Is The Great Engagement an answer to the labor shortage?  


Sonepar’s SVP of HR says it’s the paradigm shift we need.

The message from the contractors at the recent IEC Annual Convention was crystal clear: Help raise the profile of the industry to put careers in the electrical field on the map and help sustain the current workforce. We heard you. 

The Great Resignation was an unexpected plot twist in the story that unfolded during the pandemic. It started as a drumbeat and hit a crescendo just as companies started to figure out new ways of getting things done.  

Across Sonepar, we reacted quickly to the jolt of the unexpected labor shortage. Before the drumbeat was loudest, we held transparent discussions about the increasing trends on demand for talent – and began anticipating the next phase of the organizational challenge – the Great Reset. We weren’t immune to the resignations or career reset mentality but, instead of ruminating on the problem, we moved to brainstorming an anecdote – the Great Engagement. Though we don’t have all the answers, and haven’t stemmed all the issues, we are accelerating our focus on a productive response and sharing our ambitions across as many channels of communication as possible – internally and externally. The Great Resignation was a wake-up call motivating us all to ensure we fuel the pipeline of talented people for this great industry. 

 What are we doing now to engage the current and future workforce? As the largest B-to-B distributor of electrical products, systems, and services, we’re making purposeful strides. 

  1. Stay Interviews 

There are very talented and dedicated people in this industry and keeping them needs to be a top priority: People remain the greatest asset an organization has. In years past, we may not have always articulated or demonstrated the value of their contributions to the success and sustainability of the company. In one fell swoop, the conversation changed, and dialogue with associates took a front row seat.  

With the outside world full of uncertainty, employers quickly became a lighthouse in the storm as associates looked for stability, clarity, and leadership. At Sonepar companies, we began, and continue to ramp up, the concept of stay interviews. Stay interviews are conducted more informally and frequently to take a pulse check on what the associate feels we are doing well or where there is room for improvement. In organizations both big and small, for a variety of reasons, we tend to not seek feedback often enough. But seeking feedback and having a real dialogue – is going to determine who stays and who leaves. Isn’t it better to ask them while they’re here rather than asking them on their way out the door? 

Stay interviews also enable us to demonstrate our interest in inclusion—including more associates in dialogues around how we’re doing as leaders, as mentors, as business managers. It’s proven to be a great way to build trust and create regular feedback loops between those on the front line and leadership.  

2. Overcommunicating 

In line with stay interviews, the remoteness of life required more communication. More relevant to work-from-home staff, internal communications elevated. New policies, new procedures, new needs, fast problem-solving – the work arounds and problem-solving across the industry and world was astounding. As we return to normalcy, our feeling is, don’t leave anyone behind. Take the pivot in communications and institutionalize it. The best relationships are between parties who feel briefed and included ongoing, not just in times of crisis. 

And we’ll never forget the associate who told us upon their exit from the warehouse position – “Say hello.” Sometimes we get so busy in the day-to-day, we forget we’re real people who need affirmation we are seen and appreciated. Frequent validation is a new expectation of employment that is here to stay. 

3. Compensation & Benefits 

Ensuring our pay structure is competitive is a constant. Beyond pay, we’ve been mindful of enhancing our health insurance program, adding another floating holiday to celebrate cultures, developing more formal recognition programs, and evaluating our paid time off policies. Recognizing and celebrating are crucial. So is considering mental health, another topic that was discussed from a variety of angles at the convention. The more we socialize that it is ok not to feel ok, the better chance we have in encouraging treatment. Mental health check-ups are a topic we mention often in our internal communications. 

4. Development 

Some of our operating companies have implemented an associate warehouse development program to help reduce turnover on our warehouse and logistics team. The online and on-the-job learning activities within the program are designed to develop core competencies necessary to meet and surpass the job expectations of the material handler warehouse role. Programs like these encourage and support managers and associates working collaboratively to ensure the successful learning and integration of these skills in day-to-day warehouse activities. Fundamentally, the goals of the program are to facilitate performance improvement, develop hard and soft skills which benefit warehouse associates and enhance the operational effectiveness of the work location, while rewarding and retaining those individuals who complete the program. Pay incentives can also be layered on to the program. 

Whether you can establish programs, or simply pair a mentor with a mentee, demonstrating investment in the individual’s growth and wellbeing is a must. Investing in those on the front lines is critical to retaining our workforce.  

5. Marketing 

In 2020 we launched a customer marketing campaign called Pros Need Pros to position ourselves as the go-to resource company for experts in the field. We are looking to elevate that campaign in 2022 and do more around championing what a great industry this is to join. Electrical workers are an absolute necessity in a field that needs to be more celebrated. While the appreciation of front liners reached an all-time high during the pandemic, we want to be intentional in helping that torch burn bright in the future. As workers look to find more flexibility and meaning in what they do in the day-to-day, this industry has a lot to offer. For the ambitious, this field could not be a better place to build a career. Collectively, we need to tout the merits earlier in middle and secondary schools. Additionally, we need to highlight the opportunities to learn, grow, and earn. The electrical trade is more recession proof than most and offers earning ability also competitive to many other options. Great selling points. 

6. Partnership 

We continue to invest in the IEC mission as a premium partner. Whether it’s through chapter board membership or sponsorship of IEC graduate programs, partnership with the local chapters is a focus for our organization. 

7. Recruiting 

I intentionally saved the hardest topic for last because everything I shared prior to this point falls under having your house in order and being ready to attract and retain qualified talent.  

Recently, Sonepar refreshed our logo to be more easily identifiable and our values to be more easily understood and embraced. Potential hires today want to know what they are getting themselves into. Is the public facing side of your company a great silent salesperson? Is it clear the type of work you do, the performance expectations, and the type of people who work for your company? Being a visible part of the communities in which you do business is one way to encourage word of mouth chatter about your company. 

We plan to address our employer brand in 2022 and focus heavily on highlighting why candidates will feel they belong here, that they have a purpose; invest in recruitment marketing tools, and recruit from sources we’ve not tapped before to reach women, veterans, and other underrepresented pools of talent. 

 We are more cognizant than ever that we all need to be part of the solution. In sharing our journey, we hope we can connect with others to problem-solve the key obstacles the industry faces.