How would you summarize your experience with the supply chain industry’s labor market this past year?
We started out 2020 with a bright outlook where we were very focused on our strategy around people, and the unprecedented labor market at that time, because we were virtually in zero unemployment. Everybody was fully employed at that time. We started talking about how we were going to staff and attract talent, and we were really on a good road to kicking off the year in a way that was meaningful to the organization. Then fast forward just a couple of months in March, and the way that we worked completely flipped on its side. We welcomed a time of working differently, of ever-changing market conditions, of a political landscape where we really didn’t know what to expect. We had new wage pressures put upon us, we had enhanced unemployment benefits, and we had this pandemic where nobody knew what to do or how to react. Now we’re trying to personally figure out how to adjust as humans, as parents, as workers, and as spouses. We had to figure out how to adjust our business in this market as well. We had employees facing new challenges of remote schooling and limited childcare. There was a change in dynamic of the workforce when they did go to work. Then you add on the racial injustice with the murder of George Floyd. When you look at all of that and the thousands of frontline employees at NFI, we had to act fast and carefully to navigate through all of those issues. What separated us from other businesses during that time was our transparent and open communication because people really needed to hear that, they needed to feel that, and we needed to adjust and prepare to be able to respond to all of that.
What was the most challenging part of 2020 for your team and for the organization?
I would say 2020 was so challenging, but it’s also been really rewarding as well. I think the challenge was responding to everything that we just mentioned. We needed to have our employees feel valued and feel safe during this time and that was really challenging. We had to develop the protocol and the processes to keep our employees feel safe because that was our number one focus during that time. We had to figure out how to equip employees with the tools that they needed, and with information and knowledge to be able to come to work and get through that challenging time. Once we got our arms around that, the focus of maintaining a culture of engagement where our workforce felt like they wanted to be there every day, and they believed that NFI was doing the right things, really became a challenge and a focus after that.
NFI was not alone when we were faced with these challenges. It was certainly the entire supply chain industry because all of a sudden, if you didn’t know what supply chain meant in February of 2020, you knew what it meant in March of 2020. Now we’re all challenged with finding talent to be able to fill the roles. We had turnover and furloughs as retail businesses had been in shutdown-mode for a few months. I think the industry overall was challenged with all of these same issues as far as getting workers. Then when you find workers, it became about having them feel safe and secure in the work environment that they’re in.
How do you think this past year shaped the industry for years to come?
I think supply chain became this new buzzword, people had a new respect for what supply chain meant. When you look at what a hero was, and we’ve seen this all over the news and all over the media, I think healthcare professionals certainly came to the forefront., We also saw drivers coming to the forefront in what a hero was, and saw warehouse workers becoming everyday heroes because they were what kept the supply chain going. Specifically at NFI, we have looked at how we attract talent a little bit differently with wage pressures, along with everybody else in this industry, to be able to look at how we compensate and care for our employees that are there. I think the labor war is greater than it’s ever been for all the reasons that we spoke about. It was challenging at the beginning of the year with record low unemployment that became record high unemployment, people were afraid to go to work. I think because of all of those dynamics, the way that we look at talent, the way that we attract talent, and the way that we retain talent, will be different forever.
Nancy Stefanowicz, EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer, leads the human resources, talent acquisition, and development initiatives at NFI. Overseeing various groups, Nancy continues to attract, develop, and retain talent across the organization.