DHL: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders [Case Study]

09 September 2016 -


Find out how DHL is engaging students and younger workers to help build for the future

Global logistics company DHL makes young people part of its business in many different ways.

The company organises everything from formalised engagement activities such as going into schools to talk about the importance of work and careers available within the logistics industry, to strategic programmes such as Teach First, Outward Bound and apprenticeship programmes.

Why? DHL’s reason for engaging young people is simple: they will be running the business in 20 years’ time. And not only do young people bring diversity to a business, says Sharon Davies, Corporate Affairs Director, but they also come with their own set of skills.

“Their digital literacy is astounding,” she says. “They bring a whole new perspective to problem-solving. Plus there’s an energy and vitality that encourages a culture of new ideas and innovation.”

It seems so simple, but there are many companies who haven’t made young people part of their strategy. Davies suspects that a misconception about the younger generation might partly be at fault here.

“Sometimes companies are worried about the management time and handholding it will take,” she says. “But maybe they don’t understand what many of these young people are like: hugely keen and fast learners. They think quickly, and they pick things up really quickly.”

Work experience and apprenticeships

DHL is currently focusing on their formal work experience and apprenticeship programmes. With constant changes in funding and the upcoming Apprenticeship Levy, they’re trying to ensure that both the business and the young people get the absolute most out of their experiences.

Some of the programmes focus specifically on young people from underprivileged backgrounds, recognising the talent they may otherwise miss out on.

“Unless they’re part of programmes like these they may never become visible,” Davies says. “If they’re up against some of the apprentices I’ve seen they may not make it through a regular interview process – simply because they’re often not as confident.

”It’s got nothing to do with talent, and you’ve got to give these young people that additional help.”

Apprenticeships have been part of the company for a long time; we currently have 111 active apprenticeships.

“Apprentices are working in all of our departments and are seen as a new and exciting talent pool,” Davies says. “We may want to keep them on after their apprenticeship ends, and if they do leave we want them to have had a great experience.”

In fact, to date, DHL has kept 72% of their apprentices in the business.

Employers and schools need to do more

Davies believes that both schools and employers could do more to offer valuable experience of work: “Employers should have a good sit-down with schools to make them understand what they offer. The more businesses can help make it easier for schools, the better.

”It’s about working together in the most flexible way possible, so that both the school and the employer can keep running ‘business as usual’.”

This approach has often resulted in DHL and their partner schools building skills into the curriculum, topped up with, for example, industry days to give students an all-round understanding of the world of work.

Management support

Davies says that, to make it work, management buy-in is essential.

“Our CEO is passionate about getting young people in and he regularly sits down with them to discuss ideas,” she says. “And of course there are the line managers who work with the young people on a day-to-day basis. A lot is driven by them – they need to be supportive of the programme or it simply will not work.”

After all, there’s something in it for them as well: “Employees benefit significantly by developing their own coaching and mentoring skills, but in addition it has a real ‘feel good factor’,” Davies says. “From a business point of view, developing these softer skills among existing employees is great, whilst we are also developing our workforce of the future.


Get management buy-in – make sure to get full support from the top – it will filter down to all management levels and get employees engaged and prepared.

Recognise the effort and communicate the benefits – make sure that employees are recognised for the time and effort they put into coaching young people, and communicate the benefits for all involved.

Have a plan – know what you want to get out of the apprenticeships and work experience, and be very clear and upfront with both the company and young people from the beginning.

DHL is the global market leader in the logistics industry. The company commits its expertise in international express, air and ocean freight, road and rail transportation, contract logistics and international mail services. DHL is present in over 220 countries around the globe and has a workforce exceeding 325,000 employees worldwide

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