A Propane Profile: Blossman Gas’ Alex Gresham

June 9, 2017 By    

Alex Gresham

Alex Gresham, the director of human development at Blossman Gas, joined the propane industry 11 years ago following career stops in higher education at Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Mississippi.

Like a number of individuals who work in propane, Gresham never envisioned embarking on a career in this industry. Yet, Gresham has carved out a leadership position with the largest privately held propane company in the United States, where his responsibilities center on the recruitment, hiring, training and development of Blossman employees.

LP Gas Senior Editor Kevin Yanik connected with Gresham to learn more about the challenges he faces in these areas, as well as how an industry faced with filling essential positions over the coming years can best market itself to prospects.

LP Gas: How would you describe the challenge of employee recruitment for Blossman Gas? For the propane industry?

Gresham: The propane industry, including Blossman Gas, is going to have to have a change in perspective when it comes to hiring new positions. For example, when I first came to the company in 2006, it was not uncommon for us to post a position and get multiple CDL (commercial driver’s license) driver candidates who also had some solid industry experience. Those candidates are not as common today.

Fewer people in Gen X and Y are going into the trades and commercial driving. There is a gap in these industry-specific technical skills that we will have to work through.

That being said, we try to encourage our managers to always be looking in their communities for future candidates for us to consider [and to] look for people who have a solid work ethic, are people-oriented and may desire a change. If they’ve got the right attitude, we can work with them to get them properly trained. This shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but as an opportunity within our industry to expand on who we thought the standard “propane employee” was, and to embrace the new and fresh perspectives of the next generation.

LP Gas: How challenging is it to find candidates who have a propane-quality work ethic?

Gresham: At Blossman Gas, while we have had to get more innovative with our recruitment techniques, we’ve found that we are still able to identify potential employees who don’t have propane experience but are able to be engaged in learning.

Some might have the opinion that millennials possess a lack of work ethic because it appears that today and tomorrow’s workers will not stick to a job as long as previous generations have. At Blossman, we take the approach that it is not a lack of loyalty or work ethic, but that we need to provide ongoing educational and growth opportunities to keep new employees engaged. Studies on the millennial generation have shown that they work faster and more efficiently than any workforce yet.

In the propane industry, there are a lot of requirements in terms of regulations, ongoing training and continuous safety training. I believe that we will have to dig deeper to find ways to adapt our industry and attract younger generations to the work that we do.

For our industry to maintain or grow, we must find future professionals who are people-oriented and willing to learn. We will need people who can not only sell the value of propane and what it can do for our customer, but people who will advocate propane as a reliable energy source. I think that is a challenge, but I do think there are people out there who can fill the future openings. We just have to market ourselves better to them.

LP Gas: How can the propane industry better connect with its next generation of employees?

Gresham: Generations Y and Z are ultimately going to come around to where Gen X and the Baby Boomers have been. We all want to work where we feel valued and can contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Marketers may have to find ways to meet the next generations in the middle with job expectations.

For example, the Ys and the Zs have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Maybe it’s having handheld units or smartphones available to help a new tech research a problem, or to help them better communicate with a customer ahead of a delivery or service appointment. Those technological forms of communicating are something they have grown up using, and we can do more to adopt them in our everyday work.

There’s a lot of research out there about how millennials like to work in teams. They like more flexible schedules and care about the work/life balance provided by a company. Propane marketers have traditionally had their workday start before 8 [a.m.] and end past 5 [p.m.]. We never leave a customer cold or without hot water. I do not think there will be change in the customer service philosophy that our industry is based upon with the next generation, but there might be a need for some adaptation of the traditional 8-to-5 schedule of the 40-hour workweek. The desire to have a full-time position is there, but we may have to think outside the box to be flexible on when those traditional hours are scheduled.

LP Gas: How else can propane marketers leverage the fruits of working in the propane industry?

Gresham: We must make sure we offer competitive wages and benefits. Blossman strives to have our people home at night. We strive to have them home part of the day on Christmas Eve because we have a commitment to family life. We’re going to have to market that more. As companies we’re trying to sell our products and services, but as an industry we’re going to have to market ourselves better to the American worker and highlight the rewards of our industry in terms of customer satisfaction, professional growth and that our product is mostly produced here.

We work hard. There are evening hours, and we’re on call. But it’s a very rewarding field. A lot of companies in this industry try to promote from within. We do as well. We look for dedicated people who want to be a part of something. If we get someone who starts on a bobtail, in service or in the office, we look toward those people for management if they possess the leadership skills needed.

We try to create career paths. We have an online university setting, and we try to invest in people through continued education and learning. It’s not just getting them in, throwing them the keys and training them where we can. We have a true commitment from our senior management to train employees.

We are developing a balance of online and classroom training. The bulk of the classroom training takes place in the spring, summer and early fall. We still understand the seasonality of things but we have courses available year-round.

We are leaning heavily toward bringing people in and training them more on the front end. We want people to have an understanding of what they’re going to be doing and what we require of them.

LP Gas: Aside from drivers, what other positions are particularly difficult to fill these days?

Gresham: We have a cylinder route position where you’re moving cylinders for forklift fuel, and that one seems to be very difficult because of the physicality of it. Also, service technician positions are difficult to fill because fewer people are going into the trades. It takes a unique person to handle that position because you’re balancing piping and installation with diagnostics.

LP Gas: Which industries and fields do you find yourselves competing against most for qualified candidates?

Gresham: We mostly compete with other transportation and logistics oriented companies. The CDL is a hot commodity. However, Fortune magazine recently published its top 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials. Almost 20 percent of them were IT-related companies (technology). There may have been one relating to transportation. We are competing on a broader scale. We are going to have to better market what we do well to those entering the workforce or in it currently.

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