Todd Ford, CEO and President of Omaha, Neb.-based Central States Group, says involvement with the American Supply Association’s educational arm, ASA University, has helped his company move forward in a significant way. “In today’s climate it’s hard to attract talent, especially for a smaller, mid-range company,” he says. “We’re not big enough to have a complete training department where we can put something together to give potential employees a vision of what our company looks like and the opportunities they will have. ASA University has all the training resources for products, leadership and management. We’ve been able to use that to recruit employees. Our employees have that training material at their disposal now and can use that overall expertise to help them long-term from a career standpoint.”
Ford’s industrial PVF company is far from the only one that is benefitting from the continually burgeoning offerings ASA University offers its members. In the last two years, ASA University has seen a 242% increase in the number of courses taken by ASA members, Executive Director Amy Black notes. During that same timeframe, ASA University has enjoyed a 134% increase in new users. “Our offerings have certainly grown and the usage tells the story,” Black says.
Since ASA University went to an online system, more than 30,000 total courses have been taken with 13,000 of them coming in 2014 alone. “The last couple years have seen huge growth,” Black says. “One of our other markers we track is sales and we’ve exceeded our sales goals by 20-25% the last couple years.” Black says the spike in the number of courses being taken is part of a natural progression since the training resource was rolled out in 2007.
“We spent years with the concept building different courses and training tracks,” she says. “We spent a lot of time on marketing last year and then we rolled out our Advisory Service. What we learned is people get overwhelmed by training. We’re able to dial things down and send proposals that are very specific to a company’s training needs. We’ve made it easier to train and that’s been our ultimate goal from the start.”
In speaking with ASA members that have used ASA University tools, Black is hearing one familiar refrain. “Help is the greatest need,” she says. “Members certainly believe in training and want to invest in training, but don’t know where to get started, how to get started or they don’t have the personnel for such an undertaking. Everything we’ve built is to answer that need. Our programs are fairly turnkey and we can help customize programs. We want to take pressure off member companies when it comes to training.”
Connecticut-based TORRCO immerses employees in ASA University training from the first day they join the company.
“In addition to building your bench internally, with the education and training ASA University provides, anyone can join our team regardless of knowledge and/or experience,” TORRCO Vice President of Sales/General Manager Chris Fasano says. “All new team members learn the basics by following the Essentials of Profitable Distribution course and thereafter we offer job-specific training using the Essentials series to give team members overall skills and knowledge for their jobs. I don’t know how we would do it without these tools.” Fasano says his company and the industry will continue to see the rewards spawned by ASA University’s involvement. “It ensures a continued pipeline of new people joining our industry and making a career out of it since they can move through the jobs in a company. To our industry, new people are the lifeblood and ASA University makes that happen.”
The latest and greatest
Black notes ASA University’s Master of Distribution Management program has been a big success since its rollout last year and the program will have its first graduate at the end of this year.
Other recent upgrades include the addition of manufacturer training, industrial PVF-specific courses, increasing the overall usability of the ASA University website and the overall online training system, plus the addition of several free member resources, including a disaster preparedness manual. Courses are in the midst of undergoing three-year cycle revisions to help provide the most current content possible.
“Our strategic vision is for our members’ employees to become the best-trained, best-educated and most professional in the industry,” Black says. “We want to make it as easy as possible for our members.”
Particularly popular with members has been the ASA-U Advisory Service, where ASA University staffers help create and implement training programs specific to and customized for member companies.
“This is the first year advisory has been 100 percent rolled out,” Black says. “We are getting a lot of traction. We are able to get into things such as job descriptions and baseline foundational information that is needed to make training successful.”
Union City, Calif.-based WHCI Plumbing Supply has used ASA-U Advisory Service to help with its training program. “We engaged the Advisory team to help us overhaul our entire training process and human-resource onboarding,” notes WHCI President/CEO John Mills, who is the current ASA Education Foundation chairman. “We brought on their expertise and encouraged our team to step up and put forth the efforts to build a first-class training system.”
Black and her ASA University team are hard at work coming up with even more innovations and new programs to best help companies. That includes looking into ways to host member-company training, the use of centralized reporting and tracking, as well as looking into the industry need for Spanish language courses.
“That big, audacious goal is to be the one-stop shop for training,” she says. “We’ve increased manufacturer training and we’re working on centralized reporting so members can go to one place to see the results of their training and what courses are being taken. We want to continue to make it affordable and easy to use, and we want to continue to engage even more of our members. We always want to be a builder of training content for the industry.” Ford says many independent distributors would struggle duplicating a training program as comprehensive as ASA University provides.
“For companies our size it would be difficult to put it all together with how organized it is and the customer support that is offered,” he says. “It would be very taxing on internal resources to attempt to assemble something as professional and complete as what ASA University has.”
Mills adds: “The ASA Education Foundation and ASA University are uniquely positioned within the industry to be the clearinghouse for all educational and training needs. What we are providing is essential. The ASA University staff knows the industry and every year there are more and more educational tools out there helping companies train their people. What they provide is essential. You would be hard-pressed to find a better value.”
This article was originally titled “Educating the industry” in the October 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.