SCHOOL IS IN SESSION:
Grainger CEO Talks
Tools for Tomorrow
Interview by Anna Wells
As the required skill set for advanced manufacturing continues to evolve, many resources emerge to address
workforce development needs in the industry. James Ryan, CEO of industrial distribution leader, Grainger, sat
down with IMPO to discuss ways in which technical education has been a continued priority for his business
— and why the skilled trades have more to offer than many people realize.
Which characteristics of careers in the trades do you believe
are most misunderstood? Which characteristics to these types
of jobs do you see as the most appealing?
Do you feel the recession (and subsequent unemployment)
has changed the way people view jobs in the industrial
sector? How so?
The rise in unemployment caused people who otherwise
wouldn’t have considered a job in the trades to think twice
and realize the potential of a career in the industrial sector,
whether it’s a recent high school graduate looking to start a
career, or someone in the workforce for more than 20 years.
For example, I’m reminded of one of our recent Grainger
Tools for Tomorrow® Scholarship Program recipients, Ed.
His story really resonated with me because I found it to be so
inspirational and representative of how the opportunities in
the industrial sector can change someone’s life. The former
cement finisher is pursuing a second associate’s degree at
Joliet Junior College while he works nights, operating locks
on Illinois rivers for the Army Corps of Engineers. He says
he has opportunities for advancement there and a steady pay-
check — things missing in his construction days. He has a
degree in industrial maintenance technology and is working
on one in electrical automation systems. Ed won a scholar-
ship at Joliet through Grainger’s Tools for Tomorrow scholar-
ship program, which offers $2,000 toward tuition at commu-
nity colleges nationwide, and tool kits to help students finish
their degrees and get started in technical jobs.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that a job within the
trades is not a career. In reality, the positions available today
and in the future offer exciting, long-term opportunities that
require advanced problem-solving skills, science, technology,
and math knowledge. There’s also a perception that these posi-
tions don’t offer financial stability when in reality, they are
well-paying and support industries that are increasingly stable.
For example, an electrician can make upwards of $80,000/year
and careers in HVAC are listed as #9 among the top 10 jobs for
future hiring, according to data from the Department of Labor.
In addition, careers within the trades are hotbeds for innova-
tive thinking and are now part of exciting, cutting edge indus-
tries. According to the American
Association of Community
Colleges (AACC), Green industries
currently create about 8. 5 million
jobs in the United States, and as
many as 1 out of 4 workers in the
United States will be working in
renewable energy or energy effi-
ciency industries by 2030.
It’s easy to see how someone can
quickly realize that a career in the
trades can offer stable, yet chal-
lenging, well-paying opportunities
in innovative fields that have often
been overlooked or undervalued
because of simple misconceptions.
In your opinion, what is the role of industrial manufactur-
ers and distributors in helping to develop the workforce of
Finding qualified candidates with strong analytical skills
and industrial training remains one of manufacturing’s big-