CRST The Transportation Solution Inc., formerly known as Cedar Rapids Steel Transport, is a large privately held U.S. company that provides a broad range of transportation and logistics solutions. CRST ranks among the top 25 for-hire fleets and the top 10 largest dry van fleets in the nation.

Jenny Abernathy recently took on the job of chief people officer at CRST in November 2022, a new role for the company. As CPO, Abernathy oversees and works alongside human resources and driver recruitment teams to “further CRST’s focus on providing career development opportunities and experiences for all employees,” according to the company website.

“We wanted to bring all talent strategies at CRST under one umbrella and build out how we become and/or maintain being an employer of choice,” Abernathy said.

Over the last three years, the fight for talent has moved from primarily drivers to every position for most employers, according to Abernathy. Despite these shifts in the labor market, this gave every employer a chance to step back and fine-tune what they do to be the best for their employees and customers — to think creatively and challenge norms.

Coming out of a unique cycle where capacity has been excessively short and demand extremely high, there have been a few habits and mindsets that shifted during this time, specifically regarding recruiting efforts.

“It has all brought about conversations around wasteful behaviors [on the recruiting and retaining side] and how to eliminate them,” Abernathy said.

Good recruitment efforts should require matching the right job with the right person. This comes with honest and up-front communication from the beginning, as well as prompt follow-ups after inquiries and interviews. 

Solid retention efforts also involve maintaining your employees’ level of expertise by providing the proper coaching and training regularly.

“Honest communication with good follow-up is key, but providing the tools and resources to continue the conversation around whether the job is the right fit is the other piece,” Abernathy said. “For company leaders and employers, it is a constant attempt to keep everything as current as possible.”

Just as it’s important to be transparent with your drivers, it’s just as vital to maintain transparency with customers and not take on something your company can’t fulfill, according to Abernathy. These things often go hand in hand and require clear communication across all teams in any given organization.

“When we go into this conversation, we bring in multiple teams,” she said. “For example, we start by bringing our engineering team to the table to see if they can make it work with the drivers and are happy with the compensation. We also discuss if all of it works to balance the needs of the customer, and then we go from there.”

The position of chief people officer helps to alleviate those types of company issues and it’s becoming increasingly more common in companies across all industries. Given the current labor market issues, Abernathy believes this is a great time for companies without this position to consider adding it so that employees benefit from an advocate on their behalf.

“It may not be for every company of every size,” she said. “But when you are building out your executive team, you need someone sitting at the table that’s thinking about the strategies and tactics that surround the employee experience. In addition, if you’re making significant changes to your business strategy, employees are at the center of that and having someone to consider both the operations and the people amid changes is important.”

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