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Courting and Keeping Younger Employees: A Natural Career Progression

Competitive salaries and benefits are the foundation for attracting employees, but it takes more than that to be a magnet for the most desirable talent. The latest issue of tED magazine features a special report on attracting and retaining your next generation of employees. In this series of articles, tED Magazine explores a problem that continues to plague this industry – finding young people to hire, train and equip to lead this industry. To obtain valuable insights on the topic, tED spoke with our 30 Under 35 honorees, both past and present. Our interviewees have some great advice on how to find new employees, how they were kept engaged by their current employers, and what the industry has to offer Millennials. Be sure to check out this month’s issue to discover how leading companies, large and small, are crafting a creative training program and improving their own practices in order to hire the best candidates and keep them.

by Bridget McCrea

It’s been about 10 years since Eric Keller, a 22-year-old construction engineering management major, got a taste for electrical distribution. “I’ve always been fascinated by the electrical side of things,” says Keller, utility account manager with Border States Electric in Billings, Mt., “and all of the electrical parts and pieces that come together to complete a project.”

To fulfill both of those wishes, Keller sent his resume to an electrical distributor that his own father (who was working for an electrical contracting firm at the time) had done business with. “Border States was hiring and since I was already familiar with the company and what they did, I decided to give it a try,” recalls Keller, who started out working in the warehouse and soon moved into inside sales. From there, he was promoted to utility inside sales, followed by the successful completion of the firm’s management trainee program.

“Once I finished the program, I became a branch operations manager,” says Keller, who currently handles outside sales for the distributorship’s utility customers. He says his advancement up the “corporate ladder” was a natural progression that was stoked by his own desire to gain new knowledge, information, and skill sets. “As long as I was willing to put the time and effort into learning about new products and other parts of the business,” says Keller, “I was able to keep moving forward with my career.”

According to Keller, Border States also has a succession plan that helps managers and engineers achieve their respective career goals. The program lasts about two years and helps introduce employees to the different facts of the electrical distributor’s business. “Once you complete the 2-year program,” says Keller, “you can start exploring higher-level management and sales positions.”

Overcoming the Hurdles 
Looking back on the 10 years he’s spent working in the electrical distribution industry, Keller says one of his biggest career challenges came when he was promoted to branch operations manager. At the time, he’d been in the business for about eight years and quickly found himself managing workers who had 20- to 30-year industry tenures. “I was managing a lot of the peers who I had been previously working with,” says Keller. “Overcoming objections from some of the long-term employees was definitely a challenge.” 

To work through that issue, Keller says he put time into forming strong relationships with all of his employees – both on a professional and personal level. “I got to know all of them and their families,” says Keller, “and to learn what was going on their lives. Taking a genuine interest in the lives of the people I was supervising definitely made a difference.”

Don’t Just Show Them…Tell Them 
In assessing the last decade he’s spent working his way up through the ranks at Border States, Keller says the firm’s succession plan and approach to training have had major impacts on his success. To younger workers who may be contemplating a career in electrical distribution, he says a willingness to put time and effort into the task can mean the difference between success and failure. “I started in the warehouse and worked through all of the different progressions,” says Keller, “knowing that there were opportunities for advancement along the way.”

These days, Keller often helps younger workers gain solid footing in the industry where he’s been able to achieve success and work toward concrete goals. “I’m basically living proof that you can start out in the warehouse, get into inside and outside sales, and become a manager,” says Keller, who has helped younger workers better understand their opportunities within the industry through his own “real life” stories and experiences. “They understand that it’s not just an empty promise or our attempt to get them in the door. They can see the progression and the real opportunity that lies in front of them.”

Additional Articles in the Courting and Keeping Younger Employees tED magazine series
Moving Up Through the Ranks
The Other Side of the Fence
Climbing the Success Ladder

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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