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Finding the Best HVAC Employees: Is that the Ball Dropping or Another Shoe?

Dec. 23, 2013
Nine ideas to help you assure you have the very best employees in you residential HVAC company: Always be in hiring mode Continuously run a hiring advertisement Offer enticing "finder's fees" Conduct a training/hiring seminar every six months Hire people with college degrees Hire people with the right attitude and smarts, not technical expertise Create an "on-deck" circle Train, train, train Be a desired place of employment

From working with contractors this past year, I am labelling 2013 the year human resource issues finally slammed everyone in the head. Problems with employees is the top issue driving owners insane. This isn’t a new problem, but one that never seems to permanently get fixed.

We’re an industry that often looks for the quick fix. We want potential employees to walk through the door with winning attitudes, impeccable technical skills, extensive HVAC or plumbing backgrounds, grammar-teacher-approved communication abilities, as well as a professional appearance and demeanor, and who don’t ask for too much money.

In other words, we look for the perfect employee. That’s where the problem lies. We wait until we need the perfect employee to begin the process of finding one.

So what’s the answer? You might not like what I’m about to say: The answer is to grow the perfect employee from within. Here are nine ideas on how to successfully do this:

Vicki LaPlant, VLE Enterprises, Dallas, TX
Always be in hiring mode — Make every encounter an opportunity to find a new employee: whether at a retail store, restaurant, church, community meeting, your child or grandchild’s school or activity, you should be scouting. If you see someone who is enthusiastic, personable, presentable, talk with him or her. Find out what he or she does. See if this person might be interested in a new career.

Continuously run an ad — Whether in the local newspaper, on an internet hiring site, or Craig’s list, keep a generic ad running. It shouldn’t be specific about the type of job — the ad should target motivated, positive, enthusiastic people looking for new careers.

Offer an enticing “finder’s fee” — If you already have several great employees, they are a great source to find others from among their friends and relatives. Pay a “finder’s fee” to an existing employee who recommends someone whom you hire. Pay another small amount to your existing employee if the hiree makes the 90-day probation period and a larger amount if the hired employee stays a year. Consider paying a “hiring bonus” after a year to the hired employee as well.

Conduct a training/hiring seminar every six months — Advertise a free training seminar for anyone looking for a new technical career. Encourage employees to tell friends and relatives about it. Talk to local high school and junior college counselors, and have them make students aware of the seminar. Consider letting the local unemployment office know, so appropriate candidates can be directed your way. Schedule the seminar for a Saturday and start promptly at 8 a.m.

Start the seminar with an overview of the industry. Describe your company and what it does, talk about different positions, define career options within your company, and then begin hands-on training on soldering or how to perform an air conditioning /furnace tune-up. One company that does this consistently says that by the end of the day two job offers are made and one of the hires makes it long term.

Hire degrees — Having a college degree shouldn’t disqualify a potential employee. We’ve become a service economy and a large number of “white collar” jobs have disappeared. A 40-year-old engineer or accountant looking for a second career could find a home in your company.

Hire attitude and brains not technical expertise — Because we wait until the need for an employee is acute, we always want to hire experienced people. Instead, hire quality people with an aptitude appropriate for the position and develop the specific skills required to do the job over time.

Create an on-deck circle — Just as baseball has an on-deck circle for a batter to take practice swings, so should  your company. Create a back-up plan for each position. Determine who will be the next dispatcher and begin training that person now. Have him/her work beside the current dispatcher and be the back-up when the dispatcher is on vacation. One contractor I know starts all new office hires as a CSR. He has four CSRs at all times. From that position, an employee can become a dispatcher, bookkeeper, maintenance agreement program manager, etc.

Train, train, train — Inside training, outside training, vendor training, ride-along training, one-on-one training, on-line training — enough said.

Be a desired place of employment — The above works if you’re a boss with a company people want to work for. Technicians are paid top dollar and are proud of the trucks they drive. Dispatchers are paid top dollar and have a calm, clean, pleasant work environment. Employees are recognized for their performance and allowed to learn from their mistakes. Everyone functions as a team and understands that the customer is ultimately the boss.

Create a hiring plan. Don’t hire the perfect employee: grow one instead. By the end of 2014 you can enjoy watching the ball drop instead of spending the whole year wondering where the next shoe will drop.        

Vicki LaPlant has worked with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer/consultant. She helps people work better together for greater success. Vicki is a longtime Contracting editorial advisory board member and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at 903/786-6262.