Retaining Technicians: In Good Times and Bad

Editor’s Note: Finding and retaining qualified technicians has long been a crucial issue for HVAC contractors. In fact, this topic was written up as the number one industry issue in the June 1944 issue of Refrigeration Industry Magazine, the precursor to Contracting Business. Training and empowerment continue to reign as the means to keeping the best and brightest on your staff.

by Alan Barnes, Jr.

We all know that technicians are the life-blood of our industry. The work they do and the knowledge they have are what brings money in the door for all of us.

At Aircond Corp., we have long focused on our service division and the technicians who support it. During the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed a significant slow-down in this division, and haven’t seen the 15% annual growth we typically experience.

Although we’ve had to ride the wave of the economy to a certain degree by cost-cutting and right-sizing, we haven’t lost sight of the fact that our people are our greatest assets.

This means, even in tough times, we need to retain good, productive personnel. Therefore, here are a few things we do at Aircond to keep our technicians motivated and happy:

  • Self-management/Empowerment — We assign service contracts to technicians and let them schedule the inspections each month. We’ve found that allowing technicians to “dispatch”themselves increases their productivity and enhances their entrepreneurial spirit.

    In addition, our technicians quote work themselves, which streamlines the work flow and further fosters a sense of independence.
  • Regular communication — Frequent communication with the field is paramount. Because technicians are often away from the office, it’s difficult for them to know what’s going on in the company. For this reason, we have meetings at least bi-monthly where we openly discuss company issues and news. An upper management representative is almost always in attendance.
  • The power to make change — This year, we’ve instituted a “territory strategy” meeting where technicians offer input on how the business in their territory could be improved or increased. They’re also active in implementing those changes.
  • Training — Training is big at Aircond. Being kept safe and up-to-date on the latest technology is essential, and, I believe, is very much appreciated by our technicians. For example, we have a comprehensive safety training program managed by our safety director. Each technician participates quarterly in these safety sessions.

    For technical training, our two training directors conduct regular classes for the technicians, and factory training is supplied as needed. We’re also excited about some new on-line training programs being offered by our parent company, EMCOR.
  • Frequent interaction among technical personnel — Our techs enjoy interacting with our engineers. Because both groups are mechanically oriented, the engineers welcome the opportunity to work with the techs and offer support whenever they need assistance.
  • Professional people deserve a professional look — Our technicians are provided with professional looking uniforms, up-to-date and clean service vans, and the tools they need to do their job effectively. Our technicians take pride in their work, and I believe they take pride in the way they look, as well.
  • Promote from within — We emphasize promoting from within. In fact, 100% of our district service managers were once Aircond technicians, as were both of our service operations managers and two people (one is a vice president) on our executive team. We try very hard to provide career paths for our technicians because we have found them to be very good managers.
  • Strong client relations — Lastly, we whole-heartedly encourage our technicians to build a relationship directly with our clients. This creates a sense of ownership and responsibility for the technician, and the personal treatment that clients receive is what keeps them coming back for more.

Alan L. Barnes, Jr. is the senior vice president and chief operating officer for Aircond Corp., Atlanta, GA Aircond is part of EMCOR Facilities Services, a division of EMCOR Group, Inc. He can be reached at 800/768-2472.

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