By Bridget McCrea

It's time to ditch the "post the opening online and they will come" philosophy for finding and hiring new team members. In this 2-part article series, tED talks to recruiters and hiring experts about the strategies that work in today's labor market, and shows you how to get your distributorship's recruiting approach on the right track for 2017.

In February, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits did something it hasn't done since July 1973 when it dipped to 234,000. With anything under 300,000 indicating a "healthy labor market," the number represented a 43-year low, as well as further tightening of the labor market and potentially faster wage growth. Finally, the U.S. labor market is now at or close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at 4.8 percent, according to a Reuters report.

"The labor market has been changing at an increasing rate and that change is accelerating," observes Doug Hammond, executive vice president at global staffing and business solutions provider Randstand Inhouse Services (RIS) in Atlanta. "This shift is being driven by a couple of different trends, but not least of which is this drain in the labor force that's being created by the retiring baby boomers—and the fact that the available labor market just isn't replenishing itself at the usual rate."

Tight Markets Call for Tough Action
So what do these labor-related numbers and predictions mean for the typical electrical distributor? In most cases, they point to a business climate where the old ways of finding and recruiting new team members don't work anymore. In other words, posting an online or offline want ad and hoping it helps you net one or more good candidates isn't a good approach. Depending solely on your current staff to "bring in" good recruits through word of mouth doesn't always pan out, and neither does hoping that your competitors' unhappy employees will call you soon for a job.

According to Tribby Warfield, chair for the Industrial Careers Pathway Steering Committee and senior VP & GM with Kaman Distribution Group, getting job candidates to consider jobs in distribution is often a chore in and of itself. Calling industrial distributors an integral part of the manufacturing supply chain, Warfield says that a recent survey indicated only 15 percent of the population thought they knew about the field of industrial distribution. "And yet, industrial distribution companies are in every community across North America," Warfield writes in The Incredibly Rewarding Career You've Never Heard Of.

"Serving as the backbone of support for manufacturers everywhere, industrial distributors are looking for young, bright talent with or without a college degree," Warfield points out. "Many employers are willing to train new employees with the right skill set. And they are hiring now."

Getting those messages across isn't always easy, and it's particularly difficult in a job market where millennials—who now make up the biggest chunk of the workforce—only expect to stay in their current job for three years or less. That means if they don't pick the best fit on the first try, roughly 36 months later they'll be walking out the door in search of a better opportunity. "While Millennials are ambitious to move up in their careers," writes Shankar Ganapathy in 10 Millennial Personality Traits That HR Managers Can't Ignore,"loyalty to the organization is not a particularly strong value."

Four Steps to Better Recruiting
So, you know that the labor market is tight, the baby boomers are retiring at an alarmingly high rate, and millennials think and act a little differently than their parents and grandparents. You probably also realize that the under-37 crowd is also very tech-savvy, extremely active on social media, and interested in getting involved with projects, tasks, and causes that are "bigger than themselves." Combined, these realities can help electrical distributors shape their recruiting efforts to not only create an initial "attraction" with, but also better engage recruits to fill those empty positions.

Here are four ways to make that happen:

  1. Start by setting a strategy.  Try to avoid the "seat of the pants" approach to hiring, if at all possible. Instead of randomly posting open positions on sites like Craigslist and Indeed, for example, take the time to develop an internal hiring strategy first. "This is an area where distributors and manufacturers tend to paint themselves into a corner—by not setting a strategy in advance," says Hammond. "To be successful in a tight labor market, you really have to know where you want to play." In other words, are you going to be employer of choice in your local labor market (or, in your own micro-market within that space)? And if so, what does that actually translate into? And, what types of candidates do you want to recruit, engage with, and cultivate? These are all important questions to answer when setting your strategy.

  2. Pick a place on the wage and benefits continuum. Operating on the age-old laws of supply and demand, the labor force usually gets paid more when there's less of it to go around. And while no electrical distributor wants to pay more for its human capital than it has to, Hammond says addressing the wage issue upfront can help boost a firm's chances of success in the recruiting arena. Decide, for example, if you want to be known as a top wage-payer or not, keeping in mind that money isn't everything (i.e., good benefits programs, flex-time options, and retirement contributions also count). "Wages are important," says Hammond, "but so is creating a work environment that's conducive to your prospective employee's lifestyle."

  3. Optimize your career site for mobile and make it easy for candidates to apply. Take the time to reach candidates where they live, work, and play, and you'll stand heads and shoulders above most other employers right now. Mobile, for example, is an effective platform that distributors can use to find new team members. "Over 80% of job candidates under the age of 35 are using their mobile devices to start job searches, and yet only 20% of all career sites are mobile-optimized," says Ira S. Wolfe, president at Success Performance Solutions, recruiting and employee selection firm in Lehigh Valley, Pa. "Even fewer have applications that can easily be completed on a mobile device." Also notable is the fact that 50% of all generation Xers and younger baby boomers also start their search on a mobile device, especially the skilled workers. "To tap into these labor pools," says Wolfe, "distributors need an optimized career site and application process."

  4. Use a mix of online and offline strategies. "It's easy to get caught up in the digital world with all the available technology and gadgetry," says Wolfe, "but it's also useful to create offline opportunities for potential candidates to interact with your company." And yes, he adds, even your millennial candidates will enjoy face-to-face interactions (i.e., host meet-ups, hold happy hours, or put on workshops in your office). On a similar note, remember that every one of your happy, loyal employees is a potential recruiter for new team members. "Your employees all have their own networks, online and offline; they likely know other people who are qualified to work at your company," Wolfe says. "Involve employees in your social media efforts, and offer referral bonuses or other incentives for sharing job postings."

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McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.