Member Visit Reflects Changing Needs for Distribution Workforce

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO

By Eric Lanke


One of my recent trips took me to Portland, Oregon, where I was able to visit several NFPA members in the Pacific northwest.

Valin Member VisitOne was Valin Corporation, a distributor of hydraulic, pneumatic and lubrication components for the fluid power, automation and motion control industries. Ken Harris was my gracious host, and we found ourselves talking about many trends in the fluid power industry, including the changing workforce needs in the distribution sector.

Valin, like many of our distributor members, is increasingly focusing on hiring bachelor-degreed engineers. It reflects the changing nature of the distribution business, which is moving away from pure distribution of parts and products, and moving toward the design, installation and service of complete systems. Ken has found that the difference in pay required to attract and retain this new talent more than makes up for the increase in knowledge and expertise that comes into his company.

One real issue, however, remains that lack of specific fluid power knowledge that many of these bachelor-degreed engineers have. Although NFPA has helped increase the amount of fluid power knowledgeable mechanical engineers that are coming out of schools like the University of Minnesota and the Georgia Institute of Technology—primarily through the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power—we’ve not yet been able to impact any of the schools out on the West Coast.

We are turning our attention in that direction, recognizing that members in all parts of the country need help in meeting their workforce challenges. We’re actively looking for members who are willing to help us grow our successful programs in new sections of the country. Hosting a Fluid Power Challenge for middle schools, supporting the Project Lead the Way fluid power curriculum in high schools, recruiting 2-year and 4-year colleges to apply for NFPA Foundation funding that supports fluid power research or curriculum development—these are all great ways to start reversing the trend.

In the Pacific northwest and everywhere else.

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