Industry Market Trends

Industrial Distribution's Talent Gap, Pt. II: Expanding the Pipeline

Oct 21, 2013

For industrial distributors, hiring young talent to train has become a shrinking option. Raising awareness about the industrial distribution field is just one strategy that can ensure that the industry has a pipeline of quality workers now and in the future.

Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP), a North American initiative addressing the need for a skilled workforce in industrial distribution, manufacturing sales, and customer service, focuses on bridging the gap between qualified job hunters and potential employers.

This summer, the ICP Steering Committee reviewed its strategic plan and refined its action goals and progress metrics. It also developed a new three-year plan to advance the initiative's mission: to meet the demand for industrial distribution specialists caused by an expected demographic shift in the industrial workforce.

"We are well aware that the field of industrial distribution is not one that is well-known by the general public, so part of our work is to create awareness of what this job is among 18-34 year olds," committee chairman Terry Knight, director of strategic sales and business development at SKF USA, Inc., recently said in a statement. "It's the Millennials that will be needed to maintain productivity, and there are incredibly rewarding careers in industrial distribution out there right now, many of which don't require college degrees."

Emphasis on Raising Awareness, Education, and Training

As part of its effort, ICP "ambassadors" will attempt to "put a face" on the field of industrial distribution.

"We are using our grassroots volunteer force of ICP ambassadors to attend high school and community/technical college career fairs, where those in the industry can talk face-to-face with young people wanting to learn more about the field," ICP Director Mary Jawgiel said. "Once someone explains the vast options available and what is involved, these young people become very interested in the career paths they can follow."

Entry-level jobs in industrial distribution generally require no more than a high school diploma, however, community colleges and technical/vocational schools are beginning to play a critical role in educating future industrial employees, Jawgiel told Career Journal.

"The importance of these types of institutions will continue to grow as young people start to see industrial careers as viable employment options," she said. "ICP believes these institutions offer a less-expensive route to an incredibly rewarding career in the field of industrial distribution."

A survey conducted by the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors (NAW)  Institute found that only 10 percent of the respondents require education above an associate's degree for inside sales positions, and 25 percent require an associate's degree or higher for outside sales jobs.

Industry training programs are another way to prepare interested job candidates for work in the field. The ICP offers a four-module technical course, called Elements of Industrial Distribution, for new employees and interns. The self-study course provides a comprehensive overview of the field for those who are unfamiliar with it.

Incoming Power Transmission Distributors Association Foundation (PTDA) President Ken Miko has integrated this program for new hires at Bearing Distributors (BDI), where he is director of strategic accounts.

"The online version serves as a great introduction to the field of industrial distribution," he said. "It has saved our company a great amount of time in getting new employees up to speed, as many of those we hire at the entry level do not know about the field, training them quickly is extremely important."

Jawgiel emphasizes the value of on-the-job training - including internships - in tandem with classroom education. The combination often costs less for the job seeker and enables the new hire to learn the ropes of the position faster.

"Some organizations are creating internships that will allow them to introduce younger talent to the field as they attend a four-year college or community/vocational school," Jawgiel said. "If you can find someone with the personal traits you seek, creating an internship for them can provide them with the opportunity to learn the skills for the job."

The combination worked well for Mike Torres, marketing and export manager at Florida-based Goodyear Rubber Products, Inc., who attended a community college at night while working in distribution. He went on to complete a four-year degree in Business Administration and an MBA - while working full-time.

"I believe I was able to better understand many of the concepts being taught due to my 'real-world' experiences and wound up with a better education, certainly one that I could apply to my everyday work," he told ThomasNet News Career Journal.

See the first part of this coverage:  Industrial Distribution's Talent Gap: Facing a Massive Demographic Shift