How to Combat Industry Brain Drain

After almost two decades of experience with industrial hoses, Andrew Kalinowski, Business Development Manager for Thunder Technologies, has gained insight on the differences between the role of a distributer and a manufacturer in the hose industry. With the ever progressive nature of today’s market and the continuous development of the industry, the necessity of the different sectors and the sharing of pertinent information is more important than ever.

Hose + Coupling World was excited for the opportunity to speak with Kalinowski about his thoughts on how ‘brain drain’ might be impacting workers, predictions for the next generation of workers, and trends for the future of industrial manufacturing.

By Sara Mathov and Angelica Pajkovic

Background and Career

Andrew Kalinowski began working for his father when he was 13 years old, sweeping his shop floor. After studying at Oakland University and Alma College he started his career at Thunder Technologies in outside sales. He then moved on to national sales executive before beginning his current role of Business Development Manager. Kalinowski’s current role is primarily concentrated on sales and vendor relations, as well as international business, and business development. “Right now, I am more focused on sales management, but in a pre-pandemic world, I was more focused on international sales,” said Kalinowski.

Andrew Kalinowski.

Working for a company which has a wide range of offerings has provided Kalinowski with the opportunity to learn about the industry from a number of different perspectives and gain invaluable knowhow on the international market. “My main objective is to develop comprehensive industrial solutions to consumer problems. As a distributor, I act as a middleman between a customer and manufacturer, to ensure the customer is getting the right product for their needs,” explained Kalinowski. “Through years of experience working with several customers and manufacturers, I have seen many trends and challenges emerging in the industry.”

Industry Challenge: ‘Brain Drain’

Kalinowski suggests one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing is what he calls ‘brain drain’. ‘Brain drain’ is a phenomenon in which individuals with years of experience retire and take with them their knowledge and extensive understanding of both the industry and the applications they work with. When industry veterans retire, the information is not being passed down effectively to newcomers, and customers, leading to a lack of customer education. “What happens is, the customers do not know what to get or where to get it,” relayed Kalinowski. “The problem with this, and what makes it scary, is that it can lead to operators and manufacturers making uninformed decisions that could be putting people at risk; it is a huge safety concern.” If experts are retiring rapidly without passing down more of their expertise, Kalinowski said the brain drain might continue and impact end-users and customers.

As a suggested solution, Kalinowski believes it is important to educate, not only younger workers in the field, but companies should focus on educating customers as well. “As a distributor, we have a responsibility to educate our customers,” he said. “An educated customer is a good customer.” Customers should be informed on the application, how to improve it, and safety, which he said will benefit everyone in the long run. In order to educate customers, those on the manufacturing and distribution side need to also be well informed.

Combat brain drain.

Industry Challenge: Newcomer Knowledge Gap

Beyond customer education, Kalinowski highlights that newcomers in the industry are also facing knowledge gaps, especially on the distributor end. “The manufacturers will always have a good understanding of the product and have people that know what they are doing. When it gets to distributors and sales, however, we do not sell parts, we sell solutions,” said Kalinowski. “So if you have customers that do not understand everything, such as chemical compositions, they need direction on the best products to use. There should be course correction on the lack of knowledge.” As a large portion of the industry will soon be retiring, Kalinowski believes that newcomers are especially prone to knowledge gaps.

A proposed solution is opening more room for knowledge-based discussions. “If there was an end-user reading this, or distributor, I would say, talk to the manufacturers, and get to understand your product within your environment,” said Kalinowski. “The more you understand about it, the better it works.” Having more discussions about products and goals for the product within an environment will help close that knowledge gap. That dialogue and openness, even just understanding what a hose is and what it can do, will help cover that lack of education,” he continued. “Those leaving the industry will need to educate and welcome newcomers, but this will require overlap between working generations.

Industry Challenge: Not Enough New Workers

The other large concern that Kalinowski has for the future of the industry is the lack of young, new professionals entering the industry. “It is a blessing and a curse that baby boomers are beginning to seriously consider retiring,” expressed Kalinowski. “It is worrisome because with each person who leaves, goes years of product knowledge. It is beneficial however, as it allows for the next generation, or new blood, to get a footing in the industry,” he continued. “Our focus has to become finding ways to preserve the experiences had by industry veterans, while simultaneously encouraging young professionals to take an interest in the industry.”

As many millennials were entering the work force, Kalinowski recalls a push to go to college rather than learn a trade. “Manufacturing needs to stop being a dirty word,” said Kalinowski. “Manufacturing, distributing, and working with ones hands is the future of our marketplaces and should not be undervalued. In a broader sense,” he continued, “it has good paying jobs, and it is a great opportunity to learn about how all the applications people interact with on a daily basis, like hoses, work. Manufacturing built the middle class of Canada and America, it is not a dirty word. We pay everybody well and take care of our employees.”

Along with increasing interest for a newer generation, Kalinowski believes that the industry has to recognize recent graduates as a potential asset. “Some may have a negative mindset about young people entering the world of manufacturing, but we need to have that entrepreneurial spirit and conversation.” By increasing awareness and interest for younger generation, the industrial sector will benefit; it will allow for new ideas and innovative approaches to manufacturing both hoses as well as other industrial applications. “Do not look down on young people – hire them,” stated Kalinowski.

Looking Ahead

Distributors have a unique position as they can help customers in ways that manufacturers often cannot. “Distributors take a manufacturer’s product, sell it, grow the value of the business, give feedback to the manufacturer, and plug in all of this information,” said Kalinowski. “It is something that manufacturers often just do not have time to do. As far as end-users go, the manufacturer cannot provide the level of support that end users truly need.” If manufacturers try going direct without a distributor in between, Kalinowski fears that it could lead to a number of issues. “You can only be focused on selling something, or making it better and better, you cannot do both. In order to be as safe and as effective as possible, you need the middle man” he said.

Distributors can also handle any problems that arise, explain technical aspects of the product, and are familiar with the market that may be different from what a consuming user is used to, so Kalinowski said it will be interesting to see how this trend evolves.

Due to companies selling, independent distributors will either flourish or die in the next 25 years, according to Kalinowski. “There might be people who want to go direct, and cut out the distribution,” he said, “but that would be a bad idea all around.”

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