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April 1, 2003
Even with the business climate slowing and the economic signals uncertain, there's a shortage of good talent. What does an unsettled economy mean for

Even with the business climate slowing and the economic signals uncertain, there's a shortage of good talent. What does an unsettled economy mean for electrical wholesalers recruiting and developing talent? It may mean that fewer positions will be filled, and it also places a premium on finding good talent. Mediocrity will not do — financial margins ought not be wasted on recruiting the wrong people.

The unsure economy also has implications for college seniors seeking to build upon their four-year commitment of time, money and effort. With businesses reluctant to risk overstaffing, college students have seen a decrease in campus interview visits, fewer job trips, and offers being delayed into late spring. Recruiting companies hope that the spring will provide answers regarding the lingering uncertainties of the business market. Such conditions are not yet evident, particularly with technical talent, and concern is growing.

There is a bright spot, though. Slow economies provide an environment that I find healthy for college placement, particularly for engineering and distribution graduates. In times like these, businesses recruit with much more discretion. As a result, college seniors must present themselves sincerely regarding career missions and goals. The expense and risk of making a wrong decision is higher for both the graduate and the recruiter, so both must proceed with well-deserved respect for the process of making employment decisions. It's a world away from the days when on-campus interviews and resulting job offers seemed without end and employment decisions were decided more by a bidding war than by career objectives. Tough times are no fun, but the employment decisions made in the face of such adversity are more likely to stick.

What does this mean for electrical wholesalers? A lot. For one thing, a small-to-medium size wholesaler may think it cannot compete with big-name companies like IBM, GE, and Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) in attracting the best talent; however, I have found this is simply wrong. As exciting as these name companies may seem, wholesalers and distributors offer the best college graduates something unique. Where else can an ambitious graduate learn every facet of a business?

From sales and marketing to quality and customer service, from operations management and financial performance to staff development and branch management, and from product technology to business strategy — no industry offers this opportunity like yours. Competitive businesses require talented, competitive recruits. Believe me, they are out there. They want experience, responsibility, and a chance to prove themselves. What you seek is the ideal: hard-working quick learners who have a competitive nature and who can get along with customers.

But does it happen? Yes! In my sixteen years leading distribution education programs, I've witnessed a remarkable transformation. Since the mid-eighties when so many companies downsized, restructured, outplaced and outsourced, graduates have more carefully and deliberately sought the opportunities where they can gain experience quickly, prove themselves, and thereby create their own career stability. A few mid-sized distributors have excelled at recruiting the best talent, and their attrition has been near zero.


  • The companies know what kind of talent they want.

  • They have vastly improved their ability to identify appropriate recruiting prospects.

  • They effectively communicate available career growth opportunities to their key recruits.

  • They implement a professional development program that nurtures professional growth, and a management system that maintains it. Employees remain ever grateful for that.

  • They have active ties with academic programs that are key recruiting sources.

Regarding this last point, the Distribution and Logistics Engineering program at the University of Houston has a strong and effective industrial advisory board with key members like Houston Wire and Cable and the Warren Electric Group. Board members provide critical input into the educational process to help keep it current. They provide real-world open-ended projects for students to work on, and they provide direct support for students in the form of scholarships and internships.

In return, our industrial partners have access to our best developing talent while they are still in the pipeline. They can have a fresh set of eyes tackle various projects they need done but may have insufficient in-house resources, and they can maintain confidence that the educational program is functioning to serve their needs.

What have graduates said about these employers that also have been the most effective recruiters? “They provided great training. They increased my responsibility. I got to learn about the ‘whole’ business. They had confidence I could play a key role in business growth. They met their promises.”

But mostly they have said, “Thanks for an education that your industry helped design.”

Dr. David Wells is founding director of the University of Houston's Distribution and Logistics Engineering (DLE) program. From 1986 to 1999, he was director of the distribution program at Clarkson University. He consults in professional development, strategic planning, and is editor-in-chief of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) Engineering Management Review. Dr. Wells may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] , or via phone at (713) 743-4192.

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