Latest from Industry Perspectives

Shining a Light On the Electrical World

Feb. 2, 2019
Attracting new employees to this industry is an age-old problem. Stanion Wholesale Electric and a group of Kansas distributors from other trades have helped develop a two-year college program that may help.

The construction trades have always had a challenge attracting new employees. Back in 1979-1980, I worked at a vocational-technical high school in the Philadelphia area to help promote the school’s programs to area high schools and businesses. The job was part of my studies for a graduate degree in communications at Glassboro State College, and for my master’s thesis I researched high school students’ attitudes toward vocational education.

I learned that if the student had a friend or family member attending the school and knew something about the many career programs it offered, they tended to have a positive impression about the school. If the student responding to the survey didn’t know anyone attending the school, they most often had the incorrect perception that the school only had classes in auto mechanics and the construction trades.

Fast forward 40 years. At the recent NAED Western Conference, I was talking with a friend in the lighting business about the explosion of new lighting technology, and said that with all the exciting things going on with lighting, it must be easy to attract new employees. She shook her head and said that wasn’t the case. She said the lighting industry is scrambling to find new talent, just like other manufacturers, distributors and reps.

The lighting business would seem pretty darn marketable to Millennials. The technical challenges involved with integrating new LED lighting systems into other building automation systems and in designing smartphone apps that give users the power to control their lighting would seem to be of interest to data scientists and other techies who enjoy solving technical problems. The mind-blowing special lighting effects you can create with these apps have a wow factor that catch the eye of anyone with a flair for interior design. And lighting certainly also has an appeal to anyone who wants to develop sustainable green technologies.

Lighting execs aren’t the only ones looking for well-trained employees. For years it’s been one of the most persistent needs not only in the electrical industry, but in other distribution trades as well. A big part of the problem for the distribution industry is that few people know it exists, even though it employs more than 6 million people and accounts for 5.9% of total United States Gross Domestic Product.

Stanion Wholesale Electric, Pratt, KS, and a group of Kansas distributors from other trades are working with Pratt Community College on an innovative solution to help solve this problem in their market area — the new Modern Distribution Sales & Management program they developed with Jenny Egging, program coordinator.

They worked together to develop a curriculum for a two-year degree that includes internships, guest speakers from the industry, and classes focusing on the basics of distribution sales, management and marketing. To learn more about the Pratt program that Bill Keller, president of Stanion, Egging and the other distributors developed, check out “Teaching the World About Wholesale Distribution.”

Texas A&M University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Nebraska at Kearney have offered four-year programs in industrial distribution for years, but to my knowledge the program at Pratt Community College is the first two-year degree available in distribution.

Would a program like the one at Pratt Community College work at other community colleges? I don’t see why not. According to government data, more than 900-plus public community colleges exist across the United States, all of them in communities that would benefit from a local source of employees with some training and work experience in the distribution industry. I believe the folks at Stanion and Pratt are onto something big. What do you think?