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Why is continuing education important for today’s electrical distributors?

By Bridget McCrea

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day duties of running an electrical distributorship. There are sales to close, new products to review, catalogs to produce and bills to pay. The time leftover for continuing education is slim to none in most cases.

The problem is that without ongoing education owners, managers, salespeople and employees can quickly fall behind the curve. With technology advancing at the speed of light and new skill sets continually being introduced to the workforce, it pays to keep your team well informed and educated. Doing so also helps enhance employee retention—a continuing education program shows that you value your staff’s contributions and that you want to see them succeed.

“You should be optimizing your human resources just as you would optimize your inventory, facilities and transportation activities,” says F. Barry Lawrence, Ph.D., program director for Texas A&M University’s Industrial Distribution Program in College Station, Texas. “Doing so will give you a competitive edge, particularly when it comes to outside salespeople who are working on the front lines every day with customers.” 

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The problem is that most distributors are reluctant to pull their top reps in-house for training when they could be out on the road contributing to the firm’s bottom line. Lawrence says that reluctance could result in competitive disadvantages, namely because today’s customers are increasingly sophisticated and facing more challenges than ever. “When you take someone away from his or her job for a short time you wind up developing higher standards,” says Lawrence, “instead of just perpetuating your current standards.”

Within the distributorship’s four walls the customer service and/or inside sales reps should also be treated to regular doses of continuing education. He sees course instruction in a traditional classroom setting as a particularly effective option due to the face-to-face interaction afforded by that environment.

Distance education is another viable option that allows employees to gain new knowledge without having to travel or take too much time away from work. Lawrence says such education is served up in two different formats. Either students go online, read the material, listen to recorded lectures, and take tests (this is the cheaper/faster option), or they work with a “live” instructor and classroom of students online, in a virtual environment (this option is more expensive and requires more time on the student’s part).

Consider your choices carefully and don’t just shop on price, warns Lawrence, who says that those educational offerings that include direct instructor involvement are typically more powerful than the self-led varieties. Distributors should also consider a hybrid approach, he says, that includes both distance education and classroom involvement. “Use that for your top candidates,” says Lawrence.

If you’re still not convinced that continuing education will pay off for your distributorship, consider the fact that your suppliers look to you to serve as an entry point for their end users, and expect your employees to provide valuable, applicable solutions to those users. “If distributors don’t continuously and vigorously fulfill that need, manufacturers will have a reason to devalue the distributor’s value proposition,” says Lawrence. “If you don’t want that to happen, make the investment in your employees.”

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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