First Word: Recruiting & Training Remain Job 1

Oct. 11, 2012
Twenty-eight years ago I bylined my first article in Contracting Business magazine. The article, published in June 1984, was titled, "Tapping the Vast Commercial Retrofit Market"

Twenty-eight years ago I bylined my first article in Contracting Business magazine. The article, published in June 1984, was titled, “Tapping the Vast Commercial Retrofit Market,” and it addressed the huge opportunities available within the four million commercial buildings spread across the U.S. One of the hurdles to being successful, at that time, was having the right technicians working in the field.

Some things never change. Back in 1984, the country was climbing out of a fairly deep recession and commercial service was very much the focus of attention. We wrote a lot about service agreements, retail sales, peripheral sales and such, but in nearly every issue of the magazine that year there were news items and stories about the need for more technical field crews and how to attract and retain them.

Some of those articles called for a coordinated industry effort to promote working in the HVAC industry as a career. Twenty years later, the problem remained. In an editorial titled, “Where Have All The Technicians Gone” (October 2008, I discussed how individual contracting firms were attracting good people based on their reputations, their proactive local recruiting programs, partnerships with schools, and pay/benefits. Still, the shortage of technicians remained acute.

As it does today. The good news is that we’re starting to see some movement on a more global basis. The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) recently released an excellent promotional video to help attract young people into this industry. This video was so well done that we played it during the two general sessions at Mechanical Systems Week in Chicago in September. It’s available for you to download and use in your marketplace as well. I recommend you do this. Just go to this link and check it out:

The video does an excellent job depicting this industry as a great place to make a good living for women, young people, minorities, and older workers — a cross-generational promotion that may be one of the first of its kind in this industry.

Speaking of which, cross-generational people in the workforce do pose some management challenges, especially when working with young people in the “Gen-Y” classification. Our keynote speaker at Mechanical Systems Week was a young man named Jason Dorsey, who specializes in helping companies work more effectively with cross-generational teams.

From his perspective, Gen-Y co-workers typically aren’t good at face-to-face meetings — they’d prefer to work on their mobile devices, smartphones, computers. Some might say they might act like they’re entitled — and the truth is, they do. Why? Check out this video and you’ll understand: Dorsey also offers a lot of other generational insights here:

From a more specific industry standpoint, Contracting advisory board member Matt Michel tackled the generational issue in a 2007 RANT called, “Here Comes Gen Y The Hell Should I?” (

This is where training comes in. If you need technicians to sell, and they’re Gen-Y youth, what do you do? Contractor Jim Brown offers some ideas in his article, “Technician Hiring: The New Wish List ( Jim talks about hiring sales-minded individuals from outside the industry and training them to be technicians.

Of course, I still stand by the idea of active recruiting of women into the HVAC trades. They offer customers the type of empathy that men may not have, and they’re becoming major contributors to the industry. And they’re organized: check out

Which brings me to some pleasant news: It is with great pleasure that we welcome Alana Ward, president of Baggett Heating and Cooling, Clarksville, TN to the Contracting editorial advisory board. Alana is the 2012 recipient of this publication’s Woman of the Year Award in July 2012.

Yes, some things never change. But then again, sometimes they do.