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Employee Retention 5f85c11e041a2

How to Retain Talented HVAC Technicians

Oct. 13, 2020
Proper onboarding, thorough training, and an appreciation for their role will keep talented HVACR technicians in your corner.

Retaining talented employees is always a big deal, especially in a service business. In fact, I’d argue that technician retention is one of the two or three most important factors in building a successful HVAC business. You can tell it matters because almost every company will use their techs to differentiate their services: “Our techs are the best in the business,” or “Our power’s in our people.”

For most companies, this is only partly true. Sure, the techs are important, but the company is in the same boat as everyone else – just doing what it can to retain talented technicians and struggling to keep them from going to (or becoming) competitors. The average employee turnover rate in the US is around 19%, and research suggests it’s generally higher in service-based businesses like HVAC.

So, how do you create an environment where you can consistently retain talented techs?

The answers to this aren’t rocket science, of course. They’re mostly common sense. But, again, they are really important to get right. 

Many of our techs have been with us for years (or even decades). Here’s what we’ve found works.

1. Onboard them early.

Techs are more likely to be loyal to your business if your business invests in them early.

This is why it can be very impactful to develop relationships with local high schools and colleges. Look for ways to partner with trade schools. If you don’t have an apprenticeship program built out already, you absolutely should consider building one today. 

Many of our current technicians came up through our apprenticeship program. Compared to hiring already certified techs or trying to poach people from your competitors, this is a more cost-efficient talent acquisition method.

Many of our current technicians came up through our apprenticeship program. Compared to hiring already certified techs or trying to poach people from your competitors, this is a more cost-efficient talent acquisition method, and it allows you to train to your company’s service standards, specifically. And, of course, it leads to higher retention rates. 

2. Train them generously.

Training is another big factor in retention rates – even more so when you’re hiring younger techs and onboarding people early with the expectation of building them up. 

I break training down into two areas: There’s the technical training, which takes the form of industry certifications, and then there’s the company-specific training, which leads to career growth internally.

Some techs may be happy to work in the field their whole careers; that’s great. But some may want a path toward other skills.

On the technical side, you have your HVAC certification and licensing, which tends to be a prerequisite. Then you have additional certifications, either for specific skillsets or for generalized quality. For example, we ensure that all of our techs become NATE certified.

On the company-specific side, there’s training for growth in specific roles. Some techs may be happy to work in the field their whole careers; that’s great. But some may want a path toward other skills. Plenty of people move from the field into management roles. Helping them work toward that can keep them working for you instead of seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Be generous in both of these types of training.

Don’t make them salespeople.

This one will be obvious to some and a shock to others: In general, your techs shouldn’t be forced to be salespeople. 

Rodney Koop wrote to this point a few months ago, and it’s definitely worth noting. Many techs don’t want to sell and, especially off the bat, most aren’t good at it. Sales is a hard job. To make things worse, putting your techs in a sales role can make them lose trust in the eyes of customers. If your techs are incentivized to upsell and they’re doing it badly, you won’t just lose your techs – you’ll lose customers, and quickly. 

We have sales folks whose job it is to consult with customers. Our technicians are trained to follow a process and deliver great service. 

We don’t pay our techs based on the number of jobs they work in a day or on the equipment they sell. We have sales folks whose job it is to consult with customers. Our technicians are trained to follow a process and deliver great service. That’s part of the reason they stay with us.

4. Compensate them fairly.

This one will be obvious to everyone, even if it can be difficult to do: Offer fair (or better than fair) compensation, and you’ll naturally increase your retention rate. 

If you’re onboarding your people early, training them generously, and keeping them in the right roles, they probably won’t want to look elsewhere for work – unless they simply can’t make do with what you’re paying them.

Offer the best benefits you can. Again, tech retention is one of the two or three most important elements in success. Spend like it.

5. Have their backs.

I’m going a little bit soft on this last point, but I think it’s actually the most important one on the list.

There’s a saying that most people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss. It’s true. One study found that 76% of currently employed job seekers say their boss is toxic. That’s ridiculously high. And, overall, about 79% of people who quit their jobs cite a “lack of appreciation” as the primary reason for leaving.

In HVAC, despite our tendency to promote our people, it’s easy to blame them, too. Sometimes a customer will leave a negative review. Sometimes they’ll call in angry. Sometimes an installation project will take a little longer than initially estimated, Sometimes, techs simply make mistakes.

When issues happen, you should respond to them from a starting place of trust in your technician. If you operate from the opposite assumption – that you can’t trust your techs and that every issue is proof of that – you will create dissatisfied employees who don’t trust you.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t address recurring problems. But the more your techs feel supported and trusted on a personal level, the more likely they’ll be to stay.

Be in their corner.

If you are – and if you, additionally, adhere to the other points listed above – I’m confident you can increase your retention rates. And that’ll lead you toward building a better HVAC business.

Dave Oristian is the Service Manager at Rod Miller HVAC, where he's been serving home and business owners for over 15 years. He's a fan of D.C. sports teams and well-scheduled maintenance checkups.
About the Author

David Oristian | Service Manager

Dave Oristian is the Service Manager at Rod Miller HVAC, Gaithersberg, Md., where he's been serving home and business owners for over 15 years. He's a fan of D.C. sports teams and well-scheduled maintenance checkups.