Workforce Issues: A View from Wholesalers

March 1, 2010
The danger of producing any article or special issue is that, as an editor or writer, you presume to know what your audience is thinking. Because this special issue focuses on workforce matters, we wondered what was important to HARDI members.

The danger of producing any article or special issue is that, as an editor or writer, you presume to know what your audience is thinking. Because this special issue focuses on workforce matters, we wondered what was important to HARDI members.

With the help of Patricia Kutt, HARDI's director of education, we drew up three questions and sent them out to a select group of HARDI distributors. While a statistician might suggest that our poll is unscientific, I believe that anecdotally it captures a sense of what is on members' minds. After all, we've heard these topics discussed whenever wholesalers gather.

We would also like to thank those wholesalers who took the time to answer our questions. We consider input like this invaluable.


Q1: What is the most important workforce issue that your company will face in the next three to five years?

For example: Skilled knowledge drain through retirements; lack of skilled labor; health insurance coverage for employees; etc.

Q2: Are you taking steps to confront your most important workforce issue(s), and if you have, what are those initiatives?

Q3: What steps is your company taking with regard to training (workforce development) to ensure success for the next generation of skilled labor?


A1: We are very concerned about the overwhelming rise in health insurance premiums. With the uncertainty of the future of our health care in the U.S. and a workforce that has had to push retirement back due to investment losses, it's difficult to see short-term relief of these escalating premiums! While HSA's or high deductible plans seemed to be the answer five years ago, we are now seeing those premiums catching up to PPO plans.

A2: We are staying very active politically (individually and with HARDI). We are also searching for new ways to keep our employees healthier through wellness initiatives.

A3: We have been extremely proactive for the past three years in the training arena! Most of the training we have been doing is technical in nature. We are starting to incorporate other elements, such as sales and IT (ins and outs of our computer system). We are fortunate to have a fairly young employee base, which positions Illco well for the future. We have always utilized any seasoned veterans in the company to pass on all they can to new employees.
Bill Bergamini, president, ILLCO Inc., Countryside, IL

A1: Getting enough training done for the existing workforce or getting enough trained workers and also succession planning.

A2: Accelerating training and keeping the door open for new talent all the time, making sure that succession planning is part of the review process and making sure that people know they have a career in our company but that input and personal commitment are needed.

A3: Use all training possible but also have a training plan in place for all levels in the organization so people can see what they need to do in order to proceed in their career.
Peter Olierook, president & chief executive officer, Don Park LP, North York, Ontario, Canada

A1: Currently, I would say health insurance coverage for our employees. Being an ESOP company, we pride ourselves in providing the very best coverage for our team. Health benefits continue to become a bigger chunk of our overall cost of doing business.

A2: Yes. We negotiate pretty hard every year with several benefits providers to keep the coverage up (or even) and to minimize the price increase. It's quite a process; however, it is very beneficial.

A3: Eighteen months ago, we implemented a specific employee training program for each position (i.e., warehouse, inside sales, outside sales, branch manager, purchasing) within our company. Depending on the position, these training programs include sales, management, technical, profitability and personal development courses. Progress is tracked online and programs can be added or modified based on our areas of focus.
Michael F. Meier, general manager, Meier Supply Co. Inc., Johnson City, NY

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A1: The greatest workforce issue that our company will face in the next few years will be health insurance coverage. Our company was faced with a 40 percent increase in 2010. As a result, we made the decision to offer an HSA/PPO dual option to our team members, which helped reduce that increase significantly. This is only a band-aid, and we know that something else will need to be done in the coming years; we are currently looking at numerous other options.

A2: We are putting together a task force to explore any and all options that we have as a small company. This task force will research and provide the most robust and comprehensive health insurance option that we can find available.

A3: Our company is in a constant state of training. We incorporate multiple trainings (technical, sales, communication skills, etc.) into our annual strategic business plan and budget. These courses are offered to our customers as well.
¡ª Troy Meachum, president, ACR Supply Co.

A1: Finding young workers ready to work and give the extra service level we require for our customers. For us, good service is not enough.

A2: Unfortunately, it seems to be a society issue for which we cannot do much to help.

A3: We have implemented a workforce development program.
¡ª Pierre Martin, president, Pro Kontrol, Laval, Qu¨¦bec, Canada

A1: Employee Retention

A2: Creating a Culture of a ¡°Knowledge Based Organization¡±

A3: We have a training process that we have created.
¡ª Wayne Castor, president, GBG Supply

A1: Health care is probably a popular choice today, and it is of concern to us, but quality and experience of the labor pool is probably more of a concern. Finding great people is truly a challenge today, even with unemployment as high as it is.

A2: Strategic hiring and development of a college intern/recruitment program. We try to identify superstars in the industry, especially on the sales side who can grow both sales and market share.

College intern/recruitment affords us the opportunity to train, develop and shape within our culture and vision. Since they are new to the workforce, hopefully, we get them before bad habits take hold!

These two strategies are a nice blend of bringing in seasoned professionals and youth to our organization.

A3: Technical and business training has always been a strong focus with our customers. We are turning that same focus internally on our employees. Additionally, we offer career development plans complete with cross-training to further strengthen our team.

It takes intestinal fortitude to say ¡°yes¡± to training and hiring during a recession, but we feel that's the perfect time to do so.
¡ª John Batchelor, director of human resources, Virginia Air Distributors, Midlothian, VA

A1: We believe that the quality, knowledge and work ethic of the incoming generation presents many obstacles that previous groups did not. We try to promote the importance of continuous education to all of our employees as well as try to be more proactive at the high school level in teaching our kids about the opportunities available within our industry.

A2: We have become more selective in the hiring process and make sure that new hires understand our expectations. We believe in accountability and try to give each employee new projects that will help him or her grow and learn.

A3: We are trying to take a more active role internally to promote training to our own employees and the importance of making themselves aware of both the old equipment (in our installed base) as well as new technologies and how we can apply those to our customers' needs.
¡ª Kelly M. Trolia, CEO, Burke Engineering Co., So. El Monte, CA

Tom Peric¨@ is the editor of HVACR Distribution Business. Contact him at 856/874-0049 or [email protected].