Talking Facial Hair, Tattoos, and More
March 5, 2007
DALLAS - Q: What do you get when you gather together a former Marine, a human resources director, a self-proclaimed “old schooler,” a general manager of a contracting firm, and a one-time registered nurse? A: Plenty of strong suggestions, advice, and ways to locate and keep qualified technicians and employees. You get a few differences of opinion, too. In this instance, four of the five overall winners in The NEWS’ 2006 “Best Contractor to Work For” contest spoke their minds in a panel discussion at a free seminar titled - surprise, surprise - “Ways to Find and Retain Qualified Technicians/Employees” at the 2007 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) held recently at the Dallas Convention Center. The nonstop talk session was co-sponsored by The NEWS and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). Moderator was NEWS editor-in-chief Mike Murphy. The ex-Marine among the five speakers was Greg McAfee, owner of McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning (Kettering, Ohio). Representing Worth and Co. (Pipersville, Pa.) was Steve Weihing, director of human resources for the commercial contracting firm. The “old schooler” was Gary Weeks, president of Weeks Service Co. (League City, Texas). The one-time registered nurse was Patricia Greiner, president and CEO of Greiner Heating & Air Conditioning (Dixon, Calif.). And sitting to Greiner’s right was her company’s general manager, Dave Krueger. Unable to attend was a representative from Carmichael Engineering Ltd. (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). But having one less “Best Contractor” winner present did not bog down the one-hour program.
TO ALLOW FACIAL HAIR, TATTOOS?Greiner set the record straight right off the bat, noting that her company has, as she put it, “a very strict grooming policy.”
“None of our men actually have facial hair, long hair, or exposed tattoos or piercings,” she informed the room half-filled with contractors. “And they have to have their shirts tucked in. I am always cruising around, reminding them of those things. My interview process is peculiar. I get them talking about themselves. I determine if they are gentlemen before I hire them.”
McAfee liked the idea, but confessed that it may be too strict for his blood.
“Since I have facial hair myself, I do not have a problem with it, as long as it is kept neat,” he said. “And that is stated at the interview level. We ask them upfront, ‘If I have to come up and ask you to trim this or that, would that be a problem?’ Again, I want our guys to appear neat, too.”
Since the bulk of Worth and Co. work is commercial, Weihing did not see the need for inserting a clean-shaven face regulation in the employee handbook. “Since we do very little service work, it’s far less of an issue,” he said.
Greiner defended her stance.
“If they truly want to work for us, they shave,” she said. “It’s not that I have anything against it. It is just that it really works for us to have that grooming policy in place. I tell them to act as if they are going to their parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Therefore, the cleaner you are and the cleaner you look, the safer the customers feel.”
When asked by a service tech in the crowd if the company’s policy was enforced, Krueger was quick with the answer.
“California is unique in that we don’t need a reason to terminate an employee,” said the general manager. “It is one of the only positive business aspects of California, quite frankly. Because the standards are set in plain view, the other employees do the policing for us. They are competitive among themselves.”
Greiner did mention that she keeps an electric shaver on hand just in case it is needed. What’s more difficult to deal with, she explained, are tattoos. “It’s probably the biggest challenge,” she confessed. “I’ve had a couple of men with creative ways of covering their forearms or they simply wear a long-sleeve shirt.”
McAfee would prefer his employees be tattooless, too.
“I have learned to have them wear a short-sleeve shirt to the second interview,” he explained, “because I have been burned before. I thought a few did not have tattoos only to find out they had a full forearm of tattoos and I thought, ‘Oh, I messed up big time.’ Now I have to backpedal and cover this up.” He made one observation clear: “Certainly I don’t allow any piercing at all.”
RECRUIT, RECRUIT, RECRUITWhen the discussion shifted to hiring and training technicians, the general consensus was, as Weihing put it, “hire attitude and train skills.”
“Just know that you should always be recruiting,” he suggested. “We did not have someone who could recruit people until I came aboard. For me, that’s what I am doing all the time. If I am at a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon, I am still recruiting. You have to keep in touch with people all the time.”
Krueger pushed attitude, too.
“Most contractors focus on the technical side of things because they think that a skilled technician will be able to sell and then everything will be fine,” he said. “We’d rather teach them the technical skills. People we’ve had the best success with have the least amount of experience in the heating and air industry. Personality, enthusiasm, attitude - that is what has made people successful in this company.”
Even with a good attitude, an employee will leave if you do not take care of them, Weeks pointed out. “We do not offer after-hour service for anybody except our maintenance or large customers,” he said. “It is only available until 10 o’clock at night. I don’t think a person can work 20 hours a day and be productive. I don’t think that is possible.”
Weihing agreed with that assessment, while Krueger pointed out Greiner is open on Saturdays. “We are open because a lot of people need work done on Saturdays, so we have it as an operating day,” he explained, adding, “We do not do emergency work for just anybody. There has to be some compelling reason.
“We actually run the technicians very light on purpose. They are usually done by 4:30 or 5 p.m. No overtime. They wake up refreshed the next day because if you work them too hard it’s not a good thing.”
McAfee confessed that he was the “outcast.”
“We run 24-hour emergency service,” he said. “Most residential owners do not want to take time off to be at home during the day, so we do service calls after 5 p.m.”
The key here, he said, is having different shifts available for employees.
BENEFITS, RECOGNITION, AND MOREHaving a strong benefits package does not hurt the recruiting or the retention cause.
“The word gets out when you have a good benefit package and you take care of your people,” said Weeks. “We have a profit-sharing retirement plan. It is paid by the company. That comes out to be about 12 percent of their wages. We also have family health insurance - and that’s not cheap insurance, either. It’s high-priced: $1,000 per family, per month.”
As all agreed, though, money and salary was not the end-all for keeping employees. “You have to give them lots of opportunities to grow in the company,” said Weihing. “We try to recognize people as much as possible, too. We try to recognize their special contributions to the company, be it length of service or whatever.”
At Worth, Weihing noted that a gold watch is given out to those who stay with the company 10 years, while a $5,000 voucher is there for those who stay 20 years. Meanwhile, Greiner believes in hosting several company-wide breakfast meetings, complete with $6,000 worth of gifts to hand out. “We recognize employees three or four times a year,” she said. “This summer we are going to go go-cart racing indoors in Sacramento. We plan to have a lot of fun together.”
When the discussion turned from keeping employees motivated to weeding out the weak ones, Weeks provided this assessment: “If you put up with the underachievers, all you are going to have left is a bunch of underachievers because your top people will go somewhere else. If you can squeeze out the ones who do not work, you are better off.”
Weeks was proud of the fact that his company does not experience a high employee turnover. “We’ve never had a layoff in 34 years,” he said. “That word gets out and people actually want to work for you. We get 50 to 100 applications for every one person that we hire.”
Krueger was quick to jump in. “If you have a good-looking vehicle, a good compensation program, high standards, and a good facility, there are people out there willing to work, [technician] shortage or not.”
The “Best Contractor to Work For” contest is held each year by The NEWS and all companies are eligible to participate. Winning companies are featured, and a person from each company is offered an expense-paid trip to the AHR Expo. The 2008 expo will be Jan. 22–24, at the Jacob Javits Center, New York City. For more information about the contest, visit www.achrnews.com.
Publication date: 03/05/2007