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Scott Whiting urges fellow WERC members to hire from alternative workforce

Thursday, February 21, 2019   (0 Comments)

Born into his family’s third-party logistics business in Detroit, Scott Whiting grew up sweeping floors and counting inventory. After graduating from Hillsdale College, he returned to Whiting Distribution Services, where—alongside his father and brother—the company grew to nine locations spanning 3-million square feet and staffed by 350 employees.

Already a member of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) and of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) since it was called the National Council of Physical Distribution Management (NCPDM), Whiting joined the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) when the organization first formed. He’s appreciated and leveraged both the connections and the resources he’s collected from years of active participation in WERC.

“From a personal and a professional perspective, the networking has been tremendously valuable to me,” Whiting explains. “It’s nice to know somebody in the industry in almost every city of the nation, while the white papers, research and educational sessions help me stay on top of the latest developments in the field.”

Whiting put some of that knowledge to work when, after the family business was sold in 2004, he stepped into a position with International Aid, a non-profit, emergency humanitarian response organization that provides relief supplies to victims of major disasters worldwide. Within a year he was stationed in Hancock County, Mississippi—the site of the last landfall of Hurricane Katrina’s eye—organizing a local warehouse to receive and disperse donations to those in need.

“That was truly a challenge, as we didn’t have power,” recalls Whiting. “But I was able to draw upon my WERC resources to figure out how best to layout and redesign that warehouse from scratch with simple processes. That enabled an ever-changing corps of volunteers to easily take orders from churches and other social service agencies, know what product was received and where it was located in the warehouse, and efficiently pick and load those orders onto all kinds of vehicles to keep vital goods flowing to those in desperate need.”

Whiting again utilized his WERC knowledge when running a makeshift warehouse for Direct Relief International in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, applying warehousing principles to ensure essential medicines and medical supplies were delivered to those in need. He also worked with a third humanitarian organization to establish a global network of warehouses to pre-stage emergency supplies in anticipation of future natural disasters.

From those experiences, Whiting moved to the role of vice president and general manager of 3PL Merchandise Warehouse—a temperature-controlled facility—in Indianapolis in 2010. It was there that his passion for leveraging creative solutions to address the facility’s warehouse labor shortage issues was ignited.

“In warehousing, you’re basically selling two things: space and labor. Of the two, labor can be the more critical factor,” he explains. “In Indianapolis—the Crossroads of America—and its suburbs, there are literally hundreds of warehouses. As the labor shortage has gotten even more acute, companies aren’t even scraping the bottom of the barrel for employees anymore; there are no more barrels to scrape.”

To staff Merchandise Warehouse, Whiting began recruiting from labor pools that have generally been overlooked—what he calls the alternative workforce.

“These are the people who are ex-offenders, or who have transportation, housing, or childcare challenges,” says Whiting. “In the past, companies have been reluctant to hire someone with a felony on their record, for example, requiring up to seven years post-release before they’d consider these workers as potential employees.”

What many operations aren’t aware of, however, is the range of community-based agencies with local programs that offer ex-offenders assistance with training, financial literacy, housing, transportation, counseling and more.

“There are many services at the local and regional level dedicated to providing these types of assistance to persons who have been released from prison,” he notes. “Most of them want to work; they’re not lazy. But companies have to be willing to stop sizing people up based on their past and to implement a little flexibility to help a great employee keep working. Based on my experience, that goes a long way toward gaining tremendous employee loyalty and little to no absenteeism.”

Whiting also points to recent federal legislation, the First Step Act, seeking to reduce recidivism (the tendency of an ex-offender to reoffend) by expanding access to job and skills training while incarcerated, and helping those released from prison find jobs.

“The best weapon against recidivism is a good job,” he says. “I’ve seen prison warehousing programs operated by inmates to supply the other prison facilities. They’re sophisticated operations with bar code systems and other technologies, so the level of experience these ex-offenders come out with is tremendous.”

In January, Whiting began a new chapter in his career. Now branch manager of the newly established Allegiance Staffing office in Indianapolis, he’s transitioned from the demand to the supply side of workforce.

“A major focus of mine in this role is on helping people who need a second chance—the alternative workforce—get into jobs that lead to meaningful employment, while educating employers that hiring at-risk workers can be a very positive thing for their company,” he concludes.