How electrical distributors can use career fairs, sponsorships, and advisory boards to position themselves as employers of choice for fresh college grads.
In an era where finding and keeping good employees has become extremely difficult, and where the nation’s unemployment rate hovers at historic lows, companies in all industries are being forced to develop more effective recruiting, training, and retention efforts. Electrical distributors are no exception.
“I get approached by companies all the time that are trying to find new employees,” says Ben Brachle, industrial distribution program coordinator for University of Nebraska at Kearney. “In fact, this past week I heard from four different companies that were looking for help. The level of interest we’re seeing is pretty amazing right now.”
A Focus on Distribution
Focused mainly on technical sales, UNK’s industrial distribution program is particularly relevant for electrical distributors whose products need more support than, say, a distributor that sells maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) supplies. Brachle says the school’s specialized program also focuses on instilling “some level of management capacity” within students—yet another reason why he’s a go-to contact when companies need employees.
“We’re focused on distributors,” Brachle explains, “but manufacturers will also come and recruit here, namely because of our sales focus.” He says that level of interest has grown right along with the national economy, which is “firing pretty well right now,” according to the companies he’s hearing from. With the baby boomers retiring and a new demographic coming into the workforce, bridging that gap between generations has become difficult for companies across most industries.
To help, UNK holds career events that tend to attract a high number of employers in search of new candidates. “We have to turn companies away in some cases because we just don’t have enough majors. I wish we had more supply to offer,” says Brachle, noting that UNK’s program also focuses on getting more students interested in industrial distribution and then “giving them the skills they need to be successful in the industry.”
Employers of Choice
In theory, aligning with a university or college and then positioning your company as an “employer of choice” sounds simple enough. In reality, the task is a lot more difficult than it looks. For starters, Brachle says it’s not a short-term game. In other words, you can’t just make a call and get introduced to a handful of new graduates who are looking for jobs.
“At our university at least, it’s definitely a long-term game,” he says. “Some companies just want to come in and get their empty positions filled, and if they offer a high enough salary that just might happen.” The problem is that throwing money at the problem doesn’t always work out in the long run. “You wind up paying for inexperience; you’re paying for a fresh college graduate,” says Brachle, “and that’s not the way a distributor should go.”
Instead, that employer should “partner” with the university in question, participate in career events, sponsor classes or programs, and otherwise get their brands in front of potential recruits. “All of our majors have to attend the career event—even freshmen,” Brachle explains. “The distributors that are recruiting from UNK have a consistent presence at those events. Students see them every semester and know who they are.”
Brachle sees internships as another great way for distributors to get a foot in the door with graduating classes. Every student has to complete a 12-week internship (during their final summer in school), and some of those experiences are better than others. Make yours interesting, engaging, and useful, says Brachle, and the odds that the student in question will come back for a full-time job will be that much better.
Having worked with employers like Graybar, Van Meter, and 3M, Brachle says internships give both employee and employer a chance to see if there’s a good fit. “We don’t have any hard numbers on this,” says Brachle, “but I’d say probably around half of our students go back to their interning company for a full-time job, if they’re offered one.”
In it for the Long Haul
Two years ago, UNK graduated two of its largest industrial distribution classes. A few smaller classes would follow, but now Brachle says the school is “starting to grow one of its biggest classes again.” That’s good news for electrical distributors that put the time and effort into partnering with UNK and positioning themselves as employers of choice for young graduates.
“In general, the companies with the successful recruiting experiences are the ones that come in and work with us over the long haul,” Brachle reiterates. “They might not be looking for a salesperson this semester, but they might need one for next semester or maybe even next year. It’s about cultivating that talent pipeline over time, and not just focusing on immediate results.”
A UNK industrial distribution grad himself, Brachle says distributors should find a program that they can align and partner with in some capacity. At UNK, for example, companies can become “program partners” by making financial and other contributions to the program. Those partners participate in student sales competitions (e.g., by serving as judges and playing the part of the buyer) and/or serving on the program’s advisory board. “Our advisory board is made up of companies that come in, sit at the table with us, tell us what they’re seeing,” says Brachle, “and make suggestions on how we should steer this ship.”
Brachle says those “highly-involved” distributors tend to have the most success with their on-campus recruiting efforts, and namely due to the level of exposure that they have with both faculty and students. “We plaster their logos everywhere,” Brachle explains, “and students know who they are before they graduate.”
That’s an important point in a world where the graduating class of 2019 has more job options than many of its predecessors. “It takes more than just a trip to Kearney, Nebraska to find your next best employee through UNK’s industrial distribution program,” Brachle advises. “Some companies might get lucky with that approach, but for the most part you really have to devote some time to it.”Tagged with best practices, recruiting