Employees in an HVAC design firm or other related business want to feel as if they belong to a collaborative team Photo by Thomas BarwickGettystock

Your HVACR Employees Are The Future: Do You Treat Them That Way?

June 26, 2014
There’s a cost to taking the time to hire and train, to retrain, to handle turnover of field and office employees. But, there are also future benefits to investing in great, long term employees.

As we start to feel the economy recover, and are likely to be increasing our field and office staffs, it’s a great time to consider the relationship between our employees’ work environment perceptions and attitudes, and how they can help   — or hurt — a company’s success.

My brother, Jim McCauley, and I are fourth generation owners of McCauley Mechanical Construction, Inc., a full-service mechanical contracting firm serving commercial, institutional, and industrial markets in the Chicago area.

Coming into the business as fourth generation leaders, we understand the importance of making a commitment to incorporate the next generation into our business. While our “fifth generation” employees aren’t yet our own family members, we try to create an environment that communicates the importance of helping them succeed.

Our fifth generation includes pipe fitting, sheet metal, and service tech apprentices, construction management and mechanical engineering major interns, and a number of “millennial and Gen Y aged people, who are BIM/CAD operators, project engineers, journeyperson service technicianss, pipe fitters, and sheet metal workers.

Modest Labor Force Growth Predicted

Job outlook for HVAC-related occupations. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Handbook.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, offers an encouraging picture for the mechanical contracting industry. However, it’s a picture of growth that’s paired with a predicted labor shortage. Although not expected to reach its peak employment numbers of 7.7 million in 2006, the BLS Outlook predicts that the construction industry will see the third-largest growth in employment of all industries during the period of 2012 to 2022: 5.6 million growing to 7.2 million employees, for an additional 1.6 million  jobs.

Looking specifically at the mechanical trades:
The BLS report identifies qualities which are important for HVAC mechanics — customer service skills, detail oriented, mechanical skills, physical strength, time management skills, and troubleshooting skills. Putting these qualities to use should sound exciting to potential employees. However, the challenge will be communicating the employment opportunities and rewards to the young people entering the workforce, or to workers in other industries who may be candidates for a re-career to the mechanical trades.
Taking time to find out how the employee’s goals align with the company’s goals is a first step to determining a growth and training plan.

Numerous social science and industry specific articles highlight the importance of employer/employee relationships on the bottom line. The green building industry has adopted a triple bottom line tag line of “people, planet, profit”.  However, without the “experts” telling us that there’s a connection, we can feel it — we live it every day. There’s a cost to taking the time to hire and train, to retrain, to handle turnover of field and office employees. But, there are also future benefits to investing in great, long term employees. Taking time to find out how the employee’s goals align with the company’s goals is a first step to determining a growth and training plan for the employee. How will we keep a Millennial engaged and excited? What will we do when a Gen X is supervising a reluctant Boomer? The answers to these questions can be found in the way we treat all of our successful employees.

Dealing With Issues that Can Interrupt a Day

Employees are successful when they are given the resources to succeed. Satisfied customers follow successful employees, and both lead to the company’s success. Some issues which hinder success can be addressed as they occur:
Extraordinary event interrupts their workday. This can include a customer changing directives, new equipment delivered but damaged, a job site accident, or late material deliveries). Solution: emphasize project planning and worst case scenario planning,
Lack of tools, information, materials — an intern popularized the phrase in our company that, “it’s good to have a little TIM in your pocket”
Waves of extraordinary workload — solved by open communication, identifying help needed from others, identifying inefficient processes.
Not feeling appreciated — foster an environment of collaboration; check in with office and field employees about how things are going, not just at work but maybe with a new baby, sick family member, or new house; or acknowledging something you heard about their childrens’ accomplishments in sports or school, and keeping the work environment clean and updated
Vehicle problems that interrupt the day’s work plan — implement a fleet management program. Devices can now be plugged into the diagnostics port on vehicle engines for early warnings of vehicle problems, and signs of driving habits which may decrease the life of the vehicle or create a roadside emergency.
Customer demands — prioritize, but also backup, service tech and foremen assignments with employees who know the customer’s equipment, work rules, and key personnel.

MCAA/MSCA Training

Through our membership in the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and the Mechanical Service Contractors Association (MSCA), we’ve been able to receive training by industry experts. Additionally, some of our internal efforts for training and team building include:
• office “theme” lunches;
• a safety incentive program;
• continuing education opportunities such as MCA of Chicago and community college classes and MCAA seminars. Several of our employees are pursuing degrees with tuition reimbursement;
• company shirts and jackets;
• birthdays and work anniversaries;
• MSCA STAR certification.

Waves of extraordinary workload can be solved by open communication, identifying help that’s needed from others, and identifying inefficient processes.

We also allow time during the work day, or permit early quitting times to support employees’ outside interests related to our industry — such as Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning National Association (SMACNA) committee and board meetings, or vendor- sponsored product showcases, which are combined with social events, such as car shows and barbecues.

Training in New Technology
Implementing new technology sends a clear signal to our employees that we’re committed to their growth. New technology includes improved tools, a “no expense spared” approach to safety gear and equipment, building information modeling (BIM) coordinated shop drawings, and implementation of tablets on construction sites and for service mechanics.
As you work on implementing these or similar programs, stay committed to positioning your employees for success. Build an environment where people like to work, and you can look forward to a successful outcome for the entire company.

Kathy McCauley the ContractingBusiness.com HVACR Woman of the Year in 2006 — is president of McCauley Mechanical Construction, Inc., Bridgeview, IL. McCauley Mechanical Construction, Inc. completes a full range of company services, with projects ranging from boiler and chiller installation, to medical-gas and industrial piping, as well as complete Design/Build services.