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In recent years, my discussions with wholesale distributors have increasingly turned to the workforce. Traditionally, distributors have been blessed with long term employees, some boasting 40 years or more of service. The retirement of those seasoned employees presents a challenge that distributors have not seen in the past: attracting, hiring and retaining the younger, millennial workforce. Fortune.com recently published a list of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials. I was interested to see which distributors made the list and to learn about their best practices. Unfortunately, there were none. Ouch.

While distributors may not be at the forefront of this employment challenge, there is a lot to learn from companies who have been successful with their millennial workforce. One strategy they use is changing the way they recruit new employees. When turnover was low, it was okay to look for new employees through referrals and word of mouth. But with the current workforce shortages, distributors need to take a more active approach as discussed a tED Magazine article, “How Sharp are Your Distributorship’s Recruiting Skills?” Prospective employees may not have even a basic understanding of the distribution business. A proactive approach may include education not only on the industry, but also on the many career paths and opportunities. Candidates need to understand there is more to the industry than an entry-level salary in the warehouse – that it’s possible to have a very successful and lucrative career.

It’s also a good strategy to show younger workers how a job in distribution is a good match for many of the things that are important to them. (See “Industrial Distribution + Millennial Generation = Good Match.”) If a flexible work schedule is important, you might explain how a sales rep sets his or her own schedule and works outside the office. If a candidate has good technology or social media skills, they might be a good fit in your Marketing department where ecommerce and customer satisfaction programs could benefit from these skills. It’s important to think outside the box and find new ways to “sell” to prospects.

Once you’ve successfully hired your new workforce, how do you keep them? Fortune.com has found that when millennials rate their company as a great place to work, they are 20 times more likely to stick around. (Read more in “This Is the Secret to Holding Onto Millennial Employees”.) Younger workers want to feel connected to their work and feel they are a part of something important. Helping employees understand the distributor’s place in the supply chain – and ultimately society – may give them the connectedness they desire. Clear, company-wide communication is beneficial for all employees, but millennials also appreciate one-on-one conversations with managers, further reinforcing their role in the team and the company.

Millennials are also likely to participate in an internal social network. They are not only able to catch up on company news, but also to connect with colleagues who have similar roles, interests, and goals. This network fosters the sense of community that is important for all employees, but especially younger workers. If your company doesn’t currently have an internal social network, it’s something to consider.

While it’s clear that distributors need to solve their hiring challenges, there are no clear answers.   With new ideas and fresh approaches, perhaps we can become an industry of choice for millennials.

 

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