(L-R) Darin Devries, Todd Langbehn, Leon Lipp and Steve Heckenlaible - all from the DSG branch in Aberdeen, SD.

“Training, education and coaching should be the absolute last considerations when investigating cost reductions during difficult times,” says Rick Johnson, found of CEO Strategist, LLC, a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage.Why?you ask. “If you expect your employees to be able to maximize their effectiveness and reach their potential, you need to provide them with the appropriate skills and knowledge to be able to successfully accomplish the goal,” reveals Johnson.

While training budgets, for those companies that have them, seem to be the first line cut or heavily slashed during times of economic uncertainty, this may not be the best option for employers. While it may provide temporary relief to the bottom line in the short-term, it will reduce your ability to compete in a competitive market both now and later, once we pull out of this recession.

Many ASA members are making the most of these tough economic times by focusing on their most important asset: their employees. “Participation in ASA’s Education Foundation programs has shown an increase over the past 30 days, a sure sign that companies are realigning with their strategic goals and investing in the people that are imperative to their survival, their profitability and their future,” says Amy Black, executive director of the ASA Education Foundation.

One such company is Dakota Supply Group. Ryan Tracy, an employee owner in Aberdeen, South Dakota, explains it in simple terms, “We believe in training. We feel it to be an essential part of business. In these economic times, it becomes even more important. Good companies are always looking for investments to put into their companies to improve performance and customer service (computer systems, RFD, new trucks and phone systems, etc.). Why not invest in your employees and the quality of them?”

But that’s just half of the equation. “Even the best employees have all the right intentions to look into training and do it, but day to day business just gets in the way. We have invested our resources into a training director and assigned all of our employees into training tracks. It is the director’s job to make sure all of our employees are exposed to training as well as to follow-up with them to achieve all of their goals. In wholesale distribution, we all sell a lot of the same products.  We need to strive to make ourselves different from the competition and provide value. At Dakota Supply Group, we chose to start with our employees,” concluded Tracy.

Echoing Tracy’s sentiments is Angie Visner of Etna Supply, one of the largest distributors of plumbing supplies and waterworks products in the Midwest. “As we plant our seeds for the future, Etna truly believes our employees are the key to success. We want them not only to be knowledgeable on product and provide excellent customer service, but also to work efficiently and know the impact their decisions have on the business,” stated Visner. “Identifying these priorities has helped us focus on the training that matters most, such as the new ASAEssentials of Profitable Wholesale Distributionclass and other ASA product training resources. Also, we are strongly committed to training on software programs, customer service, business financial concepts, and Human Resources issues.”

When asked how Etna justifies the expense of training in these tough economic times, Visner shared this, “Etna views training for our employees as an investment just like new equipment or technology.  Not training our employees would be more costly to our future than any expenses that could be saved in the short-term.”

“A Crucial Message”

An article on this very topic was recently published inEC&MOnline Magazine and cut right to the heart of the message PHCP and PVF distributors need to hear:

 Layoffs and downsizing often put the remaining employees in new situations with additional responsibilities, and they may not have the know-how or natural ability to succeed, which could put your business in even more danger. “When those internal changes take place, there’s a significant risk that the people are being placed into positions that they’re not capable of satisfactorily performing,” says Manny Avramidis, senior VP, Global Human Resources, American Management Association, the New York-based management training and professional development organization. “It’s critical that you train the people who are left behind because when this is all said and done, it will be those people who get you through these difficult times.”

    Furthermore, the slowdown in projects may provide the time and opportunity for additional classes and seminars or even a mentoring program now that the schedules of the more experienced workers have eased up a bit. “There’s certainly no better time to regroup the troops and train them when they have some time from a slowdown on the business side,” Avramidis says.