Work for the Holidays — On the Bus to Great Opportunities

Sealed box on a rolling steel conveyor

Companies in many categories increase hiring considerably to meet their annual surge in year-end business. A marketing fulfillment client of Aerotek outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota is a prime example. The company processes and sends out gift cards from most of the nation’s largest retailers in time to be stuffed in stockings across America. Each year, the company faces the challenge of finding enough quality workers to meet their surge needs in production. Here’s a story how one Aerotek office rose to meet this challenge with one of the most creative staffing solutions seen by our industry.

Happy but hectic holidays

There’s no season like the year-end holiday season for businesses in the retail, e-commerce and fulfillment categories. Each year, the holidays become even more hectic than the previous as the increasing customer demand for products and services is often outpaced by the available talent supply to fulfill them. Jordan Anderson is an Aerotek delivery executive working on-premise at a company that serves as one of the largest fulfillment centers for store gift cards in the U.S. Chances are good that, if you buy a gift card for this holiday season from any major retailer, it will be shipped from this facility outside of Minneapolis.

Supply vs. demand

Jordan described to us their annual staffing problem. “Even with the considerable population of the Twin Cities nearby, we struggle big-time each year to meet the demand for production workers to support their year-end business surge.”

“This is a massive computerized facility, filled with state-of-the-art conveyor systems. Everyone is wearing headsets and in constant communication with each other and the shift supervisors. During the first three quarters of each year we have between seventy and ninety employees working as pickers, packers and fulfillment specialists. But, in the fourth quarter, our client’s business requires us to triple that number to support their surge. This is a tough problem to solve for, especially given the very low unemployment in this region.”

Thinking way outside the box

Jordan decided this year would be different when it comes to finding the willing and able workforce his client would need for the 2017 holiday season.

“There’s a community center in a place called Riverside Plaza in Minneapolis. It’s a campus of almost 6,000 people, many from different countries. We asked if we could hold a job fair there, and they agreed. We ended up tapping into a supply of eager job seekers, but we had one major problem to solve for: distance. My client’s facility is almost 45 minutes away from the community center in Minneapolis, and almost none of these newly arrived workers owned cars.”

Solving for distance

To solve for the distance problem, Jordan worked with his client, convincing them that it would be well worth the expense to hire a bus to pick-up the workers at the Riverside community center, drive them to work and take them back home after their shift. They were a bit reluctant at first, but to their credit they agreed to our idea. It worked so well so quickly, and word spread about the jobs, that within weeks we added a second bus each day. Then we added a third and it’s turned into a big success story for our client.”

Jordan and his team came up with the idea of recruiting bus leaders to help their bus-mates with the commute and to help them learn enough to be successful on the job. “It seemed like a simple way to solve for any potential language barrier, and it’s working out really well,” Jordan said.

Meet Said Abdi

Jordan talked about one of those bus leaders, Said Abdi, and we had the opportunity to speak with Said, to hear his story firsthand.

“After high school in Somalia, I went to India to study economics at university. While I was at uni in India, I got an opportunity to come to America — and I wasted no time planning my move! I came here to Minneapolis because many of my relatives and family were living here.”

Aerotek contractor Said Abdi standing between recruiting managers Brandon Turner and Alec Moran

Aerotek’s Brandon Turner alongside Said Abdi and Aerotek’s Alec Moran (left to right).

We asked Said how he first met Aerotek. “I started looking for a job as soon as I arrived earlier this year. The first job I had was temporary and ended so I was out of work. People told me to go to an Aerotek office. I went in, filled out a form and that’s when I met Brandon Turner, Aerotek account recruiting manager. This was in October and within a week I was hired by Brandon and his team.”

Said continued. “Aerotek had arranged for buses to and from Riverside and our work in the fulfillment center. In the first week on the bus, Brandon and his colleague Alec Moran recognized my strong work ethic and asked if I would like to serve as the bus lead. After a week of training, I now can lead and train the rest of my colleagues on the bus and in the center.”

Only in America

We were humbled and inspired by Said’s talk about what drove him to move to the U.S. and about the dream he shares with his fellow coworkers.

“You have to remember,” Said explained, “these people gave up a lot in looking for a better opportunity. They are brand new here, but they came with a dream. Like everyone else, we want good jobs, and cars and a better future for our families.”

We asked Said if there was a profile to his fellow employees on the bus and on the job. “I’ve made new friends, close friends, already! When we talk together and work together I realize that one of the things we share in addition to our background is this deep drive to achieve our dream.”

The business case

We asked Jordan if it had been difficult make the business case to his client for investing in the commuting buses for their workers.

“At first it was, but almost immediately everyone realized it was a win-win. Our client saw that these employees were extremely hard-working, conscientious and very eager to learn new skills. Frankly, their attendance and reliability is off the charts.”

“But an extremely strong business case has been made. The client had been spending an immense amount on overtime, their existing workers were exhausted, and they were losing money from delayed shipments. That’s all changed now with the three bus runs each day, and their investment has turned out to be completely worthwhile.”

Sharing the dream

We asked Said for any advice he would offer to people entering the jobs market now, whether they come from 5,000 miles away or 45 minutes.

Said didn’t hesitate. “Yes — never lose hope, and never give up, that’s what I would tell them. In my short time here, I know that anything is possible. But the only way to achieve your goal, your dream, is to fight through the challenges.”

“I’d say to them, find an agency like I did, and the hundreds of my colleagues like me here in Minneapolis, and get that first job. I’m going to keep working and saving so I can go back to school next year and get my degree. This is a great country where anyone with the drive can share the American Dream.”

If you have a passion for dream fulfillment as strong as Said’s, we’d love to become your career partner. Please check out our available job opportunities and create a free Aerotek career account so we know what you want to do for work.