“I am having a hard time finding good people.” I have heard some version of this statement from managers in our industry in every territory I have visited.
When I think of the traditional way to recruit a new technician in our industry, I think of a flyer advertising “Help Wanted” on the bulletin board at a local plumbing wholesale house. The bulletin board flyer usually asks for a list of qualifications that describe an excellent lead technician. I have seen a bunch of flyers, for example, looking for 10-plus years of work experience, master plumber’s license, sales experience, etc.
This may be a good way to find someone with the skills you want right in your local area. However, you don’t have any competitive advantage or creativity in this bulletin board arena. Plus, if this is your main method of recruitment, you may be stuck waiting a while for that person to come looking for you.
I don’t think you need to wait so looking outside the box when considering your recruiting tactics might just land you your next great employee.
Here are some general ideas that may cut down on the search:
• Developing a good employee into a great employee through training is a more realistic option than waiting for the ace technician to come knocking on your door. When advertising an open position, mention that ongoing training is part of the job. Motivated employees like to learn new things. Even the ace technician will get a heads-up that the one specific way they have always done their job may not be your particular strategy.
• Give your employees the opportunity to earn a lot of money through performance-based incentives. Paying a new hire a ton of money right off the bat may give you mixed results. One contractor I worked with said he hired a few ace technicians from other regions of the country, paid them well, and then noticed that they thought they owned the place. As in sports, I tend to like the salary arrangements that aren't guaranteed money, but have performance bonuses. Everyone wins if a new employee has enough base salary to be comfortable staying with your company while they learn how to make lots of money for you and your company.
• A contractor I spoke with recently said his strategy is to hire parolees. He believes they have a strong motivation to show up for work, since the alternative may be going back to jail. He notes that it isn't a perfect system, and he has had a few busts. However, the good ones have a higher than normal sense of urgency to be good at their jobs and stay on the right path.
I have gone with my mom to teach a business class at an Oklahoma prison a couple times. I found the inmates to be some of the most polite and attentive students I have ever worked with.
The prospect of finishing a prison stay and hitting the ground without a plan or a new work skill is a scary concept for many prisoners. The groups I spoke to wanted to have their ducks in a row so they could give themselves a good chance to avoid more prison and the lifestyles that may have landed them there in the first place.
It doesn't benefit anyone for prisoners to finish their terms, commit another crime and end up back in jail, unless you have stock in a for-profit prison company. Some people have done terrible things and deserve to be in prison forever. Most prisoners made a few bad decisions and are trying to rejoin society when they leave prison. Felons, especially, won’t find a ton of opportunities, but may be looking desperately for redemption in new lives, after paying their dues.
• If hiring a former inmate doesn’t quite sound like a great fit, consider a military veteran.
You may not find veterans who spent their time in the service doing plumbing work, but you will probably find someone who has the brain for troubleshooting and can follow a procedure.
Some of the best technicians I have worked with have a calm, methodical approach to solving boiler troubles. I bet you can find a quick study among the former service members of the world. The transition from deployment to employment isn’t always smooth. Offering a path to a normal routine may be a win-win for the vet as well as for you.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides financial incentives to businesses that hire parolees or veterans. Hiring certain applicants, including ex-felons and unemployed veterans, can qualify a business owner for a $1,200 to $9,600 tax credit. The Department of Labor has more information on the criteria you have to meet to qualify.
• For another option, hire a kid. Offer a job to the 16-year-old you know from the neighborhood who may not be the perfect fit for college, but is smart and computer-savvy.
An IT professional/student of hydronics may be the most valuable part of your team in five years. Every month manufacturers expand their reach into the internet of things. Especially in the commercial sector, hooking all the sensors up to the cloud will go from being common to nearly mandatory soon. You can opt to sub-contract or avoid that work or you can jump on the opportunity to make extra cash per site with a computer-confident employee.
I have found very few people who understand how a heating system works and can also confidently fix the printer in your office when it isn’t configured correctly.
• Across the board, hire more women.
According to the DOL, women only comprise 1.2 percent of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers and 8.8 percent of mechanical engineers.
While these percentage rates are very low, women working in nontraditional (male-dominated) detailed occupations made 82.5 percent of men’s earnings (cents on the dollar) in the 2014 DOL dataset, as opposed to the 78.3 percent earnings ratio across all sectors (https://bit.ly/2hSiUG7).
A lot of male-dominated jobs pay well, for one reason or another, and many women miss out on the opportunity to experience the financial benefits and career satisfaction of a job in the trades due to lingering traditional views of this sector as a man’s world. Bringing more women into your workforce helps close the gender pay gap and creates more diversity in experience and ideas in the trades.
Finding great employees isn’t an easy or consistent process, regardless of the pool of employees you are currently fishing from. Expand your hiring horizons and look into groups that may not be reading your job ad, wherever that may be. Give someone the chance to succeed who may not have that opportunity elsewhere, and maybe you will find your ace. l
Max Rohr is a graduate of the University of Utah and manager of REHAU Academy in Leesburg, Virginia. He has worked in installation, sales and marketing in the hydronics and solar industries since 1998 and writes this column in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the company he works for. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. and on Twitter @maxjrohr.