Studies show the youngest generation entering the workforce start looking for a potential career path early in their education, and many are drawn to tech-based careers. MDM’s Future Leaders Awards highlight young, emerging talent who are already thriving in the industry and provide examples of how distributors can attract such leaders to join their business.
Distributors are well aware of the impact recruiting the right talent can have on moving their businesses forward. Within the last two years of the MDM-Baird distribution survey, approximately three-quarters of distributor respondents listed talent recruitment as a top priority (2018) and said they planned to counter slow sales growth by enhancing the sales process with more training or adding new skill sets to the workforce (2019). This recognition, paired with two other trends — a graying workforce and distribution’s increasing adoption of digital technology — has prompted more senior managers to focus on onboarding new talent with strong digital and analytic skills.
If the intent is to attract more next-gen talent, emphasizing a commitment to innovate and invest in the latest digital tools could improve a distributor’s chances of piquing the interest of Gen Z, suggest findings from a recent Glassdoor study, The Next Generation of Talent: Where Gen Z Wants to Work. This year, the demographic, currently ranging in age from 8 to 23, surpassed millennials as the most populous generation and many have either already entered the workforce, or are researching markets for future employment.
In its 2019 Recruitment Study, Chicago-based recruiting firm Yello found that a quarter of Gen Z students start their job search freshman or sophomore year of college and half start junior or senior year. So, distributors that get an early start on building their brand on local college and high-school campuses — via hosting information sessions about their industry, supporting relevant clubs or participating in online chats — are more likely to generate enthusiasm for internships and future employment opportunities.
How Distribution Can Capitalize
By pulling data from job applications between October 2018 and January 2019, Glassdoor learned that Gen Z job seekers are overwhelmingly drawn to careers in the tech industry, followed by business services, finance and retail. Currently, software engineer is the most in-demand job among the group, accounting for 19% of total applications submitted by Gen Z, says Glassdoor. Software developer is the second most popular career choice.
Pivot to the distribution sector, where distributors are always looking for a competitive advantage in the marketplace and increasingly searching for digital natives to help them stay relevant in the digital era. They are upgrading their ERP systems and using data and analytics to master customer segmentation and improve profitability. Expanding their digital marketing efforts, instituting e-learning to train salespeople, rebuilding their ecommerce sites, and relying on more tech tools to improve delivery times, up fulfilment rates and standardize the customer experience across multiple touch points are all initiatives experts say should be appealing to both Gen Z and millennial talent.
With disruption comes opportunity and there is a growing list of rewarding careers in distribution. MDM’s first annual Future Leaders Award program is our way of emphasizing the scope. In this issue of MDM Premium and the next, out March 25, we are highlighting emerging young industry leaders who have turned their individual passions for unlocking data, digital marketing, automation, and more into careers their employers say are contributing to measurable change within their organizations.
One of nine Future Leaders recognized by MDM, eCommunity Marketing Manager Kathryn Murray is credited with helping position her employer, distributor MSC Industrial Supply Co., as a go-to educational resource. Murray heads Better MRO, an online community and knowledge hub that provides channel partners with access to educational information and tools such as webinars, articles and digital calculators, and connects them with their peers and industry experts.
“In its first year, the site attracted over a quarter million visitors and continues to grow with a high rate of repeat visitors,” says MSC Industrial Supply Director of Corporate Communications Paul Mason. “Through Kathryn’s vision and leadership, we have made it a daily, trusted resource for manufacturers to research problems and stay current with best practices.”
Since joining manufacturer Engineered Specialty Products (ESP), Operations and Technology Manager Tony Moore has focused on unlocking the company’s data to streamline processes throughout the warehouse. Thanks to his analysis of warehouse management system (WMS) metrics, the pressure gauge and temperature instruments manufacturer was able to reduce its average shipping time from seven days to one. Encouraged to use data to innovate, Moore continues to “explore new ways of applying data beyond simply correcting operational problems,” according to his nomination. Currently, he’s researching how he can use data to streamline processes in other areas of the business such as sales and customer service.
Recruiting Next-Gen Talent
Jeff McLendon, president and CEO of U.S. Lumber Group, is a sought-after speaker on the topic of how to recruit, retain and develop next-gen talent, largely because of the ever-present bubble of enthusiasm surrounding him and his company’s success in all three. Since making a strategic decision seven years ago to replenish its drying pipeline by hiring and training millennials, U.S. Lumber Group has transformed its talent pool. Today more than 40% of its staff fall in the 40-and-under range, and its retention rate among the group is 70%.
“I love this generation and I think that it’s made a difference to recruit them, to sponsor them and to create an environment where they want to work and are celebrated,” he says.
That same confidence also extends to Gen Z. U.S. Lumber Group is heavily involved in supporting college athletic programs, campus ministries and other non-profit organizations. It’s a huge investment, says McLendon, who does a lot of speaking on college campuses because of his commitment to give back — which goes far beyond building his company’s brand. That’s important, he says, because Gen Z places a premium on truth and authenticity.
Last month, the CEO was in Mount Berry, Georgia, speaking to 30 athletes on the men’s and women’s soccer teams at Berry College. The topic: Identity and Impact: How Your View of Yourself Impacts Your Ability to Perform and Lead at the Highest Level. Now, McLendon says, a couple of soccer players from Berry are interested in potentially working for U.S. Lumber Group.
When he speaks with potential recruits, he always starts his talks by addressing their assumptions about future employers. Perceptions vary, but if they are aware of wholesale distribution as a viable career option, some next-gen talent believe that distributors are behind the times and not equipped with the new technology and innovation they’ve become accustomed to as digital natives. Others have bought into the stereotype of distribution being full of unkempt warehouses void of modern spaces. The most damaging, thinks McLendon, is the belief that distribution companies run by leadership in their mid-50s or older are not for them.
“The opposite of being for them is to think that we want to change them, or that we want something different from them,” he says. “So, when I meet with new recruits at our company or visit a group of young people, I usually start with, ‘I’m for you. A lot of people my age have a hard time understanding your generation and I want you to know that I’m not one of those people. I think the way you’re wired is great and I think you’re going to change the world.’”