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An Untapped Resource

MHEDA members hire students they met at the MHEDA Convention
By Steve Guglielmo

One of the greatest challenges facing our industry is a supposed dearth of young professionals available and entering material handling. Some have called this a “skills gap” while others survey their “aging workforce” and wonder where the next generation of leadership is going to come from.

MHEDA has made youth outreach a core tenet of its mission statement. The association, in conjunction with MHI and CICMHE, sponsors “Classroom Day” at both the ProMat and MODEX shows. Classroom Day allows college and even high school students to come to the trade shows and tour the show floor accompanied by an experienced industry veteran. This experience allows them to see, up close, the products and services offered by our industry and also ask any questions that they may have about the industry. Once their interest in the industry is piqued, MHEDA has a dedicated Career Center on mheda.org complete with a resume bank and informational video promoting material handling as a career choice, which can be embedded on your company’s site. This online resource allows employers to post jobs and students to post their resumes in hopes of finding a match.

Another thing that MHEDA has done to bring new blood into the industry is host college students at the annual MHEDA Convention. This year, ten students from colleges and universities around the country came to Convention in Orlando. MHEDA hosted the students at the annual Past President’s Dinner on Saturday, May 3, and several of the students in attendance were awarded the Howard Bernstein Scholarship during the Monday morning business meeting.

Convention is a great opportunity for college students to rub elbows with the top decision makers and executives from around the industry. As a matter of fact, two students walked away from Convention last year in Palm Desert, CA, with full-time job offers in hand.

Hosting the college students is not only a great opportunity for the students but also for MHEDA companies to infuse some young blood into their organizations. These students are the best and brightest from the top Industrial Distribution programs in the country.

“Recruiting people who are talented and capable is one of the hardest jobs that we’ve got and if we have a program in our backyard (University of Nebraska Kearney) that is churning out people that are tailor made for what we do, I’m very excited about that,” says Riekes Equipment Sales Manager Ed Ketcham.

Not only is Convention an opportunity to network with students, it’s also a great chance to show them what the material handling industry has to offer. Both students who were hired last year, Wells Jarvis from East Carolina University and Cody Karr from University of Nebraska Kearney, had very little exposure or insight into the industry prior to attending Convention.

“The dreaded words you never want to hear are ‘I didn’t know you did that’,” says Riekes Equipment President Duncan Murphy. “Fundamentally, that’s what we have with these students. It’s an awareness issue. Cody said he didn’t know we were a professional organization with a career path that’s strong. We have to get that message out and I think it starts at grass roots levels, which means members going to their local universities.”

Strong First Impression

Wells JarvisSoutheast Industrial Equipment President Cory Thorne didn’t go to Convention last year looking to add staff. But when he sat down at a table full of college students on the first night of Convention, he was blown away.

“I try to meet new people during Convention,” Thorne says. “So I saw all the college students sitting at one table during the Opening Party and I sat down and introduced myself and started talking to them. Two students in particular in that group really blew me away. They were articulate, outgoing and knew exactly what they were talking about. One of those students was Wells.”

Wells Jarvis was one of the students who had come to California from East Carolina University. He was a Howard Bernstein Scholarship award winner and set to graduate from ECU’s Industrial Distribution and Logistics program in December 2013. But what appealed to Thorne went beyond Wells’ accolades.

“I didn’t know who he was but he was very outspoken and we had similar interests and just kind of hit it off,” Thorne says. “I attended Convention with a colleague of mine from SIE and two or three times Wells just kept coming back up in our conversations, unprompted. We both agreed that he would be a great fit for our organization.”

To Thorne, the two things that stood out about Wells were his compassion and outgoingness. The company had talked for years about putting together a management-training program and in Jarvis felt that they had found the perfect candidate to launch that program.

“We felt, ‘Here is a gentleman that is going to come into our organization and rise up quickly’,” Thorne said. “So on the final day of Convention, I approached Wells over breakfast about joining Southeast.”

However, Wells still had another semester left at ECU. So he and Thorne came to an agreement that Wells would work part time during that final semester and then come on full-time in January 2014.

This served as an opportunity to expose Wells to every aspect of the company.

“Wells came in and actually spent time in each department,” Thorne says. “He spent three weeks in the parts department, he went to customer sites with our sales team and our technicians, and spent time in the service department. He even sat down with management and went over daily reports. He had about a month and a half of hands-on, classroom training before we put him out in the street. Even when we put him in the street he was still part-time. We wanted to get him a fundamental understanding of our business so he could hit the ground running in January.”

For Southeast, this part time arrangement was brand new to the company. They identified Wells as somebody they really liked and then worked out the arrangement in order to keep him.

“We would definitely recommend it,” Thorne says. “But you have to find the right candidate. The thing I tell everybody about Convention is to use it for what it’s designed to be, which is a chance to network with people you don’t see every day. If we hadn’t sat down at that table and had a discussion with Wells that first night, we would never have this amazing opportunity that we have now.”

