Manpower, Inc., a Milwaukee-based staffing/ employment firm, conducted an eye-opening survey earlier this year. Remarkably, it showed that 40 percent of nearly 33,000 employers surveyed across 23 countries are struggling to find qualified job candidates. Across North America and Asia the job categories hardest hit by the shortage are identical: Sales representatives ranked No.1 and skilled manual trades was No. 5. This should be of particular concern to our industry.

Manpower is a huge company-it operates 4,400 offices in 72 countries. Its survey delivers a strong warning to the floor covering industry. It says we must recognize our strengths and acknowledge the areas in need of improvement. Certainly top notch salespeople and skilled manual trade workers (installers and floor care technicians) are crucial to those working in manufacturing, distributing, retailing, contracting, installation and floor care/maintenance.

This should send a loud and clear message. "We face a serious problem because we have weaknesses when it comes to attracting and training people to fill positions in two critical areas."

Jeffrey Joerres, Manpower's CEO and chairman, stresses that it is not a question of finding warm bodies. It is about quality. "It's important to note that employers are telling us that they are not just looking for bodies to fill sales jobs, they want experienced salespeople who know their respective industries and can drive revenues." He added that in 10 years' time, many businesses may fail because they had not planned ahead for the talent shortage. Ultimately they simply will not be able to find the people they need to run their businesses.

The situation raises many questions that need to be addressed. I submit a few here to get us started:

  • Is the floorcovering industry populated with truly professional salespeople?
  • Do we recognize that our installers and floor care technicians are integral parts of the industry, that without their skills neither the industry nor its people can grow and prosper?
  • Are owners and managers providing their sales staff with ongoing education and the tools needed to succeed and are we making use of the many training programs that are readily available?
  • What are we doing to bring new people into the industry and are we helping them grow and develop?
  • Do companies truly appreciate the importance of sales representatives and do they give them the respect and support they deserve?
  • Are we getting the word out about the opportunities in floor covering sales?
  • Do companies truly appreciate the importance of technicians and installers and do they give them the respect and support they deserve?
  • Are we reaching out to new installers and floor care technicians and bringing them into the industry?
  • Are we making use of the variety of training programs that are currently available?

I am sure you can add a few questions of your own to this list. (I would love to hear your thoughts on this.) Remember the key point: The survey from Manpower shows a tremendous worldwide void related to two vital categories for our industry: Sales representatives and skilled manual trades.

As an industry we must focus on meeting this challenge while time is still on our side.