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A Most Unusual Job Market

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by Nelson Valderrama

Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” It is true that the car changed everything about American life, from how far our houses could be from work, to the 3.9 million miles of roadways that connect the nation.

We are going through a similar dramatic change today. Technology and automation are changing the way we work, creating an ever-changing landscape; distributors must adapt or risk losing the talented people that they have. They could even miss out on attracting the talent that they need in the future.

Last week I had conversations with owners of two successful distribution businesses with 40 and 70 years in business respectively. Their main concern: how to attract new talent from open positions in the warehouse, sales and purchasing.

The HR emergency that we are seeing unfold in real-time forces organizations to reevaluate everything about work. In discussions over coffee and in boardrooms across the industry, people are asking themselves, “What is temporary vs. what is transformative?” This question will help to meet the crises and thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Though the infection rate is slowly receding both here and abroad, the future of work is changing beyond the crisis. The pandemic has affected work as we know it and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Accounting for the changes, there is an urgent need for companies to build innovative approaches and strategies on three levels.

1) Temporary changes
The COVID-19 crisis has forced companies to strictly follow certain rules such as social distancing and work-from-home. Changing the operating model to keep the lights on was challenging. Many companies redeployed and repurposed team members for tasks related to safety. It helped them cope with the crisis but these changes are temporary. Though it helped companies learn how to survive the pandemic, it won’t be relevant when COVID-19 protocols slacken.

2) Permanent changes
We adopted trends that were once regarded long-term future work in response to the pandemic. The market has experienced an explosion in digitalization and automation. Something that was once considered ambitious suddenly became key to survival. These are some irreversible changes that have impacted the nature of work forever.

3) New ways of work
The pandemic also ushered in a proliferation of new ways of doing work and generating income. The outlook on work has changed; this trend has not yet been categorized as permanent or temporary, but it has given us new perspective. For instance, workers can perform tasks remotely and more efficiently, from shopping, to learning and beyond.

It will be interesting to see which of these changes and trends are here to stay. With the evolving technology and shift in societal expectations, organizations are nurturing new avenues of capital generation. However, one thing that stays beyond is determining the uncertainty of change and strategizing decisions across the three levels to succeed in the market.

Apart from changing trends and the COVID-19 crisis, another challenge that the market is facing is a shortage of labor. Today, almost every workplace comprises millennials with their unique way of looking at the world.

According to research, over 19 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs since April 2021. It has negatively impacted businesses in every sector. To stop this mass exodus, companies offer employees financial perks and bonuses. But millennials are perceptive; instead of appreciating the gesture, they sense a transaction.

It seems that the organizations are not meeting their real needs. Employees today feel exhausted, unenthusiastic and indifferent toward their organizations. Despite showering them with monetary benefits, a sense of shared identity is what they truly crave. If workers don’t feel valued, seen, heard and empowered, they lose the sense of purpose. So meaningful interactions, rather than transactions, will play a major role as we move forward.

We need a new narrative that can reshape the future of work. Work will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. Too many things happened – in the world, inside organizations, and among employees – catalyzing changes that had long been brewing.

Taking everything into account, business leaders can take the following powerful actions.

From talent takers to talent makers
Organizations are experiencing a skills shortage. Therefore, scaling investments in learning can play a vital role. Helping current employees learn and develop a growth mindset will help organizations improve. It is important to employ ways to tap the hidden potential of their people and uplift them throughout their career journey.

Job titles are a great way to stand out in the job market, and they can also provide valuable insight into how your company and culture are different. For example, the title of “receptionist” might be revised to “Customer Experience Associate.” This new position will allow employees more flexibility and responsibility, while their experience in customer-facing work makes them invaluable on any project.

Build the personal capacity of workers instead of managing them as machines
Leaders need to support employees and help them create a meaningful life. Every person has a unique talent, and the best leader can reveal and utilize it in the most productive way. Reorganizing workflows and giving workers a sense of belonging are great ways to get started.

A shared vision, mutual respect and common values unite people. It could be the best way to retain the workforce and contribute to success. In order to succeed, we have all been learning how important it is that each person in our workforce takes more than just their title and list of skills. The meteoric rise over the past 18 months with tech adoption reminds us again not only do they need understanding but also consent from those around them as well!

So far, we have discussed the unusual job market we are all facing, and how a change in perspective is needed to meet that problem. Rather than throwing money at the problem, this is an opportunity to grow talent and manage respectfully. Before you proceed to the undertaking, ask the following questions.

Are your leaders motivating? An organization that lacks motivating leaders often finds its hardworking employees leaving. If workers do not feel valued and inspired, they do not feel like giving 100 percent to the job. Leaders need to lead with compassion and empathy.

Are your workers in their right positions? For a successful organization, it is important to have the right people at the right seats. It becomes more important for managerial positions where new leadership skills are essential. If your managers and executives have no skills to work in hybrid and virtual environments, training and capability-building will help.

How strong was your work culture before the pandemic hit? Returning to the office may seem like a blessing and a way to address lingering culture and connectivity concerns for many executives. It is time to understand that the needs of your employees have changed and your culture may not have kept up, leading to magnifying the weaknesses of organizations, which was the main topic I discussed with the two distributors last week.

Are you focusing more on a transactional relationship? How you react in response to attrition shows how you treat your employees. If your response is limited to offering financial perks and bonuses, workers understand that their value in the organization is just transactional. Do not forget that the best people you have will always find their way to organizations where they are valued as human beings. Your aim should not just solve their bank problems, but the whole person and the whole organization.

Do your benefits align with the priorities of employees? Today, when most workers are returning to the office, their top priority is not free parking or perks related to entertainment but family care. As per a recent survey, most people, especially women planning to quit, want childcare. Organizations should keep the basic needs of their employees a priority, for instance, onsite childcare, flexible work hours and other family-focused benefits. It will ensure the employees that you value them not only as workers but also as humans.

Do you provide opportunities to grow? While employees look for strong career trajectories, they also desire recognition and development. Rewarding employees with promotions and exploring the new projects and positions challenge them to do more and better for the organization.

Last Word
While Henry Ford’s invention created a world that many in his era could have only dreamed of, we are in a similar situation today with automation, employment and inspiring the next generation. One of the biggest, boldest technical innovations today is Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Intuilize is a leader in AI for the industrial supplier. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for your business, and the future of work.

Nelson ValderramaNelson Valderrama is CEO of Intuilize, which specializes in helping mid-size distributors transform data into profits. For more information contact him by email or visit

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2022, Direct Business Media.


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