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Recruit, Train, and Keep Professional Technicians

A look at what may be required of the HVACR industry to recruit, train and retain professional technicians in the future.

One of the biggest challenges facing our industry today is to find and keep qualified field technicians. This isn’t an isolated HVAC industry problem, it’s a product of core changes in society and our inability to meet the needs of today’s workforce. Let’s take a look at some industry history and what may be required of us to recruit, train, and keep professional technicians today and in the future.

Workplace Evolution
During the 1950s, sheet metal workers in our family contracting company were required to stand at a workbench eight hours a day and fabricate fittings. Talking was forbidden because it reduced efficiency. Breaks were timed to the minute and radio was not permitted in the shop until the 1960s.

That was just how things were done back then. These work conditions were generally accepted as part of a sheet metal worker’s job. My Dad was proud to develop his skill and trade. He eventually became a service technician, then he bought the company. Because he was such a fine example to me, I chose to have my career and am part of the HVAC industry today. I will always be indebted to him for enduring the conditions of that era and what he gave me.

Fast forward to today. Do you know anyone who would want a career in the HVAC industry, if they had to work under the same conditions as my Dad? Probably not. Our society and employment requirements are very different today. Remember, in those days, we were thrilled to have a party telephone line and a used black and white TV.

How we attract new talent into our industry has completely changed. However, there are still traces of the old- school beliefs and attitudes floating around today. Our ability to engage today’s workforce depends on how we build and offer important and rewarding professions. Our success depends on providing for employee success as they define it.

Multiple Kinds of Intelligence
Metal shop was the first class I enrolled in at high school. I was consumed with using massive tools and all that metal! Mr. Fisher was a great teacher who motivated me and helped me see the opportunity. I could picture myself designing and building anything I could imagine.

That night I told my parents about my metal shop class. Dad was proud, but Mom was not. The next morning, she went to school and changed all my classes to college prep. She was an educator and believed college prep courses would build my academic intelligence, even though my intelligence favored mechanical and interpersonal tendencies. Sound familiar?

Many young people today have the type of intelligence that draws them away from academics and towards our industry. Our mission is to attract these people by providing purposeful career paths enabling them to express their intelligence, as well as providing personal fulfillment and ample financial security. If we don’t, they won’t give us a second look.

Status, Being Recognized and Appreciated
Status is often tied to income. Income is a measurement of contribution. The services and products we provide are essential to health, comfort, and essential to life as we know it. Somehow, we’ve allowed ourselves to be demoted to just being laborers.

Some employers still consider employees as laborers and treat them accordingly. Because of increasing demand for technicians, the natural tendency to advance will draw qualified professionals away from such employers. Stories are circulating around the industry of business owners losing their own children to their competitors. The reason isn’t just more money but the recognition and appreciation that accompanies the new position.    

Company owners and managers who recognize the value of qualified technicians and who are willing to provide advancement and career development will become magnets for the best people. They will draw away every valuable technician from companies that fail to appreciate and reward well-performing qualified individuals.

Unless your company is managed and organized to provide increasing opportunities to progressive professionals, you may be unable to compete for the bright minds entering our industry.

Offer Training
Technicians report companies that provide ongoing training are among the most attractive prospective employers. Offering such training indicates an investment commitment to the company’s future and its team members. Word circulates quickly if your company provides training that ties you to team member advancement and opportunities for certifications and growing expertise.

Many progressive professionals are glued to their smartphones. Companies who integrate technology into their daily operations have far more appeal to savvy technicians than a company who still fills out job invoices by hand. Technology seems to be wired into the DNA of most smart, advancing, tech-aware individuals. These folks look to technology as they choose a career path.

Learn to sell the value of your company’s training to prospective employees by quantifying the dollar value of the training you provide in the first five years of their employment. The dollar value of all the technical training you provide often averages upwards of $30,000. Compare this value to the liability of $30,000 in student loans when recruiting.

Offer a Profession, Much More Than a Job
As with most obstacles, the lack of qualified field technicians creates opportunities for those who prepare for it.

Face it, a mindless job repeating the same dozen HVAC repairs and adding a pound of refrigerant day after day isn’t too exciting. Take an objective look at your company; would you work there if you were an aspiring technician? An honest answer will motivate you to do much more than slap a “help wanted” ad onto a free job posting website.   

Investigate what your competitors offer prospective technicians. Look past the extra dollar per hour. How do they offer career path development for new team members? Your competitors compete not only for your customers but for prospective employees as well.

Consider carefully and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Can you describe a potential employee’s career path for them?
  2. Do you have a company mission you can speak about and help them follow?
  3. Can you say with assurance they will be treated with respect and appreciation?
  4. Is your company a wonderful place to work?
  5. Will they like their co-workers?
  6. Can they advance to professional status and earn enough income if they choose to join your team?

Write out what you could do to turn the jobs you offer into a profession. Most likely, the answer will become a project list for changes needed to attract the talent you need to thrive in the future.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute, Inc., an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician having ideas to upgrade technician’s professions, please contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles, and downloads.

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