By Bridget McCrea
A series of articles that explores the current labor environment and how electrical distributors are dealing with—and in some cases, suffering from—a dearth of skilled and available labor.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that U.S. companies are dealing with a shortage of skilled labor right now. Overall, job growth has been particularly robust over the past year, with average growth of about 235,000 jobs per month, according to the Center for American Progress and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By November of last year, long-term unemployment had hit a record low since the end of the recession, hitting less than one-third of its post-recession peak.
During 2015, job platform Monster reports that the most difficult openings to fill were for skilled trade workers, drivers, teachers, sales reps, administrative professionals, management and executives, nurses, technicians, accounting and finance staff, and engineers. The sectors with the highest levels of growth in recent months include business services, education and health services, construction, leisure and hospitality, transportation and warehousing, and government.
“Companies that employ staff in these fields should not be surprised if employee turnover increases in 2016, as talent seeks different job opportunities,” states Patrick Clark in 4 Recruiting Challenges That HR Will Face In 2016 (And 4 Proactive Ways To Solve Them).In fact, one-third of the workforce was planning to change jobs within six months, as of late-2015 – a fact that should make companies across all industries sit up and take notice.
Throw in the fact that the huge baby boomer generation is retiring and being replaced by newer, “greener” millennial candidates and the task of finding skilled, knowledgeable workers becomes that much more difficult. And while companies may have candidates for open positions, those individuals often don’t always have the necessary skills and competencies needed to perform on the job. For the electrical distributor who needs an inside salesperson, outside rep, or customer service professional to “jump right in” and take charge of his or her job right out of the gate, this fact alone can be a major challenge.
The Distributor’s Conundrum
Electrical distributors aren’t immune to the labor market trends that started in 2015 and that have continued into 2016. In fact, many of them are working short-staffed and attempting to scale up their labor forces. But a few things are standing in the way of that goal. For starters, some firms are still in post-recession recovery mode and reluctant to kick off any full-scale hiring programs. Others are operating in markets—like Texas—where the current business environment is unpredictable and fluctuating right now. Still others simply can’t find the right number of “skilled” workers (i.e, those that don’t need months or years of training to get up to speed on the fine points of electrical distribution) that they need to fill their employee, management, and even leadership pipelines.
For this series of articles, tED magazine is talking to distributors to get a gauge on their current human resource challenges, how they’re dealing with these issues, and how working short-staffed is impacting their businesses.
Case in Point: K/E Electric Supply Co.
The fact that there’s a significant labor shortage right now isn’t lost on Rock Kuchenmeister, general manager at K/E Electric Supply Co., in Mt. Clemens, Mich. He says the issue extends across distributors, manufacturers, and contractors – all of which are having a difficult time filling open positions. “Everyone is working short staffed,” says Kuchenmeister. Compounding the issue is K/E Electric’s commitment to “working lean” while still finding new ways to grow, expand, and remain profitable.
To help ensure there are enough hands on deck when someone goes on vacation or gives two week’s notice, the leadership team at K/E Electric uses strategies like cross-training to fill in the gaps. “Cross-training your employees to mitigate risk may involve developing your team’s capacity so your company has the flexibility to respond to fluctuating workflows,” writes Forbes’ Chris Cancialosi in Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees. “It can also include training for different skill sets in the event that a key employee leaves, or simply as a way to prepare a lower-level employee to move up in the organization. Either way, cross-training can be extremely beneficial to your organization as a whole.”
K/E Electric also holds ongoing educational seminars (usually during business “downtimes”) and utilizes a mentoring program that finds younger workers “shadowing” veteran employees to learn the latter’s jobs, techniques, and day-to-day responsibilities. Ultimately, Kuchenmeister says the goal is always having someone on deck, standing by to step up and fill in should the inevitable happen.
In measuring the impact of the skilled labor shortage on his distributorship – and in comparing this to what he’s hearing from other electrical distributors in the marketplace – Kuchenmeister feels K/E Electric’s efforts are paying off. “Because we have these programs in place, and because we’re accustomed to working very ‘lean,'” he says, “the impact has been minimal.”
But K/E Electric isn’t resting on that success. Kuchenmeister says the distributorship will be “actively hiring” in 2016 and hopes to add more staff to its roster over the next few months. As that goal is met, he says the company will look more closely at its training programs and do what it needs to do to bring inexperienced new hires up to speed quickly. “We know we’ll have to hire people who are untrained in our industry,” he concludes, “so we’ll be putting even more emphasis on training, education, and mentoring.”
9 Tips for Filling Your Employee Pipeline
If the labor shortage is negatively impacting your distributorship’s bottom line, check out these hiring tips from Monster and America’s Job Exchange.
- Clearly define what you are looking for. While not every employee will possess all the skills you outline in your job description, you should prioritize those you consider a “must have.”
- Go mobile. Over one-third of companies now use mobile recruiting. Job search websites like Indeed and Monster are optimized for mobile devices and tend to reach a wider audience than traditional online recruiting techniques.
- When in doubt, use social media. Research has found that over three quarters (84 percent) of companies are recruiting via social media. Social media can also be an effective way to attract candidates from underrepresented groups.
- Develop an employee referral program. Candidates who are referred by existing employees have longer tenures and higher job performance levels than other applicants.
- Get “real.” During interviews, encourage applicants to share real–world scenarios and instances where they were faced with challenges. While these more abstract skills cannot be vetted on paper, it will help you gather a better sense of a candidate’s suitability for the job.
- Recognize that hiring can be an unpredictable science. Some candidates can look perfect on paper and perform spectacularly during the interview, only to completely stumble once they have been hired. Be aware of the potential pitfalls.
- Practice interviewing. Use mock interview sessions to test out questions and learn how to gauge body language. This will help drive good recruiting decisions.
- Put a formal vetting process in place. Check prospective employees’ work history and references. The candidate’s online behavior should also be vetted.
- Take your time – even if you’re in a rush. While the urge may be to bring on candidates quickly if you are in need to fill open positions, taking the time to interview, assess, and properly vet candidates will better ensure that you hire the right employees with the right skills.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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