Chairman’s Column, April 2017: “The Job Disconnect and Distribution’s Answer”

John Tracy-NAW

It is hard to imagine any one aspect of the economy that gets more attention than employment or jobs. Whether it is the type of jobs, quantity, quality, unemployment, underemployment, or residual employment data, the jobs discussion dominates most economic conversations—and it is usually at the center of many of our political debates.

One of President Trump’s central planks in his campaign was bringing quality jobs back to the United States. In fact, in every presidential campaign that I can remember for the last 20 years, the subject of jobs was always one of the top priorities for each candidate.

During the Great Recession, the spotlight was on the quantity of jobs available given the high unemployment rate. Since then, unemployment figures have gone down substantially; now, the focus is more on the quality of those jobs.

I continue to be amazed after reading the news media reports and political discourse by both parties about the quantity and quality of jobs available in the U.S., because every CEO I know across all U.S. industries would list finding the quality and quantity of talent needed in their business as one of their top three challenges, if not THE top challenge.

We even spoke about this subject with our economist Alan Beaulieu at the NAW Executive Summit this past January. He admitted that there is a disconnect between the real data on jobs and the rhetoric in the media and political circles.

In many cases, part of the disconnect is that people want their “old job” back. Very few would contest the fact that we live in a time when things are changing fast, technology is impacting every company, and globalization has and will continue to affect jobs—including where and what those jobs encompass.

The interesting part is that those of us in the wholesale distribution industry are clearly part of the solution, and in many cases, have a shortage of qualified employees for the jobs we do have. These are not minimum wage or fast food-type jobs as many suggest; nor are they jobs that do not offer benefits.

The majority of this country’s distribution companies have an abundance of warehouse, driving, and management opportunities that offer excellent starting wages, a full offering of benefits including health care and 401(k) programs, and an opportunity for a real career with advancement and promotions available.

Our challenge is to get that message out and convince people to be open minded about changing careers and taking advantage of our jobs. Those jobs may be different, but they still provide as much economic opportunity, benefits for the family, and stability as almost any industry in the U.S.

Getting our jobs message out is one of the many reasons why we all need to get involved in the political process and support organizations like NAW that help carry the message to Washington DC.

In addition to learning how to be more effective at marketing distribution jobs in general, we need to educate our politicians about the impact distribution is making on the economy; the quantity and quality of jobs we currently have available; and the challenges we face through increased regulation, high effective tax rates, and increased health care costs (because we are providing that benefit to our employees!), just to name a few areas of importance to our industry.

As members of NAW, I am encouraging all of us to get more executives involved and more distribution companies to participate in NAW. Please help us by encouraging your distribution company friends to take a look at NAW, become more active in NAW yourself, and get to know your local and national politicians. We need your help by supporting NAW’s activities so that we can educate leaders in Washington that the first place to look for quality jobs is in our backyard. Thanks for listening!

John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board, and Dot Foods Executive ChairmanJohn Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board, and Dot Foods Executive Chairman