How to think beyond salary and profits when recruiting young employees in today’s tight labor market.
“We’re a people company that just happens to be in the construction industry,” the recruiter told a roomful of University of Alabama at Birmingham future industrial distribution graduates. “We’re in the people development business.”
Thomas DeCarlo, UAB’s Ben S. Weil endowed chair of industrial distribution, says that the message resonated with students, and showed that the company—which also has a significant distribution arm—wanted to do more than just fill empty seats. It actually wanted to develop young grads into successful distribution employees, managers, salespeople, and leaders. “That was a neat way to talk to students,” DeCarlo says. “It really grabbed their attention.”
That’s just one way electrical distributors can position themselves as potential employers in this tight labor market, where numerous companies are vying for those graduates’ attention. In this Q&A, DeCarlo gives his best advice to companies that want to differentiate themselves and attract the class of 2019’s attention:
Q: When it comes to recruiting new college grads, what’s working best right now?
A: From what I’m seeing, companies get the best results when they partner up with programs like ours. They sponsor events, come to classes to guest-speak, do a lunch, answer questions about the industry, and so forth. Local executives come in occasionally and tell students their stories: What do we do? What would it be like to work with us? And how can someone develop a successful career here? The companies that come in and do those types of presentations are essentially partnering with our program and, as a result, tend to attract the best job candidates. The students already know these distributors, who have built their brand with our program over the years.
Q: How important is salary to this year’s graduating class?
A: It’s no secret that all of the students want to make good money, but they also see value in other, non-monetary rewards. Health benefits, paid time off, and the overall corporate culture are other factors that come into play. The work itself also matters. Students want to engage with and feel like they’re a valued part of the organization, and not just another warm body to fill an empty seat.
Q: Does the distributor that needs an employee immediately stand the chance of finding one in UAB’s 2019 graduating class?
A: We have a lot of companies asking for students right now. You can’t just waltz in here from an unknown XYZ company and expect students to jump at the chance to fill out an application and interview with you. The process takes both time and effort.
Q: How can distributors improve their chances of getting a good “match” when recruiting new grads:
A: It can be really hard to predict who sticks and who doesn’t. There’s obviously always going to be some 5-star recruits that we think would be an unbelievably good match for any distributor. This is the top 20% that can go anywhere, so to speak. The other 80% of graduates are also going to be good, but as a faculty member I don’t always have that intimate knowledge of the student’s motivations or success potential.
Q: Should grades, internships, and/or past job experience come into play when making that decision?
A: Grades are important, but they don’t really tell the whole story. A lot of our students at UAB put themselves through school, so they work during the day and attend classes at night. As a result, they may earn B’s and C’s, with a couple of A’s sprinkled in. This person is actually a very good candidate for an electrical distributor, who might expect a new employee to work 50-hour weeks—something these students have already been doing (plus attending school). Internships are required here; that’s part of our program. So, students are always going to have some degree of industry work experience. Beyond that, what you see on a resume can be hard to decipher in terms of, “Is this person a good fit…or not?”
Q: What else should go into a hiring decision right now?
A: One of the biggest things that companies should look for are candidates who are able to go where the company needs them to go. For example, I know that companies struggle with finding employees who are willing to leave their hometowns and work out of state (or, in a different region within their home states). What students need to understand is that these moves don’t have to last forever; it’s just while they’re starting their careers.
Q: How can electrical distributors position themselves in a favorable light with this year’s ID graduating class?
A: Students really like the idea of being taught how to work in or run the entire business, and not just one part of it. For example, they don’t want to just manage inventory for the next six or eight years. They want to learn all aspects of the business and rotate around a bit. They like it when a company comes in and says, “Okay, you’ll be working here or there for one year until you learn this, and then we’ll let you experience another opportunity.” The bottom line is that students don’t want to be stuck. Finally, they also seem to gravitate toward companies that offer the “team approach” to learning, where they can commiserate and share their experiences with a cohort of new hires or trainees. That seems to go over pretty well with this younger generation of distribution employees.
Q: What else would you tell distributors that are having a hard time finding skilled labor right now, and that are looking to universities for help?
A: Think beyond profits, because that’s what these potential new recruits are doing. Having a healthy bottom line is good and it’s also necessary, but a lot of our students are looking past that at how they (and the companies that they work for) are adding value to society. For example, they like to hear about how their prospective employers are adding value in their communities, the types of outreach they’re involved in, and how these efforts are helping our society as a whole.Tagged with best practices, recruiting