In almost every survey in which distributors are asked to identify their biggest concerns, the answers include the challenge of finding qualified people.
Our industry is a mature one, and careers in industrial distribution have been described as the world’s best kept secret.
Some colleges offering industrial distribution programs and classes have seen growth with most of their graduates receiving multiple job offers. The courses these students have taken include everything from mechanical engineering, to sales and supply chain integration. They are ready for jobs and careers in industrial distribution.
But how do we get entry-level students from high school to become interested and find out more about industrial distribution? The ever–expanding Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP) program is helping to fill that void.
The Alliance Partnership
ICP is an alliance of several leading trade associations: The American Supply Association (ASA); the Industrial Supply Association (ISA) Education Foundation; NAHAD (the Association for Hose & Accessories Distribution); NIBA (the Belting Association); the Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA) Foundation; and – most recently – the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED).
Each Alliance partner has a staff member and an association member on the ICP Steering Committee who assists in the planning and development of the ICP initiative and advises on program components.
ICP says it addresses the need for skilled industrial distribution, manufacturing sales, and customer service for today and tomorrow. ICP helps link students and job seekers through partnerships with educators and job seekers.
Mary Jawgiel, ICP’s Program Director, says the challenge is to let these students know there is such an industry as industrial distribution.
ICP representatives have appeared at trade shows, career fairs, and high school classrooms bearing the message that industrial distribution can be a truly rewarding career.
“Almost everyone who comes into our booth at a show has no idea what industrial distribution is,” she says. “That’s the message we’re trying to get out, and help them find out more about what a great industry it is. These students are starting to take notice.”
Jawgiel recalls one student coming into ICP’s booth when the booth was being staffed by a representative of a large power transmission firm.
The student told them he wanted to go into aeronautical engineering. He was surprised to learn that the distributor’s customer was a major aeronautical manufacturer. It was such a big account that the distributor had a full-time person at the manufacturer’s site.
“You should have seen his eyes light up,” she says. “We want to show young people that industrial distribution can be a ‘cool’ industry.”
An Up-Close Understanding of Distribution
One way to get the message out is through tours of a distributor’s operation. Two classes from Simley High School in Inver Grove, MN had the opportunity to tour either Motion Industries’ St. Paul branch in February, or BDI’s St. Paul branch in March. Kim Sievert-DiSanto, an instructor, career discovery teacher, and work coordinator, thought the tours were helpful as a first step in getting the students to better understand the field of industrial distribution.
“Students did not quite understand how businesses interact and work together; they thought the branch we visited was the only location,” she said in an ICP press release. “They did not quite understand that Motion Industries and BDI distribute products as well as provide technical assistance. It was quite a learning experience for both classes.”
That is not surprising to Jawgiel, who notes how beneficial the tours are in opening up the eyes of young students to industrial distribution. “They have no clue as to the operation of a business and certainly can’t connect to the fact that many of these companies have billions of dollars in sales,” she says.
About 10 to 15 students participate in each tour. The hosts of these tours say the students are eager to learn about the business and career opportunities. One distributor said he was surprised how well they were prepared with their questions.
ICP is also helping students by attending many specialized trade events. Representatives from three of the ICP Alliance Partner associations met with hundreds of technically-minded students and their instructors at the SkillsUSA TECHSPO in Kansas City June 24-26 and at the Skills Canada National Competition in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada June 4-6.
“We try and get as many business cards from instructors as possible and follow-up with them for career fairs and the like,” Jawgiel says.
“We’ve had very good success,” she adds, noting that ICP wants to attract all types of students but has a specific focus on technical and vocational students at the local or regional level. She explained that is because there is a greater chance that in three to four years that’s where these students may be living and working.
Jawgiel also praises the assistance of so many distribution representatives who have taken the time to help man the booth at many shows.
“Usually, (the distributors) say after the meeting that they had so much fun. Every one of them said they would do it again,” she says.
Jawgiel adds that she is hopeful that many more associations will join. That seems to be happening, as two of the alliance partners joined ICP during a two-month period.
If you’d like more information about IPC, go to the group’s website at www.industrialcareerspathway.org. Helping ICP means that you will be helping our industry in meeting the talent needs our businesses will need in the future.
Jack Keough is contributing editor of Industrial Distribution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.