6 Reasons to Look Outside of the HVAC Industry for Your Next Hire

Jan. 30, 2015
Despite an ongoing shortage of labor, contractors resist looking outside of the industry for personnel. They should reconsider. Here’s six reasons why.

Despite an ongoing shortage of labor, contractors resist looking outside of the industry for personnel.  They should reconsider.  Here’s six reasons why.

  1. You Won’t Waste Time Looking for Unicorn Employees

You may have heard about the perfect employee who is working for a competitor, but will happily jump to your company and stay for the duration.  I’ve heard about unicorns too, but I’ve never seen one.  Perfect employees willing to leave a competitor for you and unicorns are all mythical creatures.  They do not exist.

  1. You Won’t Waste Time and Money on Ronin Employees

Ronin were samurai warriors who were unaligned with a feudal lord.  They were swords for hire, with no loyalty.  Ronin technicians are similar.  They will change allegiances at the drop of a hat (or an extra $1 per hour).  Typically, they jump in peak season when you can least withstand the reduction in manpower.  It’s okay to hire a Ronin if you’re in a pinch, just know who you are dealing with.

  1. You Won’t Hire Other People’s Bad Habits

People learn good habits and bad habits from their employers.  The good habits are great, but the bad ones are terrible.  The problem is the come as a package.  It’s far easier to start with a blank canvas and teach people the habits you want them to form than to paint over their bad habits.

  1. Talent is Talent

When Ron Smith became the first contractor to hire retail salespeople, there wasn’t anyone to hire from inside the industry.  Only owners and a few technicians sold replacements, and often not well.  Sales legend Tom McCart was an unemployed merchandiser for a discount retailer.  He became the first person to crack the $1 million mark for HVAC retail replacement sales, back when the price of a system was 20% of today’s going rate.

Another Ron Smith hire was Charlie Greer, a licensed optician.  Charlie went on to become another industry legend and created the “Tec Daddy” DVD training videos. 

According to Ron Smith, hiring Greer and McCart was controversial.  He was told by industry insiders that they couldn’t possibly succeed and that this would blow up in Ron’s face.  “Good thing these guys (i.e., McCart and Greer) don’t know that,” Ron responded.

McCart and Greer both started on the sales side.  What about pure technicians?  Before his first industry job as installation technician, the Service Roundtable’s Bob Viering worked in a tire store.  I know a real estate agent who got frustrated with the dismal housing market, chunked his career, and attended trade school at age 60.  Today, he works as a service technician for a Dallas contractor.

Bob Helbing of Air-Tro in Monrovia, California designed ballistic missiles, working on the Trident, MX, and Minuteman, before becoming a contractor.  Ron Smith entered the trade after working as a fingerprint analyst for the FBI in Washington, DC.

Laurie Schumann of Comfort Central in Ashville, NC studied to become a biomedical engineer, worked in computer science, and left to take a CSR job with an air conditioning company.  She found she loved the industry, did well, and today is a contractor.

Penny Luker and her husband Bill, were bartenders before deciding they wanted to run an HVAC business for the simple reason that people in Texas would always need air conditioning.  Penny’s father was an electrical contractor, so she had some idea about the business of contracting.  At age 30, Bill went to trade school part time while continuing his job as a bartender.  When he graduated, he worked for a contractor as a service technician until he got his license.  Penny launched Mid-Cities Air Conditioning in Richland Hills, running the business while Bill ran calls.

The number of military personnel who successful transition to the HVAC industry is significant.  Navy vet, Jeff Marl at MSCO in Virginia Beach, Virginia and marine, Daniel Boyette (there is no such thing as an “ex-marine”) at Benson’s in Tallahassee, Florida immediately come to mind.  They are not exceptions.

Many people enter the industry from other careers by marriage or inheritance.  HVAC’s Woman of the Year, Kathie Todd at Central Oregon Heating in Redmond, Oregon worked as an accountant before joining her husband’s business.  Kathe Stewart worked as an attorney before she and her brother took over the family business, Precision Air Conditioning in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Jim Batson at H.C. Blake in Huntsville, Alabama brought his sister, Sara Beth Fair into the family business to run the energy management division and then, operations.  With a doctorate in optical engineering, Fair worked in the space industry before joining her brother.  Batson doesn’t just hire family from outside of the industry.  One of his service technicians was working as an actor in New York before wanting to return to Alabama and learn a trade.

The point is that there are lots of talented people who need work and can learn our industry if given a chance.  They are not battering down your door because a career in the HVAC industry has probably never crossed their minds.  It’s up to you to find them.

  1. Attitude is Everything

The more time I spend in the business world, the more I realize that attitude, if there’s aptitude, is far more important in the long run.  Skills can be taught.  Knowledge can be acquired.  However, it is nearly impossible to correct a bad attitude.  Worse, bad attitudes tend to spread like a virus, infecting others in your organization. 

  1. Turnkey Training Exists

At one time, you could learn the technical side of the industry two ways:  trade school or the school of hard knocks.  Today, a number of programs will take a promising individual and turn him (or her) into a productive technician in a matter of weeks.  The new technician may not be able to run complex service calls, but can certainly handle straightforward ones, which constitute the majority. 

Programs like Lennox’ Build-A-Tech in Dallas, Ultimate Technician in Arkansas, and others make it feasible for contractors to grow their own technician force.  More than ever before, you can find people who can fix people and teach them to fix equipment.  Get hiring.

In the next edition, Matt Michel will outline different occupations you can search for service, sales, and CSR personnel.

For turnkey technician recruiting, screening, training, and development, check out Service Roundtable Fast Track.  Call 877.262.3341 for more information.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.