MDM Podcast: PTDA Leader on Adapting to Modern Recruiting Demands - Modern Distribution Management

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MDM Podcast: PTDA Leader on Adapting to Modern Recruiting Demands

The content at PTDA’s Annual Summit in late October went heavy on recruiting and retaining best practices. Here, Mike Hockett chats with association CEO Ann Arnott to discuss key takeaways from the event, which included the nontraditional methods distributors can leverage to find and keep needed staff in a time when labor is hard to come by.

As we at MDM have detailed in numerous blogs throughout 2022, distributors need all the help they can get right now on the labor front. Whether that’s in recruiting new talent or finding ways to get current talent to stay, distributors have found that simply posting job openings, promoting competitive compensation and instituting casual Fridays doesn’t cut it anymore. Like most industries, leverage in the distribution job market has swung definitely to candidates, and distributors have struggled to adapt.

Distributors have typically never been keen on self-promotion. Most seem to be just fine with their understated role in the supply chain. But when it comes to hiring, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Ann Arnott,

“It has always been particularly difficult for our members, because our industry is not very highly visible,” explained Ann Arnott, Executive Vice President/Chief Executive Officer of the Power Transmission Distributors Association, in our latest MDM Podcast. “No one goes home and talks about how their PT/MC distributor came in and saved the day by providing the product that brought the line back up, or how they put it in a whole new process that’s going to lower operating costs.”

It’s that visibility element that, until the past couple of years, distributors haven’t had to really think about. Now, they can’t afford not to. How to raise company visibility with job candidates was a key content pillar of PTDA’s 2022 Industry Summit that I attended Oct. 27-29 in Nashville, Tennessee, where half of the speaking sessions detailed what distributors can do to be seen and appeal more with young candidates.

“Getting those potential employees to know who these companies are, and how incredibly rewarding these careers are, is a difficulty that our members are facing; and it has to be one of their top priorities,” Arnott emphasized. 

She went to to explain that many employees at PT/MC distributors are essentially born into the industry, as about half of PTDA’s distribution members are family-owned. Others fall into the industry, which Arnott illustrated with the example of Michael Cinquemani, who was presented with the association’s Warren Pike Award —  a distinguished lifetime achievement honor honoring an individual’s long-term support of the PTDA and PT/MC industry. 

Cinquemani was a longtime Rockwell Automation manager and vice president before an EVP sales role at Baldor Electric before buying manufacturer Master Power Transmission in 2010. During PTDA’s Summit, Arnott shared a Zoom interview video where she informed Cinquemani of the award, and during his stunned remarks, Cinquemani noted that when he was in college in the mid-1980s, the PT/MC industry wasn’t even on his radar until he saw that Reliance Electric Industrial Company was holding on-campus interviews. Otherwise, he said, he probably never would’ve pursued that career path.

“We need — as an organization — to help our members change that,” Arnott told me. “They need to look beyond their traditional candidates, to the non-traditional pool, so they can get more visibility with their future employees before they hit the job market. And that’s why those (PTDA Summit) sessions are so relevant. And that’s what they were designed for to help employers understand it’s a different problem.”

Strong Demand for PT/MC at October’s End

PTDA’s late October event had 460 attendees — a figure Arnott said was right on par with PTDA’s 2019 Industry Summit. The association’s 2020 event had to pivot to a virtual format amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the association had to scramble in 2021 to hold it in-person, having to change locations and dates about five months prior to it.

Given widespread assumptions of an economic slowdown coming in the first half of 2023, I did plenty of straw polling at the event by asking distributor and manufacturer attendees how product demand was faring as of the event and the outlook status for the rest of 2022. And I was pleasantly surprised to hear almost everyone I asked say that demand was robust and that they were expecting a strong fourth quarter, continuing what has been a bumper revenue year. Several attendees noted that demand is down in a few individual PT/MC customer segments, but as a whole, was very healthy. Some of those same attendees told me that other product lines are still facing supply chain holdups and that “If we can get it, we can sell it,” because the demand is still there.

Arnott echoed that sentiment in our podcast interview.

“That’s exactly what we’re hearing,” she told me when I shared those demand comments. “The challenge is that everybody’s crystal ball is still a little cloudy, because (our members) used to be able to rely on the historical trends. And as we know, the history isn’t reliable at the moment. So I think some of them, too, are a bit surprised that the end of the year is finishing just as strong as the rest of the year went. So, hopefully that continues.”

PTDA’s Talent Resources

Arnott and I went on to talk about how PTDA is helping distributors and manufacturers with their talent challenges via investment from the PTDA Foundation and the PT Work Force initiative that developed out of it. PT Work Force launched in 2018, and its role has only grown in the time since — accelerated by labor trends over the past couple of years. PTDA shared the stat that 46% of the PTDA membership doesn’t currently staff a full-time human resources employee. That hamstrings the bandwidth that member distributors and manufacturers have on the talent front, but PT Work Force has resources members can leverage in that effort.

We also touched on the new leadership PTDA elected at the summit for 2023, with Allied Bearing & Supply Vice President Mike McLain was elected 2023 President of the PTDA Distributor Board, while Flexo Chief People Officer Tammy Balogh was elected President of the Manufacturing Board.

It was a great conversation. Check out the full episode via the audio player above, and check out our full archive of MDM Podcasts here.

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