Making our industry Professional: If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When?

July 1, 2003
by Ray Isaac Ask anyone in this industry what the #1 challenge is right now, and theyll probably respond, Finding good, qualified people. Then, ask that

by Ray Isaac

Ask anyone in this industry what the #1 challenge is right now, and they’ll probably respond, “Finding good, qualified people.” Then, ask that same person what they think we, as an industry, should do about it. The responses will range from silence and a blank stare to running a public relations campaign designed to attract people to our industry. The brutal truth is there’s no single solution through which the industry can address this problem until we, as contractors, start addressing it on a contractor-by-contractor basis.

Our industry has an image problem, and we are our own worst enemies. Just the other day I was driving down one of the most heavily traveled interstates in New York State and was appalled by a billboard that made me question the sanity of the company that posted it. There, for all to see, was the “face” of our industry: the back side of a burly individual in a flannel shirt, a tool belt (without any tools in it), and a pair of jeans that could have benefited from another four inches of material at the waist. Over the picture was the saying, “We fix leaks and cracks.”

Before I get a ton of phone calls (which I encourage anyway), I realize what this company was trying to achieve. However, as we preach to all of our employees at Isaac, you never make yourself look better by making someone else look bad. Ads like this make our whole industry look bad, and go a long way toward solidifying the mental image that the general public has of heating, air conditioning, and plumbing companies and the trades in general. Guess what, folks: this general public is the same source for our potential applicants. Shortage of qualified people in our industry? No kidding!

Now that I have spoken my piece, I will step down from the soap box and discuss some things that will help start our journey towards improving our image and our industry. The first step in doing this is to analyze and get to know what I like to call the three C’s: your Company, your Competition, and your Customer.

Let’s talk about your company. When was the last time you took a good hard look at your company as it would be seen by a potential employee? Do you reinforce the image that many applicants may have of a contractor? This doesn’t mean that you need a fancy office, shop, or warehouse, but it does mean that it should be professional, clean, organized, easy to access, safe, comfortable, and separate from your personal habitat.

In line with the facilities are your company’s vehicles. Are they clean, and equipped with air conditioning and a tape deck or CD player (so your employees can listen to the training tapes and CDs you give them)? Are they consistent in color, graphics, set-up, etc.? How do your own employees speak about the company? Do you use employees in your ads? (This is a double-edge sword, but has its benefits.) Do you send out press releases to the business section when an employee gets a promotion, a certification, or an award?

Think about it, where do most professional, business-minded, potential applicants look when researching a new job or career? The business section of the newspaper. Show these people that you are a professional operation with professional people who have the opportunity for accomplishment and advancement.

Finally, what does your marketing say about you? Remember the billboard? The same goes for your website. The bottom line is; you need to make your business the place to work. When it comes down to it, all these things matter more to a potential employee than they do to a customer. A customer’s experience with your company may only be a couple hours a year. An employee’s, on the other hand, should last a lot longer.

Next month we’ll discuss the next two “C’s”: your competition and your customer, and continue on our quest of improving the industry one contractor at a time. n

Ray Isaac is the general manager of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, NY. The company was Contracting Business magazine’s 2002 Residential Contractor of the Year. Ray will be the keynote speaker at HVAC Comfortech, which will be held September 10-13, in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at 585/546-1400, ext. 344, or by e-mail at [email protected]. For more information on HVAC Comfortech, call 216/931-9550.