Is there anyone reading this who doesn't rank hiring, retention and training as among the thorniest business issues? Ask the manufacturers who need engineers to help them design products and processes, and intelligent production workers capable of operating computerized machinery. Talk to the distributors who constantly scramble to develop everyone from managerial ranks to reliable warehouse workers. Listen to the engineering firms that increasingly must hunt overseas for people capable of designing and specifying complex plumbing and heating systems.

As for contractors, it's not exactly a buyers' market for top-notch plumbers, pipefitters and service technicians, is it?

It's time to put our heads together and examine what's out there in the way of solutions. That's the point of the program being spearheaded by PM and our associates with the BNP Media Plumbing Group of magazines.

“Innovative Thinking 2006: Hiring-Training-Retention” is a conference taking place June 12-13 at the Emerald Pointe Resort, a little outside of Atlanta. In this conclave you'll find familiar faces such as PM columnists Paul Ridilla, Al Levi and Ellen Rohr sharing their best practices experience. We're also bringing in some people you probably haven't heard of, but whose insights about the topic are provocative.

For instance, the conference's keynote speaker will be Ricardo González, founder and CEO of Bilingual America, who will also be presenting a seminar on “Success With Hispanics,” an in-depth look at how to understand and work with Hispanic people, the fastest growing minority group in this country and a key component of today's and tomorrow's labor force. I've heard Ricardo speak, and you won't find many people taking bathroom breaks while he's at the mike. What he has to say about this subject will knock many of you for a loop.

Besides Hispanics, there's another segment of society that the industry has largely slammed the door on. And they constitute around half the population. “Women in the Plumbing Industry” is the title of a no-holds barred panel session moderated by Ellen Rohr that will feature successful women from various segments of the industry. They will talk about the barriers they had to overcome and how to make our industry a more attractive career option to millions of females. Another program you don't want to miss comes from human resources consultant Jesse Elliott, who will talk about the “Cost of Turnover.” Elliot will examine how to identify your key people, why they choose to leave and what employers can do to change it. Elliott has spent more than 30 years dealing with human resource issues as a manager and consultant. Trust me on this one. He is a personal friend of mine with a sterling reputation in the human resources field. He speaks with considerable expertise about addressing people problems in organizations large and small.

Service contractors in particular will want to attend a session conducted by one of their own. That's Bill Raymond, owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service Co., in Peekskill, N.Y., who will share some of his firm's successes in hiring, retaining and training those elusive first-rate service technicians.

Other programs slated for the conference will include a presentation by Megan White of Florida's Castle Supply Co. and Dr. Leslie Pagliari of East Carolina University's Industrial Distribution & Logistics program about recruiting and training tomorrow's distribution managers. The conference will also take a close-up look at the industry's best product training tools.

All of it will take place in a relaxed, luxurious setting with plenty of opportunity for mingling and networking. Emerald Pointe Resort & Conference Center features 216 rooms and suites and an 18-hole golf course. The resort is located on Lake Lanier Islands, about a half-hour drive from Atlanta.

Manufacturers, reps, wholesalers, contractors and engineering firms alike can benefit from attending this first-of-its-kind event this June.

Join Jim at BNP Media Plumbing Group's "Innovative Thinking 2006: Hiring-Training-Retention" conference June 12-13, just outside of Atlanta. He'll be discussing the College of Product Knowledge during the "Product & Installation Training Resources for the Plumbing & Heating Industry" session, June 12, 4 p.m.

Visit conference link below to register.