This is a part of the 2014 Distribution Trends Report. The annual report was researched and written by MDM editors based on interviews with dozens of wholesaler-distributors, as well as industry experts and manufacturers. MDM also conducted a survey of its readers to uncover the trends outlined in this report.
2014 Distribution Trends Report
This article is a part of MDM’s 2014 Distribution Trends Report. The article looks at how training programs are helping employers hold on to their most skilled employees, and increasing the potential of others.
Finding the right people with the right skills to fill open positions can be a big challenge for distributors. “We have applicants; we’re not sure if we have one that fully meets our needs,” wrote one respondent to a recent MDM survey.
To counteract this deficit, more distributors have implemented in-house training and development programs. Distribution companies are starting to invest more money and time in future employees to ensure the return on investment is of equal or greater value.
“We spend a lot of money on training, we are always training,” says Stewart Strauss, CEO of Strauss Paper Company, Port Chester, NY. “The question is, is it worth what we have invested? Are we getting the value back?”
Strauss emphasizes product training with his employees and uses a quiz system for evaluations.
“Every month there is a written quiz that goes out to customer service,” Strauss says. “We want you to pass. The test is, can you get this done in a normal amount of time if a customer called in and wanted data?”
Training programs allow for employees to enter the industry without a background in distribution. Training also makes it easier for an employer to fill positions from a pool of people with limited skills.
“It’s making sure that we have training programs in place to bring people into the organization and bring them up to speed, so we’re not always trying to find people who already know what they’re doing,” says Phil Derrow, president and CEO of Ohio Transmission Corp., Columbus, OH.
Training, however, is not one-size-fits-all, as DXP Enterprises in Houston, TX, discovered. While traditionally they looked to hire new salespeople, not everyone is cut out for sales.
“We want them to tell us where they fit,” says James Webster, vice president, power transmission & bearings division, DXP Enterprises. “We train them and put them through all the different fundamentals and basics in our business, and then we ask, ‘Where do you like to work?’ We need good people in operations too.”
For many companies, training involves investment in technology. Bill Mansfield, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Graybar, St. Louis, MO, says the company uses its technology platforms to track employee training and notify employees when new training is available.
The training system, however, is not only for onboarding new employees. Mansfield says it helps develop employees at all levels within the company.
“It really helps us track our goals, identify development needs and keep our leadership succession plans on track,” he says.
Developing training programs can be time consuming and expensive, though, making it a challenge for smaller or mid-sized distributors. Associations, such as the National Association of Electrical Distributors and the Industrial Supply Association, are trying to help members overcome those barriers, however, by providing online training programs. These association-provided “learning centers” cover a broad range of topics, from the basics of Microsoft Office to management training.
Distributors are recognizing that more engagement in all levels of employment will help them find the right people and keep them. Providing new content to learn about and pushing for further potential can support individuals’ growth and expand on a company’s profit margins.