17 May 2013 09:58 [Source: ICB]
Sourcing new recruits - and keeping them - is imperative in the competitive world of chemical distribution
Staff recruitment and retention are at the heart of chemical distribution. The message from distributors is clear: respecting and valuing employees, regardless of what level they work at, and creating a pleasant working environment is the only way to maintain a happy and stable workforce.
Job satisfaction is hugely important
If length of service is a measure of job satisfaction, then distribution rates high judging by the figures. Univar has a lead material handler in Portland, Oregon, with more than 49 years' service, and many staff members at family-owned EMCO Chemical Distributors have worked for the company for over 30 years.
Brenntag North America's executive leadership team has served an average of 27 years, and current CEO Bill Fidler has been with Brenntag for 43 years, rising from his roots as a sales representative. Most of the firm's leadership at the operating company level have similarly been with the company for many years and were promoted through the ranks.
So what is the secret to staff retention? Distributors say having a defined and structured job framework and personal development path is a major factor in attracting and keeping employees, and can set a company apart from its rivals.
Univar develops its talent with a focus on three main areas: leadership, sales and performance support. Edward Evans, Univar's executive vice president and chief human resources officer, says it offers three different leadership programs targeted at key career points: first-time managers and supervisors; mid-level managers; and Univar's top 100 managers, who undergo a six-month training course.
HIRING IS HIGHER
Distributors are recruiting significant numbers of new employees. So far this year, more than 20 new employees have started work at Brainerd Chemical which currently has 83 staff, and the number is expected to approach 100 within the next six months, Brainerd says.
Univar and Brenntag have also expanded their workforces. Univar hired 480 people in 2012 and had taken on another 133 by March 22, 2013. These positions were mostly new hires, with a few replacements. Brenntag, in addition to hiring replacements for retiring employees, has added over 135 net, new positions to its North American operations since the end of 2011, with about 70 being made so far this year.
Recruiting graduates and investing in their training and development appears to be the most successful way for distributors to obtain good talent. Some, such as Brenntag, have active recruiting programs at universities such as Texas A&M, Purdue, and Penn State.
Mark Andriate, Brenntag's director of human resources, says Brenntag tries to hire a few graduates every year and understands that many candidates have little knowledge or experience of chemical distribution. "We place a lot of importance on a candidate's orientation towards achievement, ability to learn and a commitment to excellence and continuous improvement," he says.
The company established Brenntag University several years ago to address development needs. The program, originally geared toward new sales representatives and sales managers, has grown to encompass new employees and managers in virtually all professional positions. "The content is developed and delivered by Brenntag management. We believe that developing our internal talent and promoting and maintaining our unique business culture is too important to entrust to an outsider," Andriate says.
Univar recruits graduates annually, while EMCO Chemical Distributors, which employs around 400 people, takes on a graduate every two years. Edward Polen, EMCO Chemical's president, says it takes three to five years for a graduate to fully learn the business.
Sourcing qualified, skilled and experienced staff can be more difficult, particularly for specific industries or market segments. Evans says chemical engineers with between eight and 15 years' experience are in great demand as their role is very specialized.
"Alternative and flexible work arrangements will enable us to attract, retain, and cultivate diverse talent. We see needs like this evolving over the next decade," he says.
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