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Case Study: Upskilling - Supporting the Growth of Team Members to Accelerate Company Expansion

Case Study: Upskilling - Supporting the Growth of Team Members to Accelerate Company Expansion
4 May 2022

Business Case.

Trailer Bridge has experienced rapid expansion in recent years and has no plans to settle down any time soon. With that, and given a culture focused on employees and their development, it was important to implement a program that would continue to develop its teams and support their growth, which in turn supports growth of the company overall.

How would employees remain engaged and continue to move upward within their career? And how would their growth propel the company forward?

This is where Upskilling was born.

Designed and led by Chief People Officer Indie B. Bollman and Executive Assistant Jenny Lewis, Upskilling’s mission was and is to support the growth and success of Trailer Bridge while simultaneously providing development and career growth opportunities for its teams.

“We are an employee-centric organization and wanted to offer upward growth for our team members. Not only support for their current role but to give them what they need,” stated Bollman. “Our take on Upskilling meant that it should address current position developmental needs as well as prepare them today for their next step.”

Trailer Bridge Terminal Operations

The program sought to accomplish this by providing the opportunity for engagement between both the manager and employee in designing the customized plan for each employee. This gives, not only an opportunity to connect, but also makes the supervisor aware of what their employees want to do next, so that the appropriate training can be arranged.

Training and Development is a core offering at Trailer Bridge and continues to evolve as the organization grows. As Bollman and Lewis laid out the plans for Upskilling’s implementation in early 2020, there is no way they could predict what would happen next.

The Challenge.

Trailer Bridge’s growth over the past three years included the broadening of its service offerings – expanded domestic and cross-border freight movements, a new NVOCC division, a government services division, rapid growth for our Puerto Rican and Dominican ocean service, and the expansion of its team by more than 68%. It was important that with the growth of the organization, the employees grew too.

“One doesn’t happen without the other. We had the projections of where the company was heading and we needed to not only develop our people where they are in their current role, but also prepare them for what is to come three to four years down the road,” Bollman stated.

Trailer Bridge was on the tip of launching this new program in March 2020 and then Covid hit – shutting down much of the economy across the globe. With in-person training options and travel affected, along with many employees working remotely, the team had a decision to make – continue the program or pause. The pandemic had changed many things, but it had not removed the need for training and development, nor the desire of the teams to grow. “There was absolutely no reason to take our eyes off growth but there was every reason to keep employees engaged,” says Bollman. “We wanted to be prepared for how we grew coming out the other side of the pandemic.” And with that, the program remained full steam ahead.

But, while the purpose was clear, the execution of it had to be quickly redesigned.

“The pandemic moved everything to online,” said Lewis. “The challenge with that is, you now deal with a variety of skillsets of people in the online world. It was a learning curve for all of us.”

The Trailer Bridge team adapted quickly and remained focused building personal growth and engaging with leadership.

The Outcome.

The Upskilling team landed on offering employees flexible options for their growth: choosing classes from a third-party online resource to go at their own pace as well as providing access to remote internal classes led by a Trailer Bridge employee, keeping camaraderie and engagement moving forward. “People were looking for those courses that would help them prepare for their future. Employees had buy-in in what they wanted to take,” said Bollman. “We found that people wanted more engagement, and they were excited that this training could be customized to their career goals.”

While the third-party training classes presenting software knowledge such as Microsoft Office were common, training produced and led by a leader at Trailer Bridge proved to be most popular. This led to an increase in in-house programs which also proved to be very efficient as well.

“Engagement was highest during these courses because although everyone was working from home, employees still wanted to interact with one another,” said Lewis. “They wanted to see and connect with those that they’re so used to working side-by-side with every day.”

Training and Development has also been rising on the list of wants for potential candidates when searching for a new position. In fact, most conversations with candidates nowadays revolve around growth and not just what monetary or health benefits the company will offer. The Trailer Bridge Talent Acquisition team ensures to highlight this benefit when vetting potential candidates. “It’s huge for our internal recruiting team. People coming into the workforce want to know what plan you have for them to take that next step within their career,” stated Amber Humphreys, Director of Talent Acquisition. “A lot of our candidate conversations revolve around the fact that our training and development is individualized and tailored to not just your position, but where you want to go. You can start out in a logistics office and eventually move into our accounting department down the road if that is what you want to do.”

There have been several employees across Trailer Bridge locations to take advantage of the program, and career growth has been a direct result. Take for example, Alex Damske out of the Jacksonville location. He began his career as a logistics sales and operations representative and was recently promoted to be the next training and development specialist (a newly created position and department) within just a few short years. Damske is also a member of Trailer Bridge’s Leadership Development Program – an in-house curriculum developed to cultivate the leadership that will continue to nurture the culture Trailer Bridge has worked hard to create
and maintain.

Trailer Bridge Jacksonville Brokerage Office

“When I started at Trailer Bridge as a logistics sales representative, I had zero knowledge about the industry, let alone how to work within the industry,” said Damske.

“By working with the people in Trailer Bridge, imparting their knowledge of the industry, plus the access to Upskilling that was provided, I was able to learn and grow at a blistering pace. Now I’m taking this wealth of knowledge to make Trailer Bridge even better as we pioneer a gapless and all-inclusive training program not seen in many of the companies in our industry,” stated Damske.

Kyle Olsen, now Branch Manager of Kansas City, is another great example of how Trailer Bridge’s training and development program builds careers. As a previous bartender, Kyle joined Trailer Bridge as a logistics sales and operations representative three years ago.

“When I first started at TB, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Olsen. “I always wanted more for my job and by switching to transportation, and finding that ladder to climb, it was the best decision I made.”

Kyle was able to apply his time management skills as a bartender to his current role and took advantage of the training and development that was offered, resulting in fast-tracking his career to open a new logistics branch in Kansas City.

Throughout the challenges the pandemic brought, the implementation of the Upskilling program was a success for 2020. It resulted in a 66% general improvement in skill level from the initial supervisor, with 85% of the targeted/desired level of skill achieved. That percentage has since skyrocketed. In 2021, Upskilling produced a 199% overall improvement in skill level from the initial supervisor assessment to final result, with 86% of the overall targeted or desired level of skill being achieved and continues to be of value in several ways. “Upskilling broadens the knowledge base for the team, but also demonstrates TB is interested in making people better through investment in their skills,” stated a Trailer Bridge Supervisor. The program, now annual, has proven to be beneficial to productivity and morale. Training and development brings a type of energy to the employee base and is vital to invest in those that propel the
company forward.

A Look Ahead.

As the program continues to develop, Trailer Bridge is in the midst of launching a Learning Management System (LMS) to provide the best reporting and monitoring, and automatic enrollment when someone comes on board or when that employee hits a milestone.

“It’s the best of both worlds – technology and innovation with an old school personal touch,” said Bollman. “That’s our trademark of pretty much everything we do here. We are always innovating, but we never forget to be human.”

To sum it up, investing in employee development and growth may be just a part of who Trailer Bridge is, but it’s a key part. We take the time to truly invest in our employees, cultivating growth and innovation. Employees are our #1 asset and moving forward together is where our priority will remain. Always.

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