not going to hold onto workers.”
Learn more about the I.CON East conference and register on the conference website.