CHICAGO—The numbers seem staggering: With 76 million people born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964, the traditional timeframe for Baby Boomers, it is estimated that 10,000 will retire each day over the next decade-plus.
That's a lot of jobs to fill.
And that's part of the reason that a group of industrial distributors continues to raise awareness of the abundance of industrial distribution jobs available—some within the rubber industry. At last count, nearly 1,300 jobs were listed on the website of the Industrial Careers Pathway, a collaborative, multifaceted North American work force initiative driven by seven industrial distribution organizations.
The three newest organizations to join the collaborative are NIBA—the Belting Association; the National Association of Electrical Distributors; and the National Association of Chemical Distributors. They joined the American Supply Association; the Industrial Supply Association Education Foundation; NAHAD, the Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution; and the Power Transmission Distributors Association in an effort to mine and attract new talent to industrial distribution.
Industrial distributors supply industry, manufacturers and government with products to operate businesses. Some of the most sought-after jobs in the sector include inside and outside sales; marketing; accounting; customer service; and warehousing. While jobs are available most everywhere, they are more plentiful in more populated parts of the country.
Still, the ICP faces a challenge in getting its message out. A recent survey, funded from a contribution of $210,000 over three years from the Harold T. Grant Foundation, found that just 15 percent of 16-24 year olds—the target age group for industrial distribution recruitment—previously heard of industrial distribution. And of those, many attached comments to the survey that didn't necessarily describe industrial distribution.
“But when we had them read two paragraphs that described industrial distribution and asked them how appealing the field was to them ... we found that 61 percent thought the field was either very or somewhat appealing,” said Mary Jawgiel, program director for Industrial Careers Pathway.
“They don't know about it, but when they start to find out about it, there definitely is an interest at least learning more about what it is all about,” she said. “So that's a good thing, because industrial distribution is this sort of hidden thing that no one understands or knows about.”
Industrial Career Pathways is taking several approaches to spread its message to the appropriate age group. Among them:
• Continue its involvement in SkillsUSA, a national organization of students, teachers and industry representatives who collaborate to ensure America has a skilled work force, particularly in technical, skilled and service occupations.
For the last two years, ICP has staffed a booth at the SkillsUSA competition in which winners of local and state events compete at the national level to demonstrate occupational and leadership skills in such areas as plumbing, HVAC and masonry.
“We go there because we think that's the kind of people who are going to be attracted to industrial distributing as a career choice, especially at the entry level,” Jawgiel said. “It's a great way for us to make contact with influencers, the parents, instructors, and then go out to them and say, "Do you have a career fair? Do you want in-class presentations? Do you want a tour of an industrial distributor? Let us know, and we'll do our best in turn to set that up for you.' “
• Attend events sponsored by the Association for Career and Technical Education to establish relationships with schools, instructors and districts in order to interest young people.
“It really gives the company a place to start and to build their relationships with potential candidates for the future,” Jawgiel said. “If the kids don't know industrial distribution exists, if they don't know that an industrial distributor is five blocks from where they live, how are they ever going to think about going into the field if they have no clue that it's there?”
• Send ambassadors from the industry to attend career fairs. The list of ambassadors who are willing to spread the group's message locally has grown from 55 to 75 over the last year alone.
• Refine its push into social media to make the organization more millennial friendly. As part of this, the ICP will advertise on Pandora internet radio.
Once a young person becomes interested in industrial distribution, Jawgiel said, he or she usually makes it their career.
“It's a great field,” she said. “You may switch over from distribution to manufacturing and back again. But once you're in the field, there are not a lot of people who leave it.
“It will provide good income for anyone who works hard, and that's important when raising a family. It's a great field that nobody knows about, but we're working to change that.”