Giving is Getting

Feb. 1, 2008
Investing in education and mentoring young people is not about warm fuzzies.

Demand strains outdated equipment. Materials have special handling requirements. Throughput has to increase.

Maybe you turn to a system integrator. Maybe you consult a consultant. No matter which path you take, one thing is certain: You’ll invest time and money into the purchase of new equipment or technology. It’s a no brainer. You’ve got to keep your operations running, after all.

The picture seems to change, though, when it’s people that need updating. I wonder why some businesses seem reluctant to invest in people when human resources are just as important as equipment resources.

We’re on the precipice of a serious crisis that will begin when most of the nation’s workers retire and there’s no one to take their place. More than 80% of manufacturers are already reporting shortages of qualified workers, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Yet a survey conducted by the Manufacturing Institute, NAM and Deloitte Consulting reveals that 74% of manufacturers believe a quality workforce will be a “key business driver” in years to come. “It is the high-performance workforce that drives product innovation and the ability to produce high-quality products at low cost. So, the shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing poses a triple threat unless we find ways to fill the skills gap and build a better pipeline of new, skilled workers,” according to NAM.

W.W. Grainger Inc., a distributor of facilities maintenance products based in Lake Forest, Ill., has taken a unique approach to filling the skills gap. The company just donated $15,000 to Northern Illinois University to help create a new Certified Facility Manager exam review and seminar series. The program, set to debut later this year, is a collaborative effort between the university’s outreach department and the Chicago chapter of the International Facility Management Association.

This isn’t the first time Grainger has supported technical education. For the past two years, the company’s Tools for Tomorrow program has awarded scholarships to students in their second year of community or technical college. The company supports future welders, electricians and machinists, among others.

“We became aware of the labor shortage in the trades by talking to our customers, particularly in manufacturing,” Janis Tratnik, senior director of global communications and public affairs at Grainger, told me. “There are fewer skilled workers to do more jobs.”

Of course, check writing alone won’t fill the worker pipeline. That’s why scholarship winners are invited to the nearest Grainger facility to meet the managers and see the operations. “The
relationship blossoms from there,” said Janis. “Employees at the branch mentor the students, who sometimes come back to work for us.”

Janis told me these programs fall under the company’s corporate social responsibility mission. However, it’s not all about philanthropy. It’s about the survival of Grainger’s business. “We offer facilities maintenance supplies,” Janis said. “Those students—who will eventually manage and operate facilities—are our potential customers.

“Solving the labor shortage gap takes more than just funding scholarships,” she added. “It’s about changing the image of the trades and finding ways to attract students to potentially lucrative careers.”

If 74% of manufacturers believe so strongly in the value of a high-quality workforce, why don’t we see more of them investing in education and mentoring? I suppose it’s because they view such things as charity.

If so, they are missing the mark. Investing in education and mentoring young people is not about warm fuzzies. It’s about keeping operations running. Grainger’s program is an example of a step in the right direction.

You call on equipment suppliers to keep materials moving. Maybe it’s time to call on some people suppliers.

Mary Aichlmayr
Senior Editor
[email protected]

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