Electrical Business

Distribution firms in hiring mood, but trouble finding the right people

April 23, 2012  By Anthony Capkun

April 23, 2012 – A recent survey by the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence on behalf of Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP) finds that 91% of distribution firms surveyed plan to hire new employees within the next five years. “Firms in this industry are facing an unprecedented demographic, with three to four out of every 10 workers planning to retire within five years”, reads the release. That leaves not only a labour gap, but a brain drain for an industry where product application and process knowledge, and relationships with customers drive profitability.

“The importance of a strong distribution network cannot be underestimated. Manufacturers are dependent upon this network to reach all aspects of the marketplace, provide feedback and be an important link in the supply chain,” said Terry Knight, an executive responsible for strategic sales and business development with SKF USA Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of industrial products and services. Knight also serves as the volunteer chair of the ICP Steering Committee, a cross-industry alliance of industrial distribution associations. “The NAW Institute survey reinforces that our industries need to reach new potential employees right now… and this is one of the critical goals ICP is working on.”

The distribution industry, made up of thousands of businesses in a range of sizes across North America, has faced stiff competition for workers from sectors such as information technology, healthcare and consumer goods, says ICP.

One survey respondent said, “We are having real problems getting connected to the right kind of people [to fill jobs]”. Another added, “The distribution industry is, by and large, not considered to be an ‘in’ industry anymore. We have to generate a passion for our industry to attract recruits”.


Survey respondents included companies spanning the spectrum of sizes—from under $20 million in sales (30% of respondents) to those in the $20-$99 million range (28%) to companies over $1 billion in sales (15%). The majority of survey respondents are CEOs or high-level executives within the companies who responded to the survey.

The jobs to be filled include outside/field sales jobs, inside/counter sales and customer service jobs, and technical- or product specialist-type jobs. Of those surveyed, only 10% require education above an associate’s degree for inside sales positions and 25% require an associate’s degree or higher for outside sales jobs. Fully 59% of respondents say that new employees did not have a solid understanding of the industrial distribution industry, while 52.8% said new hires did not understand their role to the success of the organization.

The industry is searching for candidates who can write, think critically and solve complicated problems in applying basic technology for industry. The Industrial Careers Pathway says it is “committed to meeting the need for a skilled industrial distribution workforce for today and tomorrow by building awareness of career opportunities among the future workforce”.

Industrial Careers Pathway is a North American workforce initiative supported by an alliance of industry associations that addresses the need for a skilled industrial distribution and manufacturing sales and customer service workforce today and tomorrow. ICP links students and job seekers to career paths in industrial distribution and manufacturing through partnerships with local educators and employers.

NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence conducts research into strategic management issues affecting the wholesale distribution industry. The organization’s research is conducted with best practice wholesaler-distributors, and publishes research studies with practical application for wholesale distribution firms of all sizes and across all lines of trade.

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