Looking for a few good men (and women)? While pro dealers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to new employee recruitment and development by partnering with community colleges and vocational schools to ensure a full talent pipeline, finding seasoned business and sales leaders still can be challenging. As the industry morphs from classified ads to more unique recruitment campaigns, competition for experienced performers remains high. Dealers seeking alternatives to tempting talent away from market rivals would do well to examine a vast, rigorously trained personnel pool that has recently caught the eye of some of the top employers in the country: the military reserves.

Approximately 180,000 reservists currently are on active duty—mostly in Iraq, where reserves comprise 40 percent of the U.S. military presence, according to “Served in Iraq? Come Work for Us,” an article on the growing attraction of reservists as an untapped labor pool by Christopher Palmeri in the Dec. 13, 2004, issue of Business Week. As reservists complete their tours of duty, they often return home with a wealth of new talents and a thirst to leverage their experience in the job market. “[Reservists] return from their military service with far more seasoned management, people, and communication skills,” writes Palmeri. “That's why many big companies are going out of their way to recruit and retain them.”

Consider Army Major David Wood, a helicopter squadron commander in Iraq and Afghanistan who found his soldiers much more enthusiastic about a mission when they knew a senior officer was going to be in the formation. After cycling back to the States, Woods applied that strategy as a manager for a Ronks, Pa., packaging company, often joining workers on the plant floor to pack and ship products. “You can't be what we call a ‘coffee cup commander,'” Wood said in the article of his application of battlefield strategy to the business arena. “You have to be on the field, leading from the front.”

While federal law requires that employers guarantee returning reservists their old positions, many employers—including Harley Davidson, Adolph Coors, American Express, and The Home Depot—are beginning to offer additional compensation and benefits to keep returning reservists in the fold and pique the interests of other reservists on the jobhunt.

Pro dealers, as well, stand to gain by pitching their own call of duty to reservists. “[The industry] has always been good at developing entry level personnel, but it has always been difficult to get good leaders who are effective and disciplined,” says James DeGrange, a Maryland state senator and vice president of Baltimore-based DeGrange Lumber, who himself served in the U.S. Army Reserve during the Vietnam War. “If you are a yard—or any business—looking for a great pool of people, the Reserve is filled with effective individuals with excellent training.”

The military reserve talent pool is not without hazards for pro dealer employers, however. For extremely small firms, the long-term absence of key employees can have deleterious effects on the bottom line. Additionally, reservists on active combat duty face the risk of injury or death. But in the name of troop support and with the promise of battle-proven talent, employers seem to be willing to take those risks—and the pro supply sector shouldn't be any different. We've already got guys working logistics, managing people, and hauling around heavy equipment. The only difference is that there aren't any rockets flying by our heads. You can thank a reservist for that—at your next employee interview.

Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 202.729.3501 E-mail: cwood@hanleywood.com