By Bridget McCrea
Hydrotech, Inc., saw the writing on the wall a few years ago. At the time, the national economy was improving, jobs were suddenly more plentiful, and the number of available candidates was starting to dwindle. Add the word “qualified” or “experienced” to the company’s criteria list and the number of candidates shrunk down even further.
“We started to see a growing skills gap between the available candidates and those that were coming to us with experience and knowledge of our business,” says Jim Pickrel, marketing manager for the Cincinnati-based fluid power and motion automation solutions distributor. And while Hydrotech obviously works with different products than the typical NAED member does, the challenges it faces on the recruiting front are aligned well with that of an electrical distributor. For example, both industries are highly technical in nature and require both initial and ongoing training to keep employees up to speed on new applications and innovations.
“From our perspective, both manufacturing and industry as a whole are really evolving quickly,” says Pickrel. “Today, we’re less interested in finding someone who can swing a hammer and more intent on getting employees who can interface with computers and operate intelligent machinery.” Two years ago, after running into some challenges finding skilled workers in its area, the distributor reached out to Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. In doing so, the company hoped to better align itself with the educational system in its region while also cultivating some future job candidates.
According to Pickrel, the school was running an electromechanical engineering program that was a perfect match for what Hydrotech was looking to do. At the time, the chair of the college’s Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technologies program explained that the 200 majors in his program, as well as an equal number of electro-mechanical engineering technology majors, were using “outdated equipment.”
To get the project over the finish line, Pickrel says the distributorship participated in a series of meetings with the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technologies department head to come up with a plan of action. “We went over the plan and looked at exactly what the school needed to bring its lab up to date,” says Pickrel. “We wanted to make sure we understood the requirements and the specifications, and that we’d be able to make a positive impact on the program.”
A Branded Effort
Working with supplier Bosch Rexroth, Hydrotech donated four Pneumatic and Fluid Dynamic Training Systems to replace the old technology. The Bosch Rexroth DS3 models are being used to provide learning topics and experience in the simulation of manually and/or pneumatically operated valves, followed by electrically operated valves and the use of a PLC (programmable logic controller) in a control circuit and/or in a pneumatic handling system.
“This technical knowledge and competence provide students with the decisive advantage in global competition to have confidence and success in their field,” says Pickrel, who adds that the distributor got involved after learning from its supplier of the college’s need for updated equipment. Pickrel says the distributor worked directly with the program chair at the college to pull the initiative together, with the knowledge that Hydrotech would engineer, assemble, and develop the equipment.
“The training stands are branded with our company name, which in turn has helped us build relationships and a pool that we can tap into when we need skilled workers,” says Pickrel. “It also helps train young students on the latest technology, which will help advance our industry as a whole in our area. That will have a residual, long-term effect.”
Pickrel likens the initiative to the way in which Microsoft essentially infiltrated schools with computers that were pre-loaded with its software back in the 1990s and early-2000s. “Everyone grew up learning that operating system versus, say, Apple’s software,” says Pickrel. “As a result, there are a lot of people that continue to use it and stay up to date with Microsoft’s options. The same philosophy is working in the labs, where students are learning on Bosch Rexroth technology, which is our main component line.”
This year, Hydrotech went a little deeper with its college initiative by donating four hydraulic training stands to Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. The training assemblies, valued at $30,000 per unit, will be used by students in Cincinnati State’s Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technologies program.
The four hydraulic training stands form a system where students can test and train different scenarios they may encounter in the fluid power industry. Between 300 and 350 students will use these stands per year.
“These students may be working for us someday or for one of our local clients or partners,” said Pete Jones, Hydrotech CEO, in a press release. “It’s a blessing to us that we can help them develop the crucial skills necessary to be successful.”
Doing Your Part
The partnership between Hydrotech, Bosch Rexroth, and Cincinnati State is a good example of how suppliers and distributors can work together to develop recruiting plans that go beyond just posting jobs online or asking current employees for referrals. Allison Olden, NAED’s talent recruiting & retention specialist sees the model as being very applicable for electrical distributors that reach out to their own local community colleges and technical schools with an eye on developing similar programs.
“This is a great idea that all distributors should be able to replicate and use in their own backyards,” says Olden, “with the goal of developing a workforce that has hands-on experience using the state-of-the-art tools, equipment, and products that our industry is producing.”
To distributors that need that extra “push” to get out and start working with colleges, Pickrel says the best way to approach the task is by jumping in and asking what these institutions need. “There are a lot of colleges that are working on limited budgets and that could really use the help,” says Pickrel. “By doing your part, you can really create a nice win-win situation for everyone.”
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 email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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