Exclusive Features

Courting and Keeping Younger Employees: The Other Side of the Fence

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. Here are their stories.

By Bridget McCrea

When 30-year-old Justin Clayton got into the electrical distribution industry just over three years ago, he brought with him an interesting perspective and skillset that many distribution employees simply don’t have. Now an outside sales representative with The Hite Company in Erie, Pa., Clayton already had years of experience as a field electrician. As a project manager for a local electrician, he would often visit distributorships to pick up parts, but his connection with distribution was limited to those interactions.

That changed when the company Clayton was working for scaled back to just three employees (from a previous eight) in order to cope with the economic recession. “I saw the writing on the wall and started looking around for other opportunities outside of the electrical installation field,” says Clayton. Already armed with years of hands-on experience in that field, Clayton’s interest in the distribution side piqued when he noticed a job ad in his local newspaper.

“I took notice of the ad because The Hite Company was one of our preferred distributors while I was working as an electrician,” recalls Clayton, who had never thought about making the switch to distribution. “I actually thought I’d work in the electrical field forever; it never dawned on me that I’d have to look for alternatives.”

Early on, Clayton says his new employer recognized and leveraged the existing skillsets and knowledge that he brought to the table. The company also realized that distribution was a completely different field for Clayton, who spent an entire year learning the ins and outs of the industry.

“I basically went through an entire 10-12 months of outside sales training by cycling through every department in the company to learn everything I could about each,” says Clayton. The training was intensive, he notes, and included everything from basic UPS-style warehouse receiving to inside sales to counter sales.

Upon “graduating” from the course, Clayton became an outside sales representative who was also extremely knowledgeable about the inner workings of the distributorship and its customers. “The training was invaluable,” says Clayton, “and really helped me get comfortable with my new position and the customers that I was going to be working with.”

Cross-Functional Job Training
As part of his yearlong initiation, Clayton also received cross-functional job training. If an inside salesman was sick and unable to come to work on a particular day, for example, Clayton would fill in. He would do the same in the warehouse, where Clayton learned all about picking, packing, and fulfillment. “It was an excellent way for me to learn everything I needed to know and get paid at the same time,” Clayton says. “It really worked out well.”

For Clayton, the educational experience didn’t end at the 12-month mark. In fact, he says he continues to learn about the industry itself and the technologically advanced products that he sells on a daily basis. “We’re in a pretty fast-paced industry where you really do have to pay attention and keep yourself up to date on what’s going on,” says Clayton, who also puts time into nurturing customer relationships. “You have to maintain the ones you have in place and try to find new ones; it’s an ongoing challenge that pushes you to think outside of the box.”

Staying Up to Date
Having come from the electrical field himself, Clayton urges distributors to explore that industry for potential job candidates. A younger electrician who makes frequent counter visits, for example, may turn into your next great recruit. “The trade world is similar to the sales world – it’s not for everyone,” says Clayton. “Keep an open mind when you’re looking around because that recent college graduate with a sales and marketing degree may not always be the best choice for your company.”

Once good job candidates have been identified and recruited into the fold, don’t be afraid to invest in them and nurture them to success, says Clayton. “My company did a very good job of keeping me busy and moving forward,” he says. “I felt like I was always on track with my goals and well supported by the people around me. That really made a difference for me.”

To recent college grads looking to make inroads in the electrical distribution marketplace, Clayton says maintaining an open mind around learning new things and adopting new practices are both “musts.” Learn about the technology (regardless of how rapidly it’s advancing) and soak up as much information as you can from your suppliers and your customers. “The market has changed so much within such a short period of time. If you don’t keep on top of things, you’ll be replaced pretty quickly,” says Clayton. “You can avoid this trap by continuing to learn and by letting your knowledge lead the way.”

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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