And change, UPS certainly did. In 1996, UPS began the experimental approach of targeting local high schools to attract students to a life on the ramp (the so-called School to Work program). UPS started with 40 students in what was a very small program--small potatoes given that the company employs about 10,000 at its Louisville hub.
The experiment was incredibly successful. From the original 40 high school students brought in, the retention rate was over 90%. "This was pretty high considering our turnover rate was approaching 100%," points out Kinney.
So, what was the big attraction for the high school students? "We did it by having students come and work for us and we would give them a three credit course [up to nine credits] at a local community college," explains Kinney. All the students had to do was commit to a year long program, and work three to four hours a day on a Monday-Friday or Sunday-Thursday schedule.
The program has moved forward to the point where UPS now has more than 400 part time "employees" who are still in high school. They come to work everyday and in the afternoon take the credit course.
And UPS didn’t stop there. The concept was expanded so that a student could work through both high school and college, and ultimately be provided with a career opportunity. The idea was discussed at length within UPS. The question of what it would cost the company to go down such a road was weighed up carefully with what it would cost the company not to.
Once the value was justified, UPS added a second layer to the School for Work program by creating the Metropolitan College, a consortium of three local schools: the University of Louisville, Jefferson Technical School, and Jefferson Community College.
Students could join the School to Work program as a high school senior (17/18 years old), earn college credits and gain work experience while completing a high school degree. That student/employee could then enroll in the Metropolitan College (or the recent Earn and Learn scheme) program to help pay for college.
Upon completion of the college degree, UPS helps that employee find a job either at UPS or in their chosen career field.
"We are looking for those interested in finding work at UPS in conjunction with their academic role," explains Kinney. Today, the company has more than 2,000 students working for UPS who attend Metropolitan College through one of the three institutions.
"It’s a financially sound decision for a student to come and work for us," says Kinney, although he concedes such an approach is not for every organization. "You have to look at how far you want to go into a program like this.
"As far as UPS was concerned we went very deep. But you turn around and look at the tremendous payback--employee loyalty, desire, and ability to learn. This program has since become the nucleus of the Louisville workforce."
The issues, as Kinney sees it, are threefold. It’s about improving, retaining, and developing the skills of employees. "You can never employ on a full time basis all the students who are going to graduate from Metropolitan College, but you can take those employees who have elected to major in the field that you are hiring for full time."
UPS has felled several birds with one stone. "We now have the ability to satisfy the needs of the student, the needs of the community, and it is good marketing. We have brought in over 500 students from throughout Kentucky that have relocated to Louisville. This is all at much less cost than if we had stayed the same."
The School to Learn, Metropolitan College and Earn and Learn have gone a long way towards easing the recruitment and retention problems of the company. Since its inception in 1996, School to Work enrollment has grown from 40 students to the 375 who graduated in the class of 2000.
Similarly, Metropolitan College enrollment has tripled in size to more than 2,000 students since it began in 1998. Meanwhile, Earn and Learn, a national program still in its first year, now boasts 268 people in Louisville.
Clearly, this kind of community participation is not for everyone. What about airlines with several large stations, and even expanding ground handlers who are constantly opening up new ones?