Extra Edition / Business Management

Survey Shows Contractors Still Struggle to Find Techs

A recent online poll on The NEWS Website, “Are You Finding Enough Qualified Technicians?”, indicates that many HVAC contractors around the country are still finding it difficult to fill their ranks with the service technicians they need. Although this was a non-scientific online survey, the vast majority - 79 percent - replied that their companies are not finding enough people.

Contractors use a variety of methods to attract techs and the survey allowed respondents to check off or fill in all the techniques they use. The No. 1 method specified was recruiting students from technical and trade schools and training them, used by 72 percent of respondents. No. 2 is recruiting experienced techs from other companies, which is utilized by 60 percent. Next is recruiting people from other professions and training them, at 49 percent, and recruiting at career fairs, at 18 percent.

Other methods cited included using online recruiting services, recruiting at home shows, advertising at parts houses, running newspaper ads, and word of mouth.

Among the other methods being used to find recruits, John McCarthy Sr. of McCarthy’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, Omaha, Neb., said that his company works with the job displacement division of the states of Iowa and Nebraska to consider people whose company has moved out of town. Tom Frymire of Frymire Services, Dallas, related that his company is sponsoring scholarships for students attending trade schools.


Discussing the problem of finding techs, Richard Kirts of Unique Heating and Air Conditioning, Elgin, Ill., noted, “It seems nobody wants a career where they sweat and get dirty.” Richard Bowie of Ace Heating & Cooling, Greenwood, S.C., said, “Recent graduates apply for industrial jobs that can pay more. They don’t want to do the grunge work required in doing old residentials with two-foot crawl spaces.” John Sigerson of O’Connor Co., Omaha, Neb., stated, “Seasoned technicians don’t make as much as other trades.” Also, he said, “The general lack of respect for all trades makes it difficult to recruit.”

Bob Franey of RJ Franey Mechanical, Mashpee, Mass., remarked, “People who have the knack for troubleshooting are being lured into less physically demanding jobs (computers, etc.).” Stephen Fink of S.A. Fink Associates, Plainview, N.Y., agreed, saying, “The problem is that the intelligence required to be able to be a good technician in this industry almost precludes people from going into this industry. They can make a lot more money, and be a lot more comfortable, working with computers or other high-tech trades. All of the mechanical trades are having the same problems, and for the same reasons. We must come up with ways that the equipment is easier to install and has a lot of self diagnostics built-in, like the auto industry is doing.”

Wayne Mulholland of Tri City Mechanical, Azle, Texas, pointed out a different challenge. “The applicants we find are either qualified or very interested in learning. However, we have a problem with Texas state background checks and drug screens.”

Contractors also shared their successes in finding qualified people. Robert Wilkos of Peaden Air Conditioning, Panama City, Fla., said, “We deliver what we promise including, but not limited to, good benefits, ample training, good work environment, etc.” He also said the company is “able to spread the workload amongst many so no one gets burdened with too much.”

Larry Toyne of Thermal Services Inc., Omaha, Neb., said, “We are attracting candidates via an Internet service which has brought us a great number of people who want the chance to learn.” The company has its own training department, he said, which is used to train all of its people in-house for all residential levels of installation and service. “We promote out of those departments to the commercial installation and service departments.”

Bruce Silverman of Airite Air Conditioning, Tampa, Fla., stated, “We’ve been successful in enticing some junior techs with residential experience by training them on larger package and split systems along with helping on chillers and other technically challenging projects.”

Your current staff can be some of your best recruiters, noted McCarthy of McCarthy’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning. “I think the quality of tech we have helps recruit new techs. In their circles at wholesale houses and other training events they do a lot of talking.” McCarthy also believes promoting company awards is very helpful. “I think that winning [The NEWS] 2002 ‘Best Contractor to Work For’ has helped us as well as being named the Better Business Bureau ‘Integrity Award Winner for Service Excellence’ in 2002. Being named ‘Best of Omaha Heating and Air Conditioning Company’ in 2007 will help.”

Also, Wesley Holm of Thompson Heating & Cooling, Cincinnati, asserted that the right attitude and other soft skills are more important than technical experience. “We hire only on attitude, communication skills, and willingness to be a successful team member. We train technical skills and the exact way we accomplish our excellent customer service.”

Publication date: 02/19/2007

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