A chat with Steve Crowley, president and CEO at VIPAR Heavy Duty
Steve Crowley knows his business has been lucky. Hiring new people in business today — especially in the independent heavy-duty aftermarket — is not a sure thing.
So for VIPAR Heavy Duty, which Crowley leads as president and CEO, to find motivated young professionals as talented and capable as its most recent hires has had a very positive impact on the organization.
It’s something he’s been looking back on a lot recently when thinking about the aftermarket’s growing employee shortage.
“It’s the biggest issue everyone is facing today — how to attract, hire and retain good young talent,” Crowley says. “We’ve been fortunate in that area but I know a lot of others haven’t [had the same level of success].
“As an industry, we have to do something about that.”
The reason is obvious, Crowley says. The aftermarket is filled with great people, but it is also all aging. Look out over the audience at an industry event and you won’t see many twentysomethings.
The independent aftermarket is an industry closing in on retirement.
Crowley says the industry’s best hope to combat that is bringing in young talent today to fill openings tomorrow. While most college students aren’t clamoring to sell truck parts, Crowley says the aftermarket does have one key advantage over other industries recruiting young people: there are actually jobs available here.
If only those underemployed graduate students knew about them.
“We have to find a way to make this business more attractive than it is to younger generations,” Crowley says. “We have to show them there is a career here.”
Both Crowley and VIPAR Heavy Duty Director of Marketing Jeff Paul believe one great way to do that is by showcasing the true scope of jobs the aftermarket has to offer. Working in the trucking industry just doesn’t mean driving or fixing trucks, and Crowley says college students and young professionals have to know that.
That’s something VIPAR Heavy Duty has focused on specifically when hiring out of college. Crowley says each of the company’s recent college hires have worked in all areas of the business from the outset.
He says that was intentional. By not immediately pigeonholing each new employee into a role based on their diploma or the company’s needs, he says the trio was able to grow comfortable at VIPAR Heavy Duty and in the aftermarket before they were asked to specialize in one role.
By that time, adds Paul, the group was committed to the industry and wanted to stay. They also had gravitated to the each position, making their transition seamless.
Crowley ponders if that’s a strategy other operations also could use in the aftermarket.
“I don’t think you can just bring young people into any random position,” he says. “I think the best tactic is to find really good athletes and let them try everything.
“Take a few jobs and blend them,” he says. “Then separate them back out later when you see the skill set of each person and its clear where they should be.”
As for recruiting, Crowley says aftermarket businesses have to be willing to go back to the well.
“If you hire one young person and they do well, you can ask ‘Do you have any classmates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, who also might be looking for a job?’
“You just have to get those first few through the door.”
The one thing the aftermarket simply can’t do, Crowley says, is poach from each other. Swiping a manager from a rival business fills an immediate need, but it doesn’t strengthen the industry for the long run.
“The tough part is when one distributor hires a guy from another distributor so then that second distributor has to go poach a manager from another place, and on and on it goes,” he says. “For an industry like ours, that’s just like rotating the tires.”