Building Bench Strength

Duncan and CodyRiekes Equipment Company has found that the University of Nebraska Kearney is a great, untapped resource for finding young talent. One such example is Cody Karr, an Industrial Distribution major who graduated in December 2013. Cody was selected as one of students from UNK to attend the MHEDA Convention. Prior to attending Convention, Riekes President Duncan Murphy drove to Kearney to meet with the UNK students who would be attending Convention.

“I just wanted to describe to them what to expect at Convention and make sure they knew that the Riekes team was there as a resource for help as needed at the Convention and as they embarked on their careers,” Murphy says.

Prior to the MHEDA Convention, Karr really had no exposure to the material handling industry.

“We have a career fair twice per year for Industrial Distribution students at school and there was really no material handling representation at all,” Karr says. “I didn’t even really know that the industry existed before hearing about this conference.”

While at Convention, however, Karr’s eyes became open to the endless possibilities that the industry provides and his interest level soared.

“The industry was something I was a lot more interested in after learning more about it,” Karr says. “And being at the conference and hearing the respect that other members had for Duncan and Riekes was a huge eye opener for me and kind of sealed it that this was a company I wanted to work for.”

For Riekes, not only had they found a qualified, excited student to bring into the company but an opportunity to imbue him with the Riekes culture from the start.

“We’ve come to realize that you can’t really hire a sales person who is already equipped with everything they need for our business,” Ketcham says. “In my mind, if I’m going to have to teach someone everything they need to know, I’d much rather have a youngster with no bad habits or predetermined attitudes. I want to use these youngsters to build our bench strength and be our future. These are kids who want to do exactly what we do at Riekes.”

While Cody still had another semester of school between Convention and accepting a full-time outside sales position with Riekes, like SIE, Riekes used this as an opportunity to get Cody a little exposure to each aspect of the business.

“I would call this a preview of an internship,” Murphy says. “Cody still had another semester of college but we worked with him one day per week in our Grand Island branch getting him exposure to the business. We knew very quickly that we wanted to bring him on full-time.”

While Cody didn’t have a full internship experience, Murphy is a big advocate for company internships in our industry.

“Now, more than ever, companies who want to build their bench strength should make room for interns,” Murphy says. “Even if it doesn’t result in permanent employment, an internship today is much more than having a kid come in and shuffle paper. We treat them as an employee and want to provide meaningful work and projects to complete.”

And Riekes continues to enjoy benefits of this outreach beyond the great work that Cody is doing.

“Our new hires have become advocates and recruiters. We went back to UNK this spring and Cody was instrumental in steering some of the people he felt would fit in with our company,” Murphy says.

Student Advice

Not every college student that attends Convention is going to walk out with a full-time job offer in hand. However, impressions do last and making the right first impression can go a long way toward future employment.

“I looked at the Exhibitors’ Showcase at MHEDA as basically another job fair,” Karr says. “The exhibitors are there to talk about their products but if you introduce yourself and tell them who you are, they will remember that and eventually they’ll be looking into hiring people. You’re trying to get a job right out of college and this is a great way to do it. Networking and talking to people are the biggest things you can do, but be professional about it.”

Jarvis echoes those sentiments.

“I would definitely go to Convention with my thinking cap on,” says Jarvis. “Be ready to hang with the big dogs because there is nothing there but high up executives. We need to be on our A game and ready to take on any challenge that comes up.”

And though neither Karr nor Jarvis had much exposure to the industry prior to Convention, it quickly won them over.

“The possibilities here are endless,” Jarvis says. “You’ll never run out of things to do and it will always keep you on your toes. Every day is a new day with new challenges.”

Karr adds, “Seeing the different products and lines of equipment opened my eyes and made me realize what was out there. I didn’t want to go to a job where I had to do the same things over and over again.”

“I’ve wanted to go to work for a company that wanted to better itself and in turn allow me to grow as a person,” Wells said. “After having attended Convention, there are people in my company that have 30 or 40 years of experience and I’ve heard them mention names where I go, ‘I met him. I know him.’ It’s absolutely priceless.”

Despite the cries of a “skills shortage in the industry,” these dedicated young professionals are out there. We just have to go find them.

“Members getting out and talking to students is so important,” Karr said. “When we were at Convention, there were some members who didn’t want to talk to us. But these students are there and getting to know them now might lead to something coming up later as a possible job.”

Thorne adds, “You’ve got to speak to everybody like they could be your next potential employer or employee, because you never know.”

Advice From Members

“The strongest suggestion I can make is that employers should search their local areas and see what schools are delivering what they want,” Murphy says. “You have to work with your local people. Find local universities that have programs that fit your need. Even help them with that program.”

Convention is a wonderful place to meet young, qualified college students. But it’s only a small sliver of what’s potentially available. Riekes has become intimately involved with the Industrial Distribution at UNK. Are there colleges and universities in your area with similar programs?

“We’ve got to remove our cloak of invisibility as an industry and the only way that happens is by grass roots going to talk to people and getting the word out,” Murphy says.