Although some workers need a college degree, most jobs in wholesale trade can be entered without education beyond high school. New workers usually receive training after they begin work-for instance, in operation of inventory management databases, online purchasing systems, or electronic data interchange systems. Technological advances and market forces are rapidly altering this industry. Even workers in small firms need to keep informed about new selling techniques, management methodologies, and information systems. In addition, technological advances affect the skill requirements for occupations across the entire industry-from warehouse workers to truck drivers to managers. As a result, numerous firms devote significant resources to worker training.
Many firms offer on-the-job training. However, as providing training is becoming more costly and complex, the industry is increasingly using third-party training organizations and trade associations to reduce this burden. To increase productivity, many companies make their employees responsible for more than one function and cross-train them by familiarizing them with many aspects of the company.
Wholesale trade has historically offered good advancement opportunities from the least-skilled jobs up through management positions. For example, unskilled workers can start in the warehouse or stock room. After they become familiar with the products and procedures of the firm, workers may be promoted to counter sales or even to inside sales positions. Others may be trained to install, service, and repair the products sold by the firm. Eventually, workers may advance to outside sales positions or to managerial positions. Wholesale trade firms often emphasize promotion from within, especially in the numerous small businesses in the industry. Even in some of the largest firms, it is not uncommon to find top executives who began as part-time warehouse help.
As the wholesale trade industry changes in the coming years, advancement opportunities could become more limited. Increasing use of the Internet and other electronic means of communication, as well as changing sales techniques, are placing increasing demands on managers, so it will become more difficult to promote less educated workers from within the firm. However, consolidation among wholesale trade firms has resulted in larger companies with more advancement opportunities for those with the appropriate skills. Currently, several large firms in this industry have formal management training programs that train college graduates for management positions, and the number of these programs will probably grow. There are also a growing number of industrial distribution programs at universities, providing students with both business and technical training. All workers should expect to periodically take classes and seminars to learn new skills as the industry adapts to new technology and business practices.
In addition to advancement opportunities within a firm, there also are opportunities for self-employment. For example, because brokers match buyers with sellers and never actually own goods, individuals with the proper connections can establish wholesale brokerage businesses with only a small investment-perhaps working out of their home. Moreover, establishing a wholesale distribution business can be easier than establishing many other kinds of businesses. Wholesalers that get exclusive distribution rights to popular items can become profitable quickly; although wholesale distribution firms usually require a substantial investment, obtaining rights to a successful product can be the foundation of a successful new business